How can I set up a peer support scheme for volunteers?

Peer-to-peer or mentoring support is important, especially for new volunteers. It can help them to integrate into your club more quickly and encourage them to come forward with questions rather than struggling along on their own. For volunteers in skilled roles such as coaches, it can also help them to develop within a role, identify where their volunteering can take them and where they’d like to go next. Volunteers in club management roles will also benefit from support that will help them to develop the club.

Peer support can take different forms:

  • A buddy scheme that pairs new volunteers with more experienced ones to help new volunteers settle in
  • A formal mentoring scheme for coaches at your club
  • A peer support scheme that pairs senior volunteers at your club with their peers in other clubs.

As volunteers at your club may do very different roles and have different levels of experience, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work. It may well be worth setting up a buddy scheme for all new volunteers as standard, but after this the needs of your volunteers may differ a lot according to their roles and the goals they have.

To set up a successful buddy scheme:

  • Try to pair more experienced volunteers with less experienced ones
  • Try to pair volunteers who do similar roles
  • Give guidance on what the scheme is about for both mentors and mentees, and advise Mentors on how to do their role
  • Introduce buddies to each other at a volunteer’s first session if possible
  • Ensure that buddies can contact your volunteer coordinator with any problems or concerns
  • Set a time limit for people to be formally ‘buddied’ – it may be that they remain buddies in an informal sense afterwards, but the goal is to help induct your new volunteers to the club within an allotted time frame, after which they shouldn’t feel dependent on their buddy.

More experienced volunteers can still benefit from peer support and mentoring. It may be that you can provide this within your club, or it may be that you need to connect them with people outside it.

For coaches, Sports Coach UK offers some specific guidance, resources and workshops that can help you plan and deliver a great mentoring programme:

For coaching and other sport-specific roles, take a look at your national governing body’s website – some offer specific resources and support. Some county sports partnerships (CSPs) also run mentoring schemes.

Sometimes a volunteer in a club management position, such as your chair or treasurer, might benefit from peer or mentor support. It can be hard to provide support from within your club for this as there may be no-one with relevant experience. However, you could find out if their predecessor would be willing to help, or find out if people in equivalent roles at other local clubs would also welcome support, and if so set up a scheme across the clubs in your local area. For people in club management positions, the Club Matters mentoring scheme can also help.

Peer-to-peer and mentoring support are common outside the world of sport and we can learn a lot from examples in other areas. Take a look at the case study below from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations showing how Voluntary Action Oldham set up such a scheme.

See the following links for more information:

Sports Coach UK - Mentoring guide

Sports Coach UK - Resources and workshops

CSP Network - Find your local CSP

Club Matters - Mentoring scheme

NCVO - Case study