Steve from Agility Nerd sent out a call for bloggers to write about Working/Volunteering at trials for a 'Blog Action Day'. I think if you go to his blog he'll have a list of links for all the postings so you can see what others have to say as well. I think this came out of a discussion over at Clean Run's Yahoo group. I checked out a bit of the discussion but there were so many posts, I don't have that kind of time or interest, but I did glean a little bit and one poster in particular had some rather extraordinary/inflammatory things to say that I may refer to a bit in my discussion.
I always work at trials, usually 4-6 classes per day for a DOCNA trial and 2-4 per day for USDAA depending on the trials needs. Sometimes I even go to work trials I'm not competing in. Within the past 2 years I've joined the 2 agility clubs local to me but even before joining I always worked trials and I work trials for other clubs/organizations as well. Whether it's my club or not doesn't effect how many classes I work. I don't consider this volunteering so much as work that needs to be done in order for me to enjoy my hobby (true volunteer work involves donating time/energy to organizations that do work to make the world a better place). It's a lot of work to put on a trial and all the work shouldn't fall on the backs of a few club members or individuals with training centers. I can't speak for AKC but the clubs/people putting on DOCNA and USDAA trials are not making huge amounts of money and in fact sometimes lose money. I know the last few 2-ring USDAA trials for both the clubs I belong to lost money. People hold these trials for a love of the sport not to make money but I'm sure this is obvious to most of those reading this. Most agility clubs are either technically non-profits or at least functioning like them for all intents and purposes. Some 'clubs' are as small as one person or have maybe a dozen members. Any money the club makes goes back into buying new equipment or covering trials that lose money. The only perks for members around here are a reduced entry fee and first choice at workers spots for the yearly seminar plus a few other small things. But they're hardly compensation for the hard work that club members put in nor are they meant to be. I only bring this up because there was a woman at the Clean Run discussion group who claimed that because she paid an entry fee she shouldn't be expected to work because it was up to the club to figure out how to staff their rings and turn a profit without help from paying customers. And I say just because an agility competitor joins a club doesn't mean they're selling themselves into slavery. Again, the financial benefits of joining a club are very slim for the individual compared to the work involved. Most people do it for a love of the sport and so that we can all have trials to go to not because they make money or particularly enjoy all the work or have nothing better to do as the commenter over at Clean Run discussion group proclaimed.
Now I know there are AKC breed clubs that hold agility trials for the sole purpose of making money and in that instance I can understand competitors not wanting to work for free because that is a 'for profit' situation and money earned there is not going to go back into the agility community. I know some of those clubs hire workers and in fact one of them 'hired' the Border Collie rescue group I volunteer for to do the grunt work for one of their trials. The rescue made over $1000 and the breed club who was made up mostly of non-agility folk didn't have to do the heavy lifting. Not sure if they made money but from what I heard both sides were happy with the working arrangement, a win for everybody.
I'm a numbers geek so I crunched a few numbers based on a one ring USDAA trial I attended over the weekend. I counted 176 jobs for one day assuming 1 score keeper, 4 jump setters, no scribe assistant and 5 course builders per class (in addition to the other positions). I figured there were roughly 56 handlers (maximum, there may have been less) based on the running order and taking into account multiple dogs so that works out to a minimum of 3.14 jobs/handler for the day if the work is divided evenly amongst competitors. I've done the same in the past for DOCNA and it works out 4 jobs/handler or so since there are more classes in DOCNA. This doesn't take into account people who can't work for legitimate reasons or who work a lot and maybe need to take a break off from working for a trial. If we conservatively assume 10% of the field or 6 competitors have a good reason not to be working the USDAA figure jumps up to 3.52 jobs/handler.
I get the feeling that most USDAA, NADAC and DOCNA competitors in Colorado work at least a couple of classes. I don't know for sure because I don't have the time, energy or interest in keeping track of who's not working but most people that I know work. Some work more than others but I'm not keeping score. According to the Clean Run discussion this is not the case in other areas (and I can't speak for AKC or UKC in my area). One person spoke of an AKC trial taking 13 hours because a large number of competitors flat out refused to work and also had the nerve to get angry at the slow pace of the day but yet still refused to lift a finger. I can't imagine attending such a hostile trial. How hard is it to jump into a ring and set a few bars or sit on your butt and hit the timer? Takes much less energy than sitting in your chair and stewing over the length of the day. One of the more inflammatory statements from the commentator over at Clean Run was something to the effect that she hates the agility culture and feels alienated by it because she refuses to work. Well if someone is sitting on their ass all day or practicing obedience with their dogs (as this person says she was doing) or sitting in the corner reading Ayn Rand's 'Virtue of Selfishness' and spouting Libertarian nonsense about Reverse Darwinism (I kid you not) then it's hardly a shocker when people are less than welcoming. Nobody likes to be taken advantage of and it's a bit passive aggressive to loudly reject the values of a community then cry 'boo hoo, everyone's so mean, nobody likes me, I hate this place'. I know Monica from Clean Run and others as well say that expressing animosity towards these people and walking around with a lot of anger towards them isn't helping matters and I soundly agree. I don't think it's healthy walking around with a lot of anger about anything. But the reality of the situation is that people are going to be angry if they feel taken advantage of and some are going to express it and telling them they shouldn't be angry adds insult to injury and is only going to make them more angry. It seems so much easier for the non-worker to just put down the Ayn Rand and go set a few bars or hit a few timers and be part of the community rather than rail against it and create a lot of animosity just to prove a point. Plus the day will go so much faster if everybody helps.
