Gymnastics on the Grand – a Lesson in Volunteer Support

Gymnastics on the Grand (GOTG) is the largest gymnastics meet in West Michigan and one of the largest in the country hosted by Grand Rapids Gymnastics (GRG) and Devos Place.  This USA Gymnastics-sanctioned meet houses more than 2,000 gymnasts from all over the country and Canada.  We are excited to welcome everyone to Grand Rapids to participate in one of the first meets of the season, held this year on Dec. 2-4 (read more about GOTG in the blog by Meet Director Shane Uson).

What does it take to host one of the largest meets in West Michigan?  Volunteers, and lots of them! With national Make a Difference Day Oct. 22, it is fitting to share how volunteers make our event a success, offer advice on recruiting volunteers, and encourage everyone to make a difference in your own way.

My volunteer story started simply enough. I started baking cookies for my kids’ classes, and that morphed into the secretary of the PTO.  My daughter joined GRG four years ago, and we learned how important it would be to volunteer for our new gym’s meet that season.  Our first year, my husband and I diligently volunteered our required sessions.  I was nervous at first, but as soon as we stepped out on the floor, the gymnasts’ energy became apparent and it was clear how important this meet was to them. After the first year, I became the volunteer co-chair for GOTG.  The following year, I was the chair.  

So what does it take to coordinate volunteers to pull off such a massive annual sports competition? Here are a few ways that we recruit for and manage the volunteer process that may help you for your event.

Identify volunteer roles and create a structure.

With so much work to be done to pull off an event, you may need to group your volunteer needs into categories and committees. In our case, there are two tiers of volunteering: meet weekend volunteers and year-round volunteers.  During the meet weekend, roughly 367 volunteer positions need filling – that’s 1,468 volunteer hours!  This includes setting up four gyms; admissions; timing positions for bars, beam, floor and vault; and passing out medals and ribbons to champions.  It also includes tearing down gyms during and after the competition and loading up our equipment.

Our year-round volunteers meet during the off-season to prepare for the meet.  A hospitality group ensures judges and coaches have food, water and lodging during the meet.  The decorations committee constructs displays.   Our scoring committee pre-registers all gymnasts and manages scores during the meet. The awards committee supplies medals and ribbons, announces placement and presents awards during the meet.  A graphics committee provides the design for the medals, t-shirts, logos and program.  Meet directors ensure that all rules and regulations are in place.  These are just a few of our committees who dedicate so much of their time to this meet. 

Recruit from multiple sources.

Who makes up our volunteers?  GRG coaches, parents, gymnasts, members of our community, and even parents of our competitive gyms who are always eager to help out if needed.  Many area sporting events rely heavily on volunteers, and here are some tips that have worked well for us as we recruit to fill our volunteer spots annually:
  • Contact your local sports commissionThe West Michigan Sports Commission has been supportive of our annual gymnastics meet from the start, and they have an extensive database of volunteers with experience in assisting many other sporting events hosted in our community.
  • Engage parents – If your event involves students like ours, set up a system where parents need to log so many hours to the organization. With GRG, we are obligated to volunteer annually for five shifts, though most do more.
  • Tap into high school students – Contact high school groups needing volunteer credit hours for graduation or high school teams with an affinity for the sport. For example, a local school with a gymnastics team can bring their team to volunteer provided their coach is with them. Contact your local high school National Honor Society advisors or sports directors to find these students. (And be sure to provide a letter afterward giving students credit for their hours.)
  • Contact military members – Most military branches evaluate their members on how they do on and off duty to determine future promotions, and we have had great success recruiting military looking for volunteer projects to complete their performance reports. Contact the volunteer liaison at your local Michigan National Guard office and explain your volunteer needs to secure some volunteers.

Use an online volunteer management program.

Once you have determined roles and recruited your volunteers, you have to manage them. We use an online program called SignUp.com to manage our many volunteer hours.  The program (choose between a free basic level and an upgraded service for a small annual fee) sends out reminder emails to volunteers to sign up and will even send out mass emails with each individual’s volunteer position and time that the volunteer signed up for.  The program creates contact rosters of all volunteers to help you communicate.  If each volunteer is required to volunteer a certain amount of positions, the program also creates a roster to help the coordinator track this.  It is a well-organized system that has been essential for our volunteer program. 

To learn more about how to volunteer for Gymnastics on the Grand and get other volunteer advice for your event, contact gotgvolunteers@gmail.com. Also, click here for more information on Gymnastics on the Grand. And remember, we can all make a difference locally by helping out with local youth and amateur sporting events. 

Elizabeth Green
Guest Blogger
Elizabeth is the volunteer committee chair for Gymnastics on the Grand, Dec. 2-4 at DeVos Place Convention Center

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