To those who know her, being recognised at this year’s 2019 Counties Manukau Sporting Excellence Awards as the volunteer of the year will come as no surprise, but for Suzanne Ihaia it represents the culmination of an entire team of people who work tirelessly behind the scenes at Pukekohe Affiliated Football Club.
“Receiving the award was a really nice recognition for the work I’ve put in, however, I do not do it alone. It is a team effort and could not be done without people like Vicki Wijdeven our secretary and all the volunteers who coach on Saturdays.”
Volunteering has always been in Suzanne’s life. Her Mum was involved in a number of sporting clubs and so for Suzanne it was a natural progression to become involved as a volunteer with Pukekohe Affiliated Football club where her Husband Dean was involved, and her children had come through the ranks as players.
“Volunteering is in my genetic makeup. I remember as a child having to hang around all day at the netball courts when Mum was umpiring and organising, all while being the President of the netball club. Dean is also extremely passionate about sport and particularly our Club, this has led to our whole family being involved in various ways.”
First Kicks runs every Saturday morning over the winter season at the A&P Showgrounds for over 250 children aged between 4 and 9. It is an introduction to football and children learn football skills through fun game play. A team of coaches work with each age group to encourage a love of physical activity and football that can be developed into a more structured game as they age.
“It is so rewarding to see the children running around playing football on a Saturday morning, it makes the work behind the scenes all worthwhile. There are so many bonuses to playing sport. Health and wellbeing at the top of that list. It doesn’t matter at what level you play, there is a place for you in sport.
The Sporting Excellence Awards are an annual celebration of outstanding performance and service in sport by people in the Counties Manukau region. Suzanne recognises how important it is to acknowledge the success of locals involved in sport behind the scenes. With the start of the winter season just a few months away, she would encourage everyone to help out where they can.
“Volunteers are so badly needed in all sporting codes, it’s really important to step up and help wherever you can. You don’t need any special coaching skills or training, just a willingness to have fun and help out is all the experience you need. The satisfaction of being involved and the people you meet, more than makes up for the effort you put in.”