What happens when a community loses its motivation? Who’s responsibility is it to keep that motivation high and the community vibrant? In organizations led exclusively or mainly by volunteers, where do participants get the mindset that they have little or no responsibility to contribute to the success and life of the organization through their active participation?
The e-mail below is a rare look into an all too often problem facing community organizations of all types. Most in the multi-sport communities would argue that we are immune to this because our community is made up of supportive, active, “A” personality adrenaline junkies that live for this. Unfortunately, human frailties to criticize, take rather than give, assume rather than discover or simply feel that we were placed on this earth to have others create opportunities for us while we sit passively back can often be too much to overcome. Tri-Atlanta is at a tipping point. How they address this may be a lesson we can all learn from.
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“Disappointed with Tri Atlanta”
Wed Jul 18, 2007 10:22 pm (PST)
I was departing for an anniversary vacation with my wife (who vowed to
divorce me if I brought my laptop with us to `work’) when this
chatter about being “disappointed with Tri Atlanta” began to
surface. And between the three business trips I’ve been on in the
last two weeks and some serious grad school prep, I’ve been hard
pressed to put my many thoughts to paper.
So what probably goes without saying is my time commitment to leading
this organization into a healthy, thriving state is thin to non-existent
and therefore as my tenure wraps this season I openly invite one of the
many critics at large to put their schedule where their mouth is and
join in the worthy fight to advance the community of our sport that is
currently woefully underserved around Atlanta.
Two major viruses are plaguing not just Tri Altanta but the Georgia
Triathlon community as a whole:
First are the vocal consumers who think by paying a few bucks they are
not only entitled to a newsletter but are therefore a member of the
“community” and all its benefits. Buying the Wall Street Journal
doesn’t make me a stock broker or a member of the financial
industry. Whether or not you contribute a few dollars, this is still a
100% VOLUNTEER group and ALL the materials, programs and benefits we
work hard to generate are not things that can simply be bought.
Community means getting off your ass.
The second major issue seems to be lack of motivation or belief that
this community is worth putting any effort into. Yes our schedules are
stretched to the minute and adding a line item in your Palm Pilot sounds
suicidal to many, but like some other non-native Atlantans and long-term
Tri Atlanta members, I too have seen before the productive,
advantageous, inspiring, energizing and FUN times that come from a
tight, committed, consistent group of friends in the sport who take a
moment to grab a drink every once in a while, carpool to races and hang
out before and after and who match up to train and work out.
So whatever the case and whomever can muster the spirit to lead this
rabble, I plan on helping in any way I can to make Atlanta a great home
for triathletes for as long as I’m around. The title of President is
therefore open for the taking; though I will gladly offer my humble hand
at helping generate any materials, newsletters, publicity,
communications etc. needed as these are things I can do in my sleep.
Keith Marshall has done a fantastic job manning the books as has Brett
Clarence done in babysitting our membership database. Adam Teja has
graciously committed hours to engineering a new website though we’re
bogged down trying to hunt down some DNS info from who-knows-when (Jane
Fratesi, any ideas?) Christine Strange had been charging ahead
developing sponsorships and corporate partnerships before parting ways
with the group; if someone can get her the tools she needs to work her
magic maybe she can be brought back in, health willing. Jake Seely has
been harvesting triathlon resources to share via the website should that
ever make it into the open. And other long-standing members like Doug
Simpson, Lisa Marshall, Collette Ragan, David Stewart, Kevin Krehmeyer
and so on have always been helpful in many ways, though as time goes on
their schedules are more densely packed and the rest of the community
owes it to them to pick up some slack.
So the gauntlet has been thrown. Welcome to anyone willing to own up.
This community is ripe for an awakening though it cannot come from two
or three people. This isn’t the Atlanta
Cleaning-Out-Your-Gutters-Club, this it triathlon â€“ one of the
greatest sports conceived by man and hands-down the most exhilarating
and rewarding! Can we get something started already or what?
(Former) President, Tri Atlanta
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The post above is an e-mail sent from the President of the Tri-Atlanta triathlon club. I belong to a variety of online endurance communities, mostly to connect with group workouts because I travel so much for work and also because I like to see what’s going on around the country in the local running and tri-communities.
For the past three years, I have traveled pretty routinely to Hotlanta and have had an amazing time connecting with the Tri folks associated with Tri-Atlanta, the cyclists and triathletes who train out of the Buckhead YMCA and the great runners who meet most evenings in Piedmont Park, Wednesday’s at Virginia-Highlands, or Tim Sullivan’s Cabbagetown Running Club who meets on Thursday evenings for their weekly runs.
