Bristol Paints Volunteer of the Month: Caren Friend
Affiliate: Manly Warringah Touch Association
Position: Referee Director
There are many ways to introduce Caren Friend to you; a loving wife and mother to three incredible children, nationally decorated medical practitioner, award winning Referee Director, cherished mentor, successful sportswoman, respected leader, and something we can all relate to – a serious touch head!
Yet at the heart of it, all you really need to know is that Caren is someone who cares. Deeply, sincerely, and irrevocably. About her family, her friends, the entire community. She has devoted her professional career to caring for others, first as an Emergency Department Nurse then in Nursing Management and most recently as a key member of the NSW Health Disaster Planning and Management team.
Even during the Pandemic, Caren has found time to support the touch football community. With over 14 years under her belt as a volunteer for the Manly Warringah Touch Association, she is highly valued for her dedication, service, and leadership. Her impact within the sport has expanded to NSW Touch where she sits on the Referee Coaching Panel and heads a new project dedicated to the recruitment, retention, and development of female Referees.
This month we are recognising her exceptional contributions to the sport over the years both on and off the field. We are proud to present Caren the Volunteer of the Month award, thanks to Bristol Paint.
We sat down with Caren to talk about her touch footy journey, tips on staying safe and healthy during the pandemic, her advice to any touch newcomers, along with a preview into her new project with NSW Touch.
How did you first get involved in Touch Football?
I've played touch since I was about 15. I started playing in our local seven a side comp and then it progressed from there. I went away from it for a few years after starting a family but then I came back. But I ended up getting back into refereeing more than playing, because every time I went down to play, we were short. I just thought, we're always short of players and ended up forfeiting, but I still wanted to have a run and be a part of the community so I started reffing and I loved it so kept following that path.
It is different to playing, you’re still part of a team but it’s a different team. The players on the field they’re with their teammates the whole time, they come off, have a breather, have a laugh and then sub back on again. As a referee you have to be switched on all the time. Sometimes you cop a bit of flak but then when the game is done you get off the field and get to be with your referee team in a really supportive environment.
What improvements and advancements have you seen within the sport of Touch Football over the years?
The organisation has kept up with trends, which is impressive because that doesn’t always happen, but it's improved and met the demand of the sport. The popularity of touch seems to have increased, just by sheer volume of teams in our junior comp (Manly has over 300 junior teams) we can see that. Obviously, the game itself has gotten faster as well. If I look at it from a referee perspective, the respect for refs has improved, which is key to the success of the sport as a whole.
What advice would you give someone thinking about getting involved in Touch Football?
Do it. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain! It's not only what you gain by playing, but it's actually the friendships you make along the way in any capacity.
And as a parent, wondering whether they should put their kids into touch, I'll also recommend the referee pathway here because it’s such a great opportunity for kids to grow and develop integral life skills. Being a referee takes great communication skills, they’ll also learn to make quick decisions and the confidence to stand by them. It’s such a great opportunity to get fit, make friends, and develop core skills.
What are your Touch Football highlights so far?
The lifelong friends that I’ve made along with way! Manly is an amazing club, it’s one huge, big family. Everyone knows everyone, we’ve got generations of family playing together, it’s really special.
From a Referee Director’s perspective, the best thing I’ve got out of it is watching some of these kids come through and not only grow as referees but grow as human beings and develop into people you want to spend time with.
The other one is a current project within NSW Touch where I’m heading a female leadership group to look into our recruitment, retention, and development of referees in NSW. We were noticing a big difference between our senior and junior participation numbers so we want to address that. We know we want to encourage girls into the sport, but also acknowledge it can be a fairly tense and male-dominated environment. So we’re focusing on helping women and girls to embrace helping each other and to foster a family community within that environment. We want to create a culture of taking a step back when someone gets awarded a higher level than you and really celebrating them and honouring their achievement, knowing that it doesn’t lessen your own achievements, rather it’s about the performance of the team as a whole. That’s the type of community we want to build for all of our referees. So a lot of what we’re looking at isn’t just good for females, it’s good for the whole sport, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done already but also excited for where it will go.
What does your role as Disaster Manager for NSW Health entail?
So as a disaster manager for NSW Health, you're supporting the health care system, the facilities and the staff to ensure that we've got plans in place, that we can manage things that happen. We also make sure our staff are trained so they can be deployed where required/ most needed at any point in time. Often this can be around emergencies like bushfire responses, at the moment our main priority is COVID-19 and we’re working within our pandemic plan.
Do you have a message for the Touch Football Community in regard to staying safe and healthy at this time?
My big message is to get vaccinated. We are all missing our community sports, we are missing seeing our friends face to face, we miss the sound of the first whistle and the thrill of the tap off. The key to returning to the sport we all love is high vaccination rates. Not only will it allow us to return to a new normal, but you do so with the knowledge that your risk of infection and transmission of the virus is significantly decreased for both yourself and those around you.
If you have questions, research reputable sources and speak to your GP about your specific circumstances.
It’s also important to follow the health advice – wear a mask, keep 1.5 metre distance, wash your hands regularly, and if you have any symptoms get tested straight away – that way you can be sure that you’re not spreading the virus to other people in your family and community.
And, finally, I’d say find things you love to do to keep you connected to others while we can’t be together. Things like volunteering for a local club. Little things can make a difference, and helping others, even in a little way is really rewarding.
As our Volunteer of Month, Caren is now eligible for the Bristol Paint TFA Volunteer of the Year (VOY) Award. The TFA VOY will receive paint and labour to the value of $20,000 for the refurbishment project of their choice, thanks to our friends at Bristol Paints.
To nominate a volunteer to be featured as our Volunteer of the Month from your affiliate click here.