“It really is just a labour of love, you do it because you love it, not because someone will give you a pat on the back but because it’s what needs to be done and what you want to do.”
As part of National Volunteer Week 2023, NRL Victoria is recognising the work countless volunteers do across our Victorian rugby league community.
Whether it be running a gameday table, coaching, administration or manning the canteen, each role goes a long way in ensuring each and every club continues to thrive.
With 1022 volunteers registered in 2023 and 356 of those being registered coaches, the ongoing support across all 18 metro and 6 Goulburn Murray clubs has seen rugby league bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic in a way very few anticipated.
Having been awarded the 2022 NRL Victoria Volunteer of the Year award, Pakenham Eels Secretary Elly Buchanan said volunteering gives people a chance to become part of their very own rugby league family.
“Like most people who volunteer it’s because of their kids, I got involved because I wanted to get involved in a club that was a real family environment, which is why we started the Pakenham eels,” she said.
“Rugby league is an underdog sport in Victoria…for me it was a case of wanting to support something that wasn’t the usual, as everyone played cricket, netball or AFL,” she said.
“Seeing kids play rugby league was really supportive to the concept that we have a really good NRL team here in the Storm and there’s a rugby league system there in Victoria now,” she said.
Buchanan said that rugby league is a tool to help bring communities together, whether that be through creating and maintaining relationships with local council, police or even just providing a place where participants and volunteers can feel like they belong.
“It’s about trying to engage those disengaged people, I’m a first generation Australian, my parents migrated here so I have a real-life scenario where I understand feeling displaced, not knowing where my place is,” she said.
“We have a lot of young people that have both of their parents working or not at home and therefore aren’t being engaged by their community and so the Pakenham Eels alongside all the other clubs around Melbourne are all about creating a community for people that really need it,” she said.
“All we need to do is get them to engage in something that they enjoy, as school isn’t for everyone but with rugby league it’s often tightknit like a church group or cultural group because they have something to relate with, that being rugby league,” Buchanan said.
Alongside being the heartbeat that keeps the Pakenham Eels running, Buchanan was also accepted to join the Cardinia Shire Women’s Network of Sport that sees a group of volunteers across 19 different sports come together to discuss and problem solves issues faced across all codes.
“We meet generally every month and talk about specific topics that are relatable across all codes, topics like volunteer burnout, compliance, new standards in child safe policy, all things that are super relatable across the board,” Buchanan said.
As for receiving last year’s 2022 NRL Victoria Volunteer of the Year award, Buchanan said it was a great honour to receive the award and credited her work with the club as purely a ‘labour of love’.
“For me to receive the award was so left of field, no one volunteers for the accolades, so it was really special.”
“I’ve found that especially for very in-depth volunteering, for some reason we are terrible at recognising the work, passion and effort we put into our own roles but for me it was super awesome to see that kind of recognition was even provided,” she said.
“It really is just a labour of love, you do it because you love it not because someone will give you a pat on the back but because it’s what needs to be done and also what you want to do,” she said.
“It definitely was a massive accolade and a celebration of all volunteers, especially within my club but also inside the broader rugby league community as well,” she said.
Coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been no secret that volunteer recruitment has been a challenge across all sporting clubs in Victoria, a challenge Buchanan said clubs must embrace and proactively look to rectify.
“If you do sit on your laurels, hope and pray someone comes to volunteer it won’t happen,” she said.
“Whereas I’ve found most people are more than happy to volunteer it’s just they haven’t been asked, so if you can be courageous to have that conversation and get people involved then it can go a long way,” she said.
“It can be as easy as approaching that person who has always provided great input at training and saying hey why don’t you help out the coach.”
“It’s all those little questions that I think are so important to ask but I think we are afraid to ask sometimes given it as a volunteer position,” she said.