The other problem with people not pitching in is that the people who do work all the time get burnt out. If someone has to work 6-8 classes instead of 4 because someone else won't work then that person is going to be tired and more prone to mistakes both in doing their job and running their dog by the end of the day.
I'm not sure what the solution is to get people more involved in areas where this is a problem. The club could make working 2 classes per day mandatory for entry but how would you enforce that? If someone scratches their name off the workers' list and refuses to work their classes are you going to drag them kicking and screaming to the ring? You could refuse them entry to your next trial I suppose but you still need someone to keep track of it all. And I think people like the idea that they're volunteering so you could be alienating people who would work anyway and still not getting the slackers to do their part.
The club could hire workers and charge an extra fee that everyone has to pay. One club member on the yahoogroup said it cost them over $1000/day to hire workers for the day and I'm not sure if that was for every position or just ring crew but that seems low. At that rate each person would have to pay an extra $18/day or $36 for the weekend and I'm not sure if that covers scribe/timer/scorekeeper. It doesn't seem fair to charge someone the full rate if they're only doing 2/5 runs for the day while another handler with 3 dogs is doing 15 runs so the multi-dog handler could end up paying significantly more. The other problem with this is that you have to deal with inexperienced workers and this can slow down the day. Enticing enough experienced non-competing handlers to give up a free weekend to work at a trial for a pittance could be problematic. And if you do have jobs left that require workers like timer and scribe you're going to have a really hard time getting them after charging competitors a hefty 'worker's fee'.
One tactic that I've seen work well is to offer a really nice prize in a worker's raffle. DOCNA Champs. last year had a good quality tunnel for a prize and man you couldn't buy a worker's spot. People were waiting ringside clamoring for those spots before they even called for ring crew, I don't even think they had to post a worker's list. There's a woman who puts on NADAC trials single handedly and she usually has one of her nice high quality hand made fleece dog beds as well as an array of tugs and toys for her workers' raffle and she never seems to suffer for workers. It's amazing how well run and low stress her trials are considering she's only one person. I personally like getting vouchers for the next trial. Then there was the time I won a maggot ball which it turns out I've got a fair bit of use out of and never would have bought for myself. I doubt any of these incentives will entice the truly stubborn but nice perks for workers do tend to bring people out of the woodwork.
Treating workers well, or at least not treating them poorly, is important too. However it's important to remember that volunteer coordinators are volunteers themselves and of all the jobs it's got to one of the most daunting, stressful and thankless. Probably the worst treatment I had as a volunteer was when the volunteer coordinator started yelling my name over the loudspeaker in an irritated, angry voice saying, 'C'mon Elayne, you volunteered for this position, where are you?' among other things. Well where I was was in the other ring in the middle of my run. Can you say distracting? And I had told them I had a conflict and couldn't work but they told me no problem, they were holding the other ring. Then they decided not to hold the other ring. No the volunteer coordinator didn't have to resort to yelling at me over the loudspeaker and yes I did work for that trial under that volunteer coordinator again. Because I'm not one to hold a grudge and nobody's perfect. It's a long day and people's tempers fray, we need to cut each other some slack and not take everything so personally. No I don't think this person is well suited to the job but no I don't want to do it myself thank you very much so I'm not going to gripe and go off in a huff and refuse to work. I could give other minor instances of poor treatment, being bullied to work and poor organization of volunteers but it seems petty. Again nobody is getting paid the big bucks to put on these trials and walking around angry and holding grudges isn't healthy. Overall my experience is that the clubs around here treat workers pretty well (can't speak for AKC) as do the judges. There are always exceptions and sometimes someone is going to be having a bad day but I like to look at the big picture and overall I'd say I'm treated pretty well as a worker.
Poor coordination of volunteers can make for a stressful day for all involved and I do think responsibility for that does fall squarely on the club. It's important to have a loudspeaker or megaphone to be able to call for workers in the event that someone doesn't show up or not enough people sign up in advance. Remarkably there were several people on the Clean Run yahoogroup complaining about having to listen to these announcements. This is an easy fix. If you don't want to listen to the announcements then sign up to work, problem solved. Somebody has to man the rings and it could very well be that somebody finally got sick of working 6 classes and decided to see if someone else would step up. If everybody points to their premium and says 'Hey, it doesn't say anywhere that I HAVE to work so I'm not going to' well it's going to be a long day of yelling over the loudspeaker. If only someone would invent bars that reset themselves. Or little helper elves that magically pop out of the tunnels.
I feel fortunate that the trials I attend in my area have competitors that aren't hostile towards working. In any large group there are going to be people who give more than their fair share and those who sit back and let others do all the work but overall I get the sense that most people pitch in and by doing the work ourselves we get to keep our costs down, move the day along more quickly and generate a sense of community.