By Joe Novella Photos Yanni
For a lot of us, volunteering at our local sports club is a way of giving back to our community. It’s part of the circle of life. Our parents sold hot-dogs, coached the U9s, were part of a club committee, or raffled off the meat tray at half time, and so when our time comes we do the same. It’s also a great way to be a part of your child’s development by supporting them in their sporting endeavours and, last but not least, it’s a great way to stay connected to the local community and feel a sense of belonging.
There are so many reasons why volunteering at a local club is good for everyone involved but it’s not always an enjoyable journey, something that Steve Pallas (Managing Director, Sports Community), discovered when he was a young bloke. At just 20, Steve decided to put his hand up to join his local cricket club committee as Secretary. “I was at university at the time,” Steve said, “and I couldn’t find any books or resources on how to run a not-for-profit sports club. I basically just jumped into the deep end and then quickly found out I was out of my depth. I even tried roping in my best mate (Brendan Duyvestyn) to bail me out. I ended up being the worst club administrator ever.” It was such an unpleasant experience, that Steve was determined to find a way to make sure the same did not happen to others.
“At the end of the day,” Steve said. “People don’t put up their hands to volunteer at clubs in order to do a bad job. We all know you don’t get paid for volunteering but people still want to be able to contribute positively. I was no different.” Steve looked upon his initial failure as a learning experience, and fortunately it did not dull his passion for local sport. Over the next 25 years, he continued his active participation in Mornington Peninsula sport in both football and cricket and off the field he built a successful career as an executive in the financial services industry.
In 2007 Steve’s love of community sport was taken to the next level when he decided to put his successful financial services career on hold to become the CEO of the Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League. During his tenure he oversaw major structural changes to the operations of the league but it was what was happening at the coalface that worried him the most. He recognised that the volunteers of clubs in 2007 were still facing the same challenges he faced when he first put his hand up to be club secretary back in 1991.
“In my time at the MPNFL, I dealt with a lot of club administrators from all over the peninsula as well as the mum and dad volunteers, and I could see that nothing much had changed since I was a club secretary in 1991.” Steve saw first-hand that local clubs were so desperate for volunteers that they tapped people on the shoulder and threw them into roles with very little in the way of support. “And that really frustrated me,” he went on to say. “Because local clubs run on the blood and sweat of volunteers and they deserve better than just being put into a role and left to sink or swim.”
In 2012 Steve had had enough of witnessing burnt-out volunteers, volunteers leaving clubs due to bad experiences on committees and clubs struggling because people were no longer willing to put their hand up to volunteer, citing reasons such as “too much stress”. And that’s when he decided to start up Sports Community.
“I decided to start Sports Community to empower club volunteers, to help them do amazing things for their clubs.” Steve recognised that for clubs to succeed, they need their volunteers to have the tools and knowledge necessary to perform the tasks that they are asked to do. “I wanted to build a company that supports club volunteers,” he said, “by providing free website resources on everything needed to run a club from conducting an AGM, to securing sponsors and finding available grants.”
From humble beginnings where Steve and good mate Mick Duyvestyn operated the business out of an office in a spare room at Steve’s Mornington home, Sports Community now has a modest office in Dava Drive where online webinars on subjects like “How to be a successful club president” are streamed out to a nationwide and international audience. Other significant achievements include regular podcasts on sports club issues featuring guests including Jeff Kennett, that have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, and a social media community of followers in the thousands.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Steve said. “We don’t receive any government funding, the company was privately funded and we’ve had to make enormous family sacrifices to keep the doors open and I can’t thank my wife (Shona) and kids (Tayla, Milla and Zahli) enough for their part in this journey.” Despite the challenges, Steve and his team have stayed open since 2012 and managed to build an extensive library of resources for club volunteers on the Sports Community website, a significant amount of them available for free and others as part of a moderately priced Sports Community membership. “And,” Steve continues, “we have built a brand that’s recognised by all levels of government and peak sporting bodies as being synonymous with helping grassroots sports clubs and their volunteers.”
And now, more than ever, the value of Sports Community’s work is coming to the fore, by providing clubs and their volunteers with support and guidance on navigating their way back to operation as restrictions around COVID-19 and community sport are lifted. “COVID-19 has stopped community sport in its tracks,” Steve said, “and clubs are going to need all the help they can get to get themselves back up and going, and sustainable for the future, and we’re here to help.”
I finished off my interview by asking Steve about his greatest achievement with Sports Community. “Well, that’s easy,” he said. “If 20-year old Steve Pallas was around now, he could put up his hand to be club secretary and know he’d be supported and empowered to do the best he can.”