March 2016

More valuable than any gold medal

Over 300,000 volunteers provide an invaluable service for the whole country at 20,000 sports clubs in Switzerland. The Romanshorn Swimming Club is a perfect example of the clubs’ great community spirit. All of its 120 members get stuck in on a voluntary basis. Antoinette Gerber and Susanne Brühlmann are two of them.

Antoinette Gerber, volunteer trainer at the Romanshorn Swimming Club (TG)

They could also spend their Saturdays in the peace and quiet of their own homes. However, that is just not an option for Susanne Brühlmann (48) and Antoinette Gerber (50) from the Romanshorn Swimming Club (SCR). “This is our home!” say both of them. Swimming coach, Ms Gerber, puts a lot of passion and 26 weekends a year into her leading up-and-coming young swimmers “Sharks Elite” who she prepares for national and international competitions. The Club President, Ms Brühlmann, also came to the club's own indoor swimming pool in Münsterlingen on this Saturday for a competition. Every day, she does about two hours of volunteering: “it tends to be more, but I never write it down”.

Like the two women, about 300,000 volunteers at more than 20,000 sports clubs in Switzerland do not keep a record of how long they work. Nevertheless, their services are worth their weight in gold – for the community too. One quarter of the Swiss population plays sport in a club, i.e. does something healthy and at the same time throws their weight behind the community: one for all and all for one.

The articles of association of the Romanshorn Swimming Club stipulate that club life is not just about pursuing your own hobby. In addition to competitive sport, the aim is to “offer young people a meaningful and satisfactory leisure activity”. Every one of the more than 120 members – just under half of whom are under 18 years of age – knows that there is more to it than simply paying your club membership fee. From the board to the umpire and the bus driver who takes the juniors to competitions – they are all volunteers, including the parents.

The whole family takes part and they all work hard. At any rate, the club gets financial support from the surrounding communities, the cantonal sports department and various sponsors. “But no government funding,” emphasises the coach, Ms Gerber. This is in spite of the fact that the general public benefits from its indoor swimming pool which cost 150,000 francs to run during this winter half-year. In order to make ends meet, the club hires it out to other water sports clubs, for AquaFit courses and to the swimming school. The pool is available to everyone for swimming on Mondays and Fridays.

Nevertheless, this is not a fairy tale about pure self-sacrifice. These days, you have to be able to afford to volunteer. Ms Brühlmann is paid for one-third of the time she spends as part of her full-time job as President and also works part-time (50 percent) as a physiotherapist. The coach, Ms Gerber, is also the club’s office manager for which she is paid a 30% salary. However, and this is crucial for her: “The coaching jobs are done on a voluntary basis, even at the top level.” It is all the more important that the families of the club members working on a voluntary basis go along with it. Antoinette Gerber’s husband, an architect, is Vice-President and also a coach at the SCR. The President, Ms Brühlmann, also feels a close bond with the club through her 15-year-old son, Lorenz, who trains with the Sharks. Her six-year-old daughter, Linda, goes along to the training sessions and competitions and in this way is becoming integrated into the club family.

The SCR, which is more than 100 years old, does not have any trouble attracting young members like many other clubs do. After their sporting career, most of the young swimmers return as volunteer coaches. Ms Gerber is sure that this is also thanks to the role model status of the volunteers, which leaves a lasting impression. Even young swimmers automatically perform duties within their group, and in this way they experience how although you can accomplish a lot as an individual, it is only together with others that you can achieve truly great feats.

Text: Christiane Binder