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Articles by Dartes Swimmers Past and Present

Every now and again, someone pops up out of the deep end and writes an article for the website. Sometimes these are former Dartes swimmers with happy memories to share. Often they're current members with something special or interesting to shout about. Either way, if it's interesting and in some way connected to Dartes or Doncaster Swimming, we'll probably publish it.
Here's one of those articles.

Active Service: Did you Volunteer?

Introduction

I read an article a year or so ago describing the maturity curve of amateur sports teams. It caught my attention, mainly because the views expressed were very similar to the thoughts I'd been jotting down for a few months towards a similar article of my own. If I could remember where I found it, I'd point you at it, but Google has a bad memory, so I've finally got around to finishing my own instead.

I wanted to publish this prior to the recent AGM, but ran out of time. Actually I wanted to publish it prior to last year's AGM (or the year before last if I still haven't finished editing this by 2012). I'd like this to be a wake up call to all those who think the status quo will last for ever (that's Dartes' current success, not the band) - it won't; and to those who think it'll last long enough for their kids to finish swimming - it probably won't!

I'd like it to be a wake up call, but experience tells me most of you reading this won't lift a finger to affect anything until it's too late - oh well!

Author: Dave (The Doom Monger) Cuthbert
Date: 25 May 2011

Maturity

There's a funny thing about maturity. Immature things (people, organisations, etc) tend to not know what they're doing, but they're more than happy to throw bags full of enthusiasm at doing it anyway.

Made a mistake?
No problem!
I'll just dive straight back in, make a few more and all will be good.

Mature things by contrast, tend to have expert knowledge, but use it more cautiously. They know their subject of choice like the back of their hand and can easily tell the immature version exactly why they're going to fail. The mature version won't make those mistakes. But then again, they probably won't do much of anything with great enthusiasm either!

So let me ask the big question straight off the bat.
Which of those character traits do you want running Dartes?
You didn't think of an answer did you? Go on, actually ask yourself the question, take a moment to think about it - it's important.

My answer: give me enthusiastic clueless people any day! I can live with mistakes in return for dynamism. I've been at clubs in the past that have chosen the other route - it isn't pretty!

Committees and Tasks

So we've just had an AGM, and you've been clever (or careful) enough to avoid taking any responsibility for your child's swim team. Maybe the excuse you've made (and probably believed) went something like: "But I don't know anything. Pete's far better equipped to do that job, he knows everything". Well of course he does, he started as a clueless, immature, club helper 6 or 7 years ago and has matured (blossomed you might say) in to the World's #1 club official. He's held practically every post at Dartes (and Spa too), tried every job, mastered most, and all for the benefit of your kids (feeling guilty yet?) He, and three or four similar committee members, are in grave danger of becoming something rather terrifying that we'll come to later!

I had a quick glance down the list of posts to fill leading up to the AGM. What I saw didn't surprise me (it's been heading this way for a few years), but it did worry me. Of the incumbents in key posts on the committee, only one name hadn't been in a similar position back in 2005 (remember that date you'll be seeing it again). Furthermore, there were only two names (out of 10+) who currently have kids swimming regularly in our squads today!

Excellent, you might be thinking. If they've been there that long, those people must know what they're doing. They're experts who know how to run a successful swim team - we're in safe hands!

Oops, think again.

Take a look at the Maturity Curve below and see if you can spot the error in your thinking. It's okay, you're a young, immature volunteer-in-waiting, you're allowed mistakes. We even like it when you make mistakes.
Besides I've just completely made all of this up - I'm probably wrong.

Maturity Curve

Made up it might be, but it's based on 25 years of watching the ups and downs of Doncaster's swim teams - I might not be so wrong.

Good God, am I really that old :-(

Take a good look. Understand why one side is gorgeous, scorching hot red; while the other looks like it's just been taken out of the freezer.

Maybe we're too far up the curve for the next two questions to be fully understood by our soon-to-be-immature-volunteers, they've never known any different after all. I dare say our maturing volunteers lose sleep over these questions though, so lets imagine what response we might get at each end of the cycle.

"Can we afford a full-time Head Coach?"
"Can we afford to provide the water time our athletes need to reach the top?"

I know the answers. I've heard those exact same questions posed to both the red and blue camps over the years. This is what I've heard:

One of those attitudes will find a way to make it happen. The other one won't! Bizarrely, those could be different answers from the same person at different points on the maturity lifecycle - and often are. It's amazing the difference in attitude from having your own child's dreams of success hang in the balance over when you're exhausted after a decade of volunteering. People do amazing things when they're motivated, they do very little when they're not.

How cosy do you feel now about steering clear of taking one of those jobs? How sure are you that the status quo at Dartes will continue without your helping hand until such time as your child runs away to University? Are you worried enough yet about our location on the curve to start asking the awkward questions:

A Brief History of Time

Don't worry, you don't need the intellect of Stephen Hawking to follow this. I've already told you when that New Catalyst occurred. You did remember that date didn't you?

2005!
What happened?

We're about to enter controversial territory, I sense the lynch mob pulling up outside as I type. You'll note it says New Catalyst. The maturity curve really represents a cyclic lifecycle - it repeats. To discuss our recent climb up the curve, you have to accept that we'd previously fallen down the other side. A Cyclic Process We had! The Championships Medal Count testfies to that effect. It's that decline which is really the motivation for this article - steering clear of that slippery slope for as long as possible. We will fall eventually, it always happens, but let's try and dodge the banana skin for a little while longer.

So, 2005 what happened?

