Volunteering in sport as a gay man

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This week I had the opportunity to participate in doctoral research exploring the experiences of LGBTQ+ volunteers in sports. I spent an enjoyable hour reflecting on my journey in sports with a focus on cricket. I spoke about my time as a committee member at one club and leading the establishment of another, a specific LGBTQ+ club. We don’t often stop to think about these journeys and what they mean, so I was grateful for the chance to reflect.

There are a few things I learnt from the chat, drawing on experiences that may resonate with others, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Volunteering, for me, has been in large part about finding a home, a place where I belong. I have always been someone who helps people if I can and I always search for the good in people. If I can help then I will, and by extension, this is true of my involvement in cricket. Volunteering over the last few years has been about finding a home, contributing and being part of a wider team.

I don’t think this is unique amongst the LGBTQ+ community. Often we can be ostracised by family and friends when growing up or coming out, leading us to search for a new place of belonging, a new tribe.

My first experiences in sports volunteering came when I became an umpire in Aussie Rules Football when I was a teenager. I wasn’t good enough to play at a high level, so umpiring gave me another route to stay involved. It also meant I could evade the intensity and often uncomfortable nature of the changing rooms. I was grappling with my sexuality at the time and feared being outed. A changing room full of 18 of my school friends and peers was not a place I wanted to be.

Aussie Rules provides a community for so many people, and I wanted to be part of that. My dad had served on the South Adelaide Football Club board and he had introcuded me, and my brother and sister to the club. As a result I had become a passionate supporter many years earlier and still follow the club today. Being a supporter wasn’t enough, I wanted to do more and successfully made a case to join the board. I served for 18 months before coming to the UK. Looking back, I never fulfilled my sense of belonging in that process. I was in the middle of coming out and struggling to navigate the emotions entangled within that. Although I was at board meetings and loved the club, I remained emotionally very vulnerable and closed myself down to opportunities to shape and create the vision and ethos for the club in the future.

Almost two decades later I got involved in the great game of cricket, first as a player (following many years out of the game altogether) and then as a volunteer. I looked after my club’s social media, some social events and then undertook the secretary function for two years. During the final year of my secretary role, I started the LGBTQ+ Unicorns Cricket Club, taking on the role of Chair. The differences between the two experiences can be described best through the sense of belonging I felt and the feeling of making a difference.

In my new role at Unicorns I feel like I have a greater sense of purpose, drive and direction. Taking a club forward from the start produces challenges, creates opportunities and a chance to build momentum through fresh leadership. This was a role I willingly took on and am happy to drive. Previous volunteering, on reflection, was about finding belonging where I didn’t have it as well as contributing but not leading.

The key difference is the value and validation I feel in my new role. It is pronounced and important.

Having a renewed focus and desire to make a change is complex but, for me, comes from a sense of belonging, having found my community. The connection is deeper than anywhere else I have been. This connection engenders a sense of home. And now, I am in a position to make a significant difference. The ripples are spreading as the role and club grow.

Volunteering for me has always been about belonging, being at home. While all my experiences have taught me something different and have opened up opportunities, my latest role at the Unicorns is where I have found my feet. Now I am in a place where I can make the difference I want to make. And that, I hope, will change cricket for the LGBTQ+ community and enable me to grow in ways I may have never imagined. It has already had an impact on my confidence, both on and off the cricket field. It is time to take that confidence into season 2021.

Reflections on LGBTQ+ life and experiences playing club cricket in England — the only Aussie + gay cricketer at the club! Contact: lachlantsmith@gmail.com