Finding my way around the Commonwealth Games

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The mountain biking at Cathkin Braes was spectacular

I’ve just spent two of the most enjoyable weeks of my life as a volunteer at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. As a sports event organiser and serial volunteer it is no surprise that I applied to be a “Clyde-Sider” but when I made the 800 mile round trip for my interview early in 2013, I had a rough flight, a bumpy landing and a cold wet day. I remember sheltering in the relative warmth of the People’s Palace and wondering if it was such a good idea.

When my shift roster arrived I was delighted to see that my sports were Triathlon, Mountain Biking, Marathon and Road Cycling. The role said “Results Technology Services, Transponder Team” and the cynic in me imagined a back-room job sorting timing devices. Oh no! If you watched the BBC coverage of the Triathlon Relay, you might have seen that I put in nearly as many appearances as Alistair Brownlee. Our team was issuing and collecting timing transponders and that meant fixing them to bikes or athlete’s ankles before the start and removing them at the finish. It was an exciting role with a front row view of the action.

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I camped at Lochinch in Pollok Park, in a small tent (2 seconds pop-up: 25 mins not-pop-down!). Camping Ninja ran a good ship – it felt secure and they did their best to provide enough charging points for all the phones. And they supported Project Recamp to reuse and donate camping equipment at the end. The Lochinch Sports Club volunteers and staff worked hard to look after us and battled manfully to keep a supply of hot water to the showers. I only had one cold one. They provided food service, although I had always left before breakfast which started at 7.00am. And there were big screens to watch the sporting action until 11.30pm when they turned them off and sent us out to our tents.

Early morning peace at Camping Ninja

Early morning peace at Camping Ninja

With the help of friends, thank you Debbie and Elizabeth, I arrived by train and was reunited with my tent, bike and uniform. I embraced the Glasgow 2014 ideal of “active transport”, and set out to cycle to all my shifts. The triathlon in Strathclyde Country Park was always going to be a challenge. So I set off extra early with route details and a borrowed OS map (thank you Christine and Malcolm). Three hours later I arrived at the athlete check-in gate of the triathlon venue. The transport and security teams who greeted me were in awe of my determination to battle the (unsigned) diversions around the Glasgow Green venue and the athlete village. I went down in history as the mad cycling volunteer who put in more hours on a bike that the competing athletes! Security kindly looked after my bike and Transport put me on an athlete bus to the other end of the park – which was closed to all other traffic for the event. The staff at Workforce Check-in rallied round to find me a breakfast of a banana and a “Lees Original Macaroon”. Not a macaroon as I know it, but if I ever come across one of these again I will be transported back to Strathclyde Loch. I was inauspiciously late joining the timing team but luckily this was a preparation session. The next day I modified my transport plans and combined cycling with the train to Motherwell.

Our triathlon shifts included a venue and team training day, the individual women’s and men’s races, a relay rehearsal and – the highlight – the Mixed Team Relay. Was I proud to be English? You bet! Surprised at the National Anthem? We all were. Congratulations to:

  • Jodie Stimpson and Vicky Holland, Gold and Bronze
  • Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, Gold and Silver
  • and Holland/ Brownlee/ Stimpson /Brownlee, Gold in the Relay
Proud to be English, puzzled by the National Anthem

Proud to be English, puzzled by the National Anthem

It was a pleasure to work with these athletes and they confirmed my belief, formed in my early days with aat events, that triathletes are generally a very reasonable bunch of people. Before the start of the team relay, Jonny Brownlee appeared in the changeover area with a pair of scissors, and asked me if he could shorten the transponder straps to stop them flapping about. He did his, and his brother’s. Impressive race preparation. I later recalled that after the individual event there had been 4 straps that were too short to fit back on the rack they came on. We now know why.

The blistering sunshine in the first week warmed the water above the temperature that wetsuits were optional. Yes, in Glasgow the water was so warm that wetsuits were forbidden by Triathlon rules. I also heard reports of melting tarmac on the bike route. There were industrial sized containers of sun-screen for volunteers to help themselves at breaks.

