How to Supervise and Evaluate Volunteers

How to Supervise and Evaluate Volunteers:

by Diana S. Cutaia

As part of our ongoing series around helping programs recruit and retain volunteer coaches, we are going to spend some time breaking down each of the areas we presented in the overview article. This month we will focus on supervision and evaluation through the lens of observations.

As we mentioned, central to any organization is ensuring that the mission and vision of the organization remain consistent down the line.  This means that everyone from the Executive Director to the board to the volunteers should all be well versed in the policy and practices of the organization. Organizations that conduct evaluations and perform routine observations of support staff have greater success in achieving these ends.

Supervision and evaluation can sometimes have a negative connotation, so it’s important that organizations are clear that the primary goal in utilizing both of these tools is to support the development and success of the volunteer.  As we employ a strength-based approach with our youth, it’s just as important to do the same with our staff.  Below are some tips to make sure the process is positive and productive.

Sit down early with the volunteer coach to discuss the expectations and policies of the program. Be sure that they have a clear understanding of how these look in their day-to-day practice.  Ask them about their expectations and goals for the season. These should include not just goals they have for their own professional development, but also what they hope to achieve for the program.

Let them know the observation schedule, and let them know they can also request a specific observation. Be clear that observations are about providing them with feedback and information about how they are meeting the goals and expectations. It’s also an opportunity for you and them to discuss any challenges and problem solve through those challenges.

When conducting an observation you should look to mirror back to the coach what is happening in the practice or game. That means you should not just provide them with a summary but some specific and measureable data that will help them get a clear picture of how they are doing.  It should include:

  • Measure the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) that kids are engaged in. One simple way to do this is by looking at ONE player during a 10 minute period. Every time THAT player is engaged in MVPA start the clock. When they stop, stop your clock. After 10 mins you will get a good idea of how long athletes are active in a 1 hour practice. If its less than 50%, then it may be because a coach is spending too much time talking or they are in lines waiting for turns.
  • Record the type and frequency of feedback given to players. Coaches should use their athletes’ names whenever they can, and provide athletes with specific praise as well as correction. (i.e. “Jimmy, I loved the way you keep your head up while dribbling). Often times coaches find themselves giving unspecific correction and generic feedback like , “good job” which doesn’t achieve the goal of reinforcing specific skills or behaviors.
  • Record how instructions are given.  Often times behavioral issues stem from how coaches provide instruction to begin a drill. If coaches aren’t clear around the behavior they are looking for or on how to perform the drill it can present a challenge for some athletes. Instructions should also be in a narrative form starting with the purpose of the activity, have a trigger word to begin the activity and allow for athletes to ask questions if they don’t understand. ( i.e  “We are going to do a drill called Score Four. The goal of this drill is to try to get the ball in the goal four times before the other team does. When I say, GO, each team will start in the middle of the field and try to score using only two soccer balls at least four times. Each team will have to decide how many defenders they want and how many attackers they want. Take a moment to meet with your team now to decide. Ok, are their any questions on how to play?”)
  • Record the types of “attention getters” that are used. Coaches can spend a lot of time trying to get the attention of their athletes to begin or stop activity. This can waste a lot of time in a short practice. Make note of how coaches get the attention of their players and how much time they spend doing it. Using simple attention getters like counting down with claps, or phrases like, “if you can hear the sound of my voice, clap once” can be more effective and efficient.

Make coaches part of the process. After you provide them with the data you collected from your observation, ask coaches if what you saw is consistent with what they hoped was happening. If not, ask them what changes they might make in the future and be a partner in helping them problem solve. If they feel like your observations are tools to support them and recognize their efforts they will welcome the process and it will ensure that they are more aligned with the programs goals and mission.