16 May 2023

Shining a light on the importance of Volunteers in Taekwondo  

Fourteen years ago, Theresa McCoombes was sitting in the stands of a Taekwondo event on the Gold Coast, feeling bored and restless, when she was suddenly asked for help. 

“There was a local tournament during the day and a selection event at night, and the organisers asked me if I could help them run a computer system,” McCoombes recalls. 

“I’d never done it before, but I thought to myself ‘you know how to use a computer, you’ll pick it up’. So, I was thrown in the deep end basically.” 

McCoombes was well versed in Taekwondo’s rules and scoring system, having observed tournaments every weekend for years while her husband Keith, a 4th Dan Black Belt, was competing. 

With a bit of extra help, the event ran smoothly, and it marked the beginning of McCoombes’ journey as a valued event volunteer and an Australian Taekwondo Queensland referee at state and national events. 

“I used to wonder why Taekwondo events would take so long and once I got involved, I realised I can either sit there and whinge or do something about it. I might as well jump in and start helping to ease that burden a bit, so we can all leave at a reasonable time,” says McCoombes. 

“I started regularly working on the scoring systems, then I became a referee. My husband Keith also started his own Taekwondo club, so I got involved there and started training too.” 

More recently, McCoombes has been assisting athletes, coaches, and spectators as a marshall at Australian Taekwondo events. She’s also part of the Queensland Tournament Committee. 

For McCoombes, volunteering is about helping others and ensuring that events continue to run, so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the sport and martial art. 

Without a strong volunteer network, many of the events that Aussie Taekwondo athletes use to build their skills and experience, would not be possible.

“You can see that it makes a difference. It keeps things moving and the volunteer network means that they’re not struggling to find people to run events,” McCoombes says. 

“You can have as many competitors and referees as you want, but you’re still not going to be able to run an event. You still need people in the background doing bits and pieces – getting the players to the court, packing up and setting up. 

“Those things don’t happen without volunteers.” 

Being part of a tight-knit, community-minded group has also made McCoombes’ efforts feel worthwhile. 

“In Queensland, in particular, we have a really good team. We’ve just had a few more people join this year, which has been really good. There’s a lot more people we can delegate to and they know what’s happening. 

“They’re at every event because their kids are competing and like the rest of us, they’re thinking ‘well, I’m here anyway, I might as well do something’.” 

Much like the broader Taekwondo community, McCoombes says the volunteer network feels like a “second family”. 

“People say that a lot, but it really is like that… the relationships you build, getting to know everyone and watching them grow. You see kids just starting out when they’re five or six years old and in the blink of an eye, they’re 17 or 18. You’ve watched them grow up.

“We had a massive event at the Gold Coast last weekend … Keith was refereeing, and I was really busy doing what I’m doing… and my children were running around, and I knew they were safe. I didn’t have to worry that they’d run out on the road or anything like that because we’ve developed this network of friends that are always watching out for you. It takes an army to raise a child and the Taekwondo family is part of that. 

“You get a sense of pride from doing your job well too and seeing how much people appreciate it. I remember working at a selection event for the President’s Cup and Australian Open in 2019. I helped out a little bit and now I’m being approached to do that role. So, you get known for doing certain things and being good at them.” 

In 2021, McCoombes was honoured as Australian Taekwondo Queensland’s Volunteer of the Year, and she encourages any parents or spectators who are attending Taekwondo events and have some time to spare, to introduce themselves to the officials and offer them a hand – even if they can only provide a small amount of assistance.  

“Don’t be afraid to come and say hello. You don’t necessarily have to volunteer straight away on the day. But just knowing that there’s someone else out there who could give you a hand in the future is important, and there’s plenty of events in each of the states that always need volunteers.

“It doesn’t have to be an all-day thing. It could be a couple of hours on the day or helping set up the day before or pulling up mats at the end of the day. We still need people to put some water on the table for referees or do a rubbish run or take some results to the results desk.

“We welcome anyone and everyone who’s willing to pitch in at any point. Even if you can only spare an hour, that’s better than nothing. It gives some of us who are there all day a chance to go to the toilet, get something to eat, or a quick breather. 

“You get to build really good relationships with coaches, all the competitors and referees. It’s a good networking position, probably more so than a referee, because you’re having that personal interaction with them. You can joke around with them and have a bit of fun. 

National Volunteer Week 2023 is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers and runs from Monday 15 to Sunday 21 May 2023.

Anyone who is keen to get involved in volunteering can register (through Australian Taekwondo or their local club) for a free National Volunteer Membership, which is specifically for club members and non-club members who want to volunteer at their local club, state, or national events. Volunteer members must commit to supporting volunteer opportunities at state and/or national events. This includes supporting local club events.

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