Results technology team

Results technology team

On the train journey home from the relay, I enjoyed a lively conversation with some David McNamee fans. They could see what a great time I was having, and how passionate I was about organising sport at all levels. (They assumed I must work in a school – irony, Mr Gove). One of the triathlon fans mentioned that he had considered volunteering but ultimately had not because he felt it would be a big anti-climax when it was all over. Yes it really is. But there are solutions – there’s a topic for a future blog post.

The marathon route came right through our camp-site. Handy for spectators but I had to get up at 5.00am to cycle to the event HQ. I was somewhat dismayed to find out, after check-in, venue tour and team brief, that our team was overstaffed and one of us could go home. As I’d had such a great role at the Tri relay I stepped down. But by this time all the roads had been closed. I might have had a lie in and a short stroll to cheer the runners through Pollok Park. Never mind. I understand it’s hard to plan such complex volunteer schedules. Instead I went back to the People’s Palace which was now the workforce rest area. This spectacular greenhouse which had provided some warmth and shelter in the winter was – well, like a greenhouse! I sat down in a comfy chair and fell fast asleep and missed the marathon completely.

Another gastronomic memory of Glasgow 2014 - a volunteer staple

Another gastronomic memory of Glasgow 2014 – a volunteer staple

The Mountain Bike venue also presented transport challenges, not least the 400m climb to the top of Cathkin Braes hill. So I settled for the bus – did my research on the way home from the marathon to check the bus stop was not on a closed road. The very helpful bus driver set me down in a random housing estate and told me to head off uphill on a minor track. Better luck than at the triathlon, I arrived straight to Workforce Check-in. It was an awesome venue and the huge wind turbine and buzzing helicopters added to the atmosphere. My job was again working with the Longines timing team and here on the 80% gate where athletes that drop behind are pulled or retire. Some were clearly outclassed. Others were frustrated. But I was surprised at the reaction of the crashed and bloodied Isle of Man rider who punched the air with joy when his team manager told him that his crash had been replayed several times on the big screen. If seems if you are going to crash, you want people to see it. Radio communications presented an unexpected challenge for me as all messages were in German. Most of the numbers came back to me, but who would have thought I’d have needed a European language at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

A day off – and someone gave me an athletics ticket. Thank you :-) And other priorities were washing clothes and bike repairs.

For the cycling time trial we were asked to meet at Commonwealth House in the City centre, the venue for my distant past interview on that chilly day. We were sorted into sectors, slowly, and bussed out onto the route. 7.30am check-in; 10.01am race start. we were in place and set up with only minutes to spare, a reminder that it takes a long time to organise so many people.

Back up timing for the Cycling Time Trial

Back up timing for the Cycling Time Trial

We were dropped into the middle of nowhere, in pouring rain. Our uniform rain jackets and umbrellas were good, and our trousers were quick-dry, but I was relieved to see a gazebo at my timing station. My job was to record the cyclist numbers and make sure the back-up info was radioed to Longines timing HQ – this time thankfully in English.

Cycle route sculpture on Route 7

Cycle sculpture on Route 7

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

I must have been inspired by all that cycling. Next day off I embarked on an excursion to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It was a splendid cycle along Sustrans NCR 7 which followed the Forth & Clyde Canal and the River Leven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A chance to run in the Pollok parkrun on Saturday – don’t forget your barcode! And then my final shift was the Cycling Road Race where we were removing transponders from some very expensive bikes.

Throughout my two weeks I’d experienced some great team leadership – take a bow Terence from Canada, our Tri results tech team leader. I’d had the satisfaction of of collaborating with some real team players, and a little bit of working with some non-team players too. Just occasionally it felt like we were in an episode of The Apprentice with some jostling and posturing and imagined calls of “Notice me! Give me the best job!”

But what I will remember most is the teamwork, the camaraderie of the campsite and the amazing friendliness of people in the city.

If you were in uniform people wanted to talk to you. I cycled in and out of the city at all times of day and night. They say “People Make Glasgow”.

One of my favourite places to relax was the BBC at the Quay: A hub of entertainment, free bands, big screen and the studio where they recorded “Tonight at the Games”. I’d been lucky enough to see Public Service Broadcasting, Bellowhead, PAWS, Prides and The Radiophonic workshop. On the last night Debbie and I, and several thousand others returned for one last time to The Quay to watch the closing ceremony.

