Skip to content

You always have to start somewhere

Celebrating youth social action during Volunteers' Week, Elliot McHugh - former nominee for Swim England's national youth volunteer of the year - shares his volunteering story.

02nd June 2021

by Elliot McHugh
Youth volunteer, Swim England

I first got involved in volunteering back in 2018 when I joined Swim England’s National Youth Advisory Panel, which I’m currently the vice chair of.

I remember seeing an advert for the panel on Twitter and thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the aquatic community and also develop my personal skills.

Joining the panel was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I think the key with volunteering is to always give it your best effort. The more you give, the more opportunities you open yourself up to.

You always have to start somewhere – just get involved in whatever way you can. Everyone’s path into volunteering is different, and if opportunities don’t come up, you can create them by asking around and sending emails offering your services!

Youth volunteer Elliot McHugh at the Houses of Parliament for a Swim England 'value of swimming' event.

Helping others

One of my early experiences volunteering was at the Swim England Synchro Combo Cup, where I was responsible for operating the music for each of the routines.

It was a 13-hour shift, but I enjoyed every minute as it was an opportunity to learn more about synchro, acquire a new skill and work under pressure – I didn’t want to let the teams down by making a mistake!

Another highlight was being selected to be part of Swim England’s ‘Value of Swimming’ campaign and visiting parliament, where I spoke with Swim England’s Chair, Duncan Goodhew and others.

Looking back, I’d never have thought that volunteering would offer such a wide range of opportunities.

One such opportunity was giving me the platform to set up Swim England’s first Regional Youth Advisory Board.

I’ve always had a vision of giving more young people a voice in sport, and the regional youth panel was a great opportunity to do that. Once I got approval from the board, I created an application process, interviewed potential candidates and today we have a fantastic panel of eight volunteers.

Alongside that, our national panel’s leadership team worked with volunteers in the LTA and England Netball to help them set up their own youth panel, which England Netball has now created. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the youth panel movement in other sports.

Personal development

I have learnt many new skills from volunteering, but the ones that stand out to me are leadership, communication and professionalism.

Volunteering exposes you to all kinds of situations – many people think it’s just about packing the chairs away at events, but in fact it’s so much more. You get involved in all sorts of interesting activities and events, and meet lots of new people along the way.

During my time as a volunteer I’ve organised youth events, learnt how to manage a social media account, been offered to help kit out Olympians and interviewed some amazing athletes and sporting professionals.

Many of the skills you learn from volunteering are crucial in the workplace, so developing them at a young age puts you one step ahead.

How youth leadership can continue to make a difference

I think we should look to engage young volunteers by creating a clear pathway into volunteering across all sports.

Youth panels are a great way for young people to share ideas and feedback to national governing bodies and influence the future direction of their sports. Everyone can get involved – whether it’s offering strategic insight, driving new initiatives or helping with event planning.

It’s important to recognise the different tenets of volunteering in order to maximise engagement, and also reward those who demonstrate exceptional commitment.

My advice to anyone who wants to get involved is just to go for it. Get involved in any way you can because giving back is one of the most rewarding things you can do in sport.

Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.