Dave Moorcroft of sports volunteering charity Join In talks about the impact that volunteers had on his athletics career, and about why Join In is saying a #BigThankYou to them at BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Thank you, two of the most important words in sport. At the heart of every sports person’s career are volunteers, and when Join In asked sports volunteers what kind of recognition they wanted the most, a simple thank you came out on top.

It was no surprise to me that last December, when Join In’s Patron Eddie Izzard invited the BBC Sports Personality of the Year audience to send a #BIgThankYou to any volunteer who had helped them enjoy sport, the tweets trended globally.

SPOTY was on television at the same time as the X Factor final and for a good period of that evening, volunteers around the UK ‘out tweeted’ Simon Cowell’s showpiece.

The #BigThankYou happens again this year during SPOTY and my guess is that the impact will be even greater. Volunteers are the most important assets that sport has. Without them, most sports clubs and events wouldn’t exist. Sport is the single biggest sector of volunteering in the UK, with 5.6 million people in England alone regularly giving time to make community sport happen.

For me, people like Reg Payne and Mick Crossfield at Coventry Godiva Harriers were pivotal in helping me develop a love of running as a young athlete. At the age of sixteen I linked up with a genius called John Anderson (some of you may remember him as the referee in Gladiators shouting out the immortal contender, ready?’ words). John coached me for the rest of my career. Even now, with a knackered right knee and unable to run, I still regard John as my coach.

I never paid him a penny. In fact, it probably cost him a fortune for the privilege of working for nothing and I hope to goodness I paid him back with loyalty, friendship, hard work and a ton of thank yous. It is all he ever wanted from me, partly because it was the good old amateur days, but it was more than just that.

John’s commitment to coaching was exceptional, both in terms of his talent, but also the time he devoted to it. More than anything, all he wanted from me was to help me fulfil my potential, wherever that might take me and to know how grateful I was for all he did for me. It was a true partnership and we shared the good days and not so good days, treating both as a great life experience.

For me the wonderful thing about volunteers is that they give and gain almost in equal measures. The level of time commitment and skill level required might vary but the underlying pleasure, friendships, bonds created, smiles generated and lives enhanced are similar.

So if you have ever enjoyed sport at any level and have fond memories of the role volunteers played in supporting you, or if you work with sports volunteers, then please join us at the #BigThankYou.

Find out more about Join In’s #BigThankYou campaign here.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year is on BBC One at 18:50, Sunday 20th December.