Clydeside Evening

Sun sets on the iconic Finnieston Crane and Glasgow 2014 venues

Sad Glasgow 2014 is over. Will I be finding my way to the Gold Coast in 2018, I wonder.

It’s an honour to volunteer for parkrun

runners enjoying parkrun

More than 1 million people are registered with parkrun    Photo courtesy Simon Hart

On Saturday 14th June, 2014, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for “services to Grass-roots Sport Participation”. Paul started parkrun in 2004. And now these free, 5k, timed,Saturday runs are happening all over the UK and in a growing number of other countries. The statistics are so phenomenal that I will not include them here as they will be out of date tomorrow! Instead I’ll refer you to the foot of the parkrunUK home page where you can find the latest stats and here for the worldwide numbers. 

Even more amazing than the numbers of people running, are the numbers of people volunteering. Every week at least 3000 people in the UK help put on their local parkrun and a grand total of 60,055 different people have volunteered for parkrun in some way or another. I have been fortunate to see the inner workings of parkrun and experience the dedication of the most committed volunteers at the recent Ambassador’s conference. Ambassadors are instrumental in helping parkrun continue to grow.

The success of parkrun lies in having practical systems that can be taken on by volunteers. But I believe a far bigger contributor to the meteoric rise in new parkruns is the ethos that inspires ordinary people to step forward and volunteer. parkruns are organised by local people with the support of the ambassadors, a tiny staff of parkrun and sponsors.

parkrun is bringing communities together to make grass-roots sport happen; and as a consequence parkrun is bringing communities together.

 

Paul and parkrun deserve this Birthday Honour. And as one of the local volunteer Event Directors I can say that I feel very honoured to be part of parkrun.

You can read more about this story in the parkrun weekly news.

Get out of your comfort zone

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Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to new employable heights. Read the sound advice in this Vinspired blog post “5 ways to get the most out of volunteering“. It will help you choose the right sort of volunteering and help you get something out for YOU.

Built by professionals, put there by volunteers

A new sports facility for shared use by a school and community clubs has been built in Guildford, UK. The idea for an all-weather training pitch arose from discussions between the school and a parent support group and the project was led and funded by volunteers.

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“A sporting legacy that is benefiting clubs and young people”

Our vision was to apply for “2012 Olympic Inspired Facility” funding from Sport England to build a floodlit 3G pitch. Initial discussions with potential sports club partners, the County Sports Partnership and other stake-holders started early in 2011. Throughout the excitement of Olympic Year, the project plodded through planning permissions, neighbour consultations, an exacting application to Sport England, appointment of a consultant and build tenders. The pitch was built over the 2013 summer school holidays and was completed in time for the start of the Autumn term. The total build cost was £250,000 of which £122,500 was Sport England Inspired Facility funding and the remainder, the match funding required by Sport England, was raised by parents of students at the school. These parents organised a plethora of events including running races, a summer ball, quiz evenings, a promises auction, a car boot sale and craft fairs.

“Before this facility, outdoor sport stopped in the dark winter months”

The pitch is managed by the school and is used by the PE department during the day and for extra-curricular clubs after school. It means outdoor sport can now take place when the grass field is waterlogged and can continue all year even through dark winter months. In the evenings and weekends, clubs including hockey, football, rugby and lacrosse hire the facility for training. This brings new sport opportunities to the area and joins up community clubs and school participants for the benefit of both.

Acknowledgements

I would particularly like to credit Julie Dickson. It was our synergy and sense of humour that kept Julie and I working long and late on this project. Julie – your legal brain and tenacious approach were key. Thank you. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the “Pitch In Team” who stepped up and organised fund-raising activities. You all know who you are. We have all left a fantastic sporting legacy that will benefit young people long after our own children have grown up and moved on.

 

It Couldn’t Be Done

by Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959)

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!”

Read the rest of this poem here.

Where can you look for volunteers?

Positive cycleVolunteers and volunteering in sport: Some ideas, advice and agencies that can help you.

An extract of my presentation to a recent British Orienteering Conference.