Having started a number of active communities over the past twenty years, I can tell you that leading a club is right up there with being a race director as one of the most thankless jobs you’ll ever have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying for myself by any means because I get more out of doing what I do than anyone would ever imagine, but I also tend to focus on training programs that have a defined beginning and end. It’s the founders and leaders of clubs with an infinite expected lifespan that have my greatest admiration.
The first running club I ever joined was called the Trail Runners Club of Santa Monica and was founded and has been led by Stan Swartz. He’s been leading this club forever,Â probably since he left military service when Pre was still just the beginning of a word.
Every Sunday morning, Stan would meet us at Palisades High School and we’d carpool to the trailhead where we would begin our run. Week after week, year after year, decade after decade, Stan has committed himself to this responsibility and for the most part, all Stan ever gets is a nod and a “great run” from the regulars before we jump back into our cars and head back down Pacific Coast Highway to get on with the rest of our weekend.
I always thought that the reason Stan did this was because of the first timers, those that had never been out on a trail before; those who run Malibu or Sullivan Canyon for the first time and have an eye and heart-opening experience when they realize that minutes from the hustle and bustle of what most people think of Los Angeles is a slice of heaven on earth. It’s a smile that can’t be wiped from their face and will be branded on their souls. This is what drives Stan to wake up at 4:30 am or 5 am every Sunday morning, even during a full year when he couldn’t run with us because of a very serious illness.
When I traveled back to Los Angeles last year, I naturally made a point to find time to run with the group on Sunday morning and as it happened, my good friend and running partner Barry lost his car key somewhere on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) during the run, so Stan offered to drive us back the 30 miles or so to Barry’s condo. Before we left the area, Barry, Stan and I went walking along PCH trying to find a key that Barry felt must be there somewhere, because he remembered stopping to tie his shoe and he figured that’s when it must have fallen out. Well, we didn’t find it and Stan drove us back.
As we were stuck in the traditional summer beach traffic I realized that not once since the first time that I had met Stan did I ever thank him for doing what he does. In that car, I had a complete revelation that I’m embarrassed to say should have occurred to me years ago. The mere fact that I can fly from New York and expect that the group will be running, the trail will be marked and the same people will be there is one of the few things that I can count on when I return to my birthplace that seems to change its appearance each and every year. The single reason this is possible is Stan. Just like Coach Mike Barno who leads the Westchester Track Club or Tim Sullivan in Atlanta, or Brett who runs the virtual triathlete community TriScoop, Stan makes this all possible. Stan makes it possible for me to show up year after year and feel wrapped in familiarity and enthusiasm.
In this very time-consuming and thankless task, Stan and club organizers and podcasters like him have changed thousands of lives.
What makes us feel entitled to this service? In the years that I lived in Los Angeles and was a regular member, I led some weekend runs, marked some trails, and financially supported the launch of the Malibu Creek Trail Challenge, but I always knew that I could come and go as I pleased. If Stan stopped showing up, the entire community would have dissolved. And for their efforts, what do these people dedicated to community service receive? Personal satisfaction as I’ve described above, but you know what they mostly get? Criticism. “The trail wasn’t marked very well, Stan.” “Why didn’t we run a different way, Stan?” “Can’t you changed the schedule next week to accommodate my son’s Bar Mitzvah, Stan?” This natural orientation to entitlement is short sighted, self indulgent and quite frankly disgusting and I include myself as one of those who fell into that trap.
Why do we necessarily migrate toward this sense of entitlement instead of a swell of appreciation? Why is it so easy to take and yet so difficult to give? Why is it so difficult to get people to volunteer to support the community that they say that they love and enjoy? And perhaps most importantly, why do we treat those who do give so selflessly of themselves so poorly or at best indifferently.
I wish I had answers to any or all of these questions. Perhaps realizing that these predispositions exist is enough to remind me to reorient myself in a better direction.
When I was in high school, I used to love the first day of school, not because of the people I would see, but because I’d had three months for people to forget the fool I had been by the end of the prior year. Perhaps on the Thursday after Labor day, I would show up at school and I would be seen as a different person. It didn’t always happen, but the opportunity was always there. I had the opportunity to reinvent myself.
As an adult, our lifestyles and responsibilities make this natural separation harder to achieve. That said, every morning that we wake up, we have the ability to see the world through a completely different lens than we did the day before. We can reinvent ourselves through our behaviors and our actions. And we can make the affirmative decision to live with a sense of entitlement or take on the daunting responsibility to improve our own life and the lives of those around us by showing our appreciation for their efforts.
What is clear, is that this choice is ours and doesn’t depend on anyone else.