After a golden period in the early 1990s we'd been faffing around since 1997 waiting for the council to do something, or not do something, who really knew? Maybe waiting to find out was a symptom of the blue side. The red side would have grasped an uncertain situation by the horns and done their own thing - we were just at the wrong point on the curve for that to happen. Instead, we waited. Eventually the council made up their minds and among other things they employed a full-time Head Coach for Dartes. That was the catalyst needed for a fresh bunch of Immature New Volunteers to take over the committee and the remaining hero volunteers from the last charge up the maturity curve took their cue to leave. With enough enthusiasm to drive things forward under the leadership and inspiration of an ambitious new Coach suddenly they started making things happen. It's that same group of volunteers that make up the nucleus of our committee today, which points us to the curve's time scale.

The nucleus took over when their kids were 10-14 (how old are your kids?) Fast forward 6 years and those same kids are 16-20. Volunteers tend to be at their most dynamic and daring (maybe even desperate) while their own children stand to profit from their actions. They don't mind upsetting a few people with difficult decisions along the way, if their kids are going to enjoy the benefits. In other words, they'll do extraordinary things if left unfettered before their kids start running off to University. That suggests the growth side of the curve naturally lasts for about 6 years because few people ever step up to replace those volunteers who started off the run of success, and I very much doubt they ever did!

Why would you?
Replace experienced people with a strong track record, with people of unknown ability - are you mad?

Thus without some effort to ensure the fresh energy of new immature volunteers is constantly being added in to the mix you end up with a fairly predictable cycle of boom and bust. The boom lasting 6 or 7 years maybe.

Alarm bells anyone?

Aim High, then keep on Adjusting your Aim

So what keeps volunteers involved after their kids move on? The social side of running the club: they'll all be good friends after bonding for 6 years on such an exciting project. Be in no doubt, when you're helping to create something like this, it's very exciting. The desire to not see their pet project fall apart before handing it over to the next generation perhaps. All of that probably keeps them involved for another 2 or 3 years. But more than that, just like the swimmers take pride in their best performances, so to do those running the club. To watch Dartes climb that maturity curve, inching ever closer to its peak; the knowledge that you've been a major part in putting in place the environment that made that success possible; that makes you want to stay involved in some small way. Here's a quote from one of our hard working volunteers (I'm sure he won't mind):

"when it goes great the buzz I get is immense"

So those extra 2 or 3 years, that's 2 or 3 years where no one else attempts to replace them - easier to just keep them in post and tick along as before isn't it? Some will hang around even longer than that, until the next catalyst perhaps. But don't count on any of them driving things forward once they've tipped over the crest, those days are over. Their motivation for going the extra mile is gone. Maybe they've even taken the club as far as they believe is possible. Time for fresh eyes! A Vibrant Team

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we need a Libyan style revolution to force out the dedicated volunteers who've got us to this point. Far from it. They (we) have done a tremendous job to date and have lots of experience and knowledge to pass on over the next year or so. In fact, keeping them actively involved in the Dartes family is probably just as important as encouraging new faces to the fore.

What I am saying though, is that over the next 12months the rest of you need to demonstrate that you are ready to take over the reigns. Ready to start pushing the limits of what Dartes can achieve all over again. Where we are now is good, but it should be seen as the starting point for a new drive up a new curve of your own making - not the peak.

Go to our current leaders, make them hand off some of their workload to you. Don't just ask half-heartedly, insist and mean it. Don't put it off until next week, do it now while the thought is fresh in your mind! Definitely don't take an initial brush off as meaning you can go sit down again and do nothing. These are busy people, busy running your club on top of their full-time day jobs, you might have asked them at an unfortunate time. Keep trying and show them you're serious.

Most importantly, let them see that you'll keep Dartes running successfully so they can sit back and read the website occasionally with a glow of pride that they're still a part of something special.

The important phrase I'm grappling for here, is:
Take ownership!

I've sat on many committees over the years, and at the point on the curve where your committee is dominated by the Blue Team you usually hear grumbling: "Hmm, I wish the next generation would show some initiative and take over". But they don't, they never do, for exactly the same reason you used to convince yourself not to step up and take a job at the AGM: The incumbents are the experts!

Rescue the Situation / Save The Day!

Yorkshire results suggest we are still on the ascent (see the graph above), albeit I would say, quite near the top without a swift influx of fresh faces taking over key roles to keep the momentum going. We had a worrying time towards the end of 2007 when the new Coach left and council funding stopped, but fortunately the Red Team were just coming in to their ascendancy and were prepared to do the work necessary to put things back on track. The fruit of their labour is what your kids are enjoying today.

If we were to face a similar set back today, I very much doubt we'd rebound quite so strongly. We're approaching the wrong end of the cycle and the mature volunteers who've worked so hard getting us here need you to take up their workload.

So how do we postpone the flattening of the curve this time? Well that's simple. It's staring you in the face. If your child is 9, 10, or 11 the status quo definitely won't last long enough for your child to enjoy what Peter's eldest is enjoying right now; or what Chairman Chris' youngest enjoyed; or what Amanda and Danny's eldest took advantage of before leaving for Uni.

Keep things Fresh Without you personally becoming one of those immature, vibrant, dare-devil beginner volunteers, desperate to learn and all too willing to make mistakes; and enough of you doing so to overpower the more restraining and cautious voices of our maturing volunteers, your kids are going to end up disappointed.

FACT!

You may still have a little bit of time before the plateau occurs (this year or next would be my guess), but for a smooth transition of power ACT NOW! Otherwise, I'll leave you to explain to your kids how you stood back and let it happen as they watch their dreams crumble to dust, because that's what happens on the great decline. Once the momentum is lost, regaining it is very tricky, made even more unlikely by the negativity that pervades clubs as they start down that slope.

So kids, if your parents don't seem to be volunteering and you have big dreams for the future, you know what to do!