 

“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it”

said, George Bernard Shaw, and I agree.

Ever wanted to put your hand up but hesitated in the face of negativity? Ever watched while a single doom-monger, with a well-timed outburst, puts off a whole crowd who are working on a good idea?

You may have just encountered a pessimist. Pessimists will often sound like this: He tried whatever you are suggesting once (just once, mind!) and it didn’t work. She did something similar to what you are suggesting and it didn’t work. They know someone who tried something ……..

What to do? Here’s a simple 3-point plan:

Separate
Dismiss
Gather strength in numbers

Separate yourself from these negative people. You will never change them. They may be people who have always had trouble seeing the positive or they have had a past experience that has put them off.

Dismiss their discouraging remarks for what they are – usually an isolated or historical example not relevant to the plans in progress.

Gather strength in numbers if there are more of you with positive ideas on what CAN be done, stick together. Support each other.

What ever happens, don’t let a lone negative voice disrupt the way of progress and good ideas. If all else fails, quote George Bernard Shaw at them!

And see for here for more inspiration

 

 

Want to join in and help with a local sport event?

Saturday 27th July 2013 is the anniversary of the London Olympic Games opening ceremony. If you were inspired by the Olympic Volunteers a year ago, do you want to dip your toe in the water of volunteering now? No big commitment. No long journey. If you do, Join In UK has the answer by offering you a way to find a sports even near you that needs some helpers. There are more 10,000 events to choose from all between July 27th to Sept 9th.

I was lucky enough to be at the Olympic Park for the launch and I recommend you watch this video now for some inspiration!

And you can listen to Dave Moorcroft (Director of Join In Local) talking to Danny Norman of parkrun.

If you want to be part of the Olympic Games volunteering legacy, then Join In is the place to start. And if you are a club or group looking for volunteers you can register here.

School sport since London 2012

….. have I mentioned I was on TV?

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a UK Parliament House of Commons Education Committee enquiry into school sport. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am passionate about sport for young people and I welcomed the opportunity to give evidence to this committee. I was free to speak my mind and had no employer or political masters preventing me from saying it as I see it! You can see the written report below, and view the BBC Parliament footage (which was broadcast live). Jonathan Edwards, Olympian and triple-jump World Record holder, speaks very eloquently later in the enquiry and says that he too can say what he likes whereas some of the panel have been “minding their Ps and Qs”. He thinks it was a very bad decision to dismantle School Sport Partnerships. He also raises the very relevant point about needing a way to measure PE outcomes. We live in an age when schools are judged by league tables and these are based on results of public exams. As there is no current way of measuring the effectiveness of teaching PE and sport, physical education is not included in the league tables. And if PE and sport are not included then these are never going to be priorities for schools to devote time and resources. “As a society we have to decide how much we value sport and physical education”.inpire a generation cropped

School Sport following London 2012: No more political football – the published report.

BBC Parliament TV coverage – it is all a very interesting debate, but if you just want to see me on TV then you might prefer to fast forward to 50″. Jonathan Edwards speaks from about 1′.40″.

 

 

Volunteers’ Week – anyone for sport?

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK – and it’s taking place from the 1-7 June 2013

If Volunteers’ Week makes you want to start – then let  me inspire you with some leads into  sport volunteering. You don’t need to be sporty – some of the best volunteers I know wouldn’t dream of breaking into a sweat!

Sport Makers is the official London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sports legacy, a Sport England scheme for sport volunteering. Watch this video to find out what it is all about. Formal or informal, your own initiative or part of a club – support and training is there for 40,000 Sport Makers.

Sport volunteering doesn’t need to be all form-filling and formalities. There are weekly parkruns all over the UK, and becoming worldwide, that are organised entirely by volunteers. You can find your local parkrun and contact them by e-mail – the address is on each parkrun’s volunteer page. Or just pitch up to the start of your local parkrun – at about 8.30 on a Saturday morning – and offer to help and they will involve you in the team. It will take less than 2 hours and you can probably join them for coffee afterwards.

Cancer Research UK organises Race for Life runs all over the UK. There is bound to be one near you. They urgently need volunteers to help on the day – find out more and sign up here. No previous experience required – a great place to start.