How to Become a Mentor to Your Athlete
When exceptional athletes talk about their beginnings, you will often hear them mention a specific coach that made an impact on them early in their career. These coaches tend to pop up in an athlete’s childhood or during high school and push them to the next level of success. It’s not uncommon to hear these individuals be described as “more than a coach” by the player. They went above and beyond to become a mentor to these young athletes and helped them achieve their success.
So, what’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? The difference between the two is the boundaries of the relationship. A coach focuses on the skill or sport at hand. The coach and athlete relationship is one of honing skills and working toward athletic goals, particularly as part of a team. Making the transition to a mentor and mentee relationship requires a larger time investment from both parties. A mentor tends to counsel their mentee in many aspects of their life. A mentor/mentee relationship does not end when practice does; it continues into both parties lives.
If a mentor/mentee bond is what you want to pursue with your athletes, consider these tips.
- Make Connections Early
It may seem like common sense that you can make a bigger impact on students that you know well, but making an effort to get to know your team members early on can make a huge difference. These relationships often occur naturally over long periods of time, but taking an interest early on can really show you care. Find out what your athletes like and dislike and try to find some common ground on a personal level.
- Know Their Strengths & Weaknesses
Knowing that someone needs to improve their flexibility or that they struggle with a certain technique can be enough to coach them, but a mentor knows their player’s character outside of practice. Mentors know their mentee is a rock star when it comes to algebra and making new friends, but often struggles with time management or taking criticism.
- Track Improvement to Motivate Later
Keep track of the successes your mentee experiences during training and in life. It’s inevitable that eventually they’ll reach a plateau, and will likely get frustrated with obstacles in their life. Remind them of where they started or of a goal they accomplished and motivate them to keep working hard. The fact that you even remembered their achievements can be encouraging to them.
- Focus on Their Goals
Avoid pushing your own goals and dreams onto your mentee. Your job is to help them to accomplish their own goals. Pushing someone to achieve something they don’t want can result in them being burnt out with the sport and your bond.
- Emphasize Your Presence
If you’re going to mentor someone, you have to be in it for the long haul. If your mentee misses a goal or loses a competition, overreacting can be detrimental to the bond you built. Focus on the ways they can continue to improve or could have prevented the loss. Did they skip out on conditioning lately? Not get enough rest before the event? Instead of getting angry with them, help them focus on ways to improve in the long run and avoid making those mistakes again.
- Ask Questions
If someone you want to mentor is suddenly off their game, distracted, or seems to be feeling down, ask them what’s going on. You may have the life experience needed to offer them great advice and get them back on track. Take an interest in the good times too! To really invest in a person, it’s important to share the good times and the bad.