Mentoring is a common technique that is used in connection with the professional development of coaches. With this approach, an athletic administrator assigns one of the experienced staff members to guide and help an individual who is relatively new and perhaps inexperienced to the profession.
However, more should be involved with mentoring than simply the pairing of individuals. An athletic administrator needs to spell out what and how items, concerns or questions will be covered with the individual mentees. It should not be a haphazard approach; there should be real goals and objectives. The athletic director needs to be the mentor of mentors and should plan, organize and direct the entire effort.
It is important to realize that not all experienced coaches are suited to be mentors. Therefore, the athletic director first needs to honestly analyze whether individuals on the current staff meet the expectations and requirements and have the qualities to serve in this role. What is required of a mentor?
For starters, mentor-coaches need to embrace education-based athletics. They have to be good role models and embody all of the positive traits and qualities desired in a coach. Also, mentors should be supportive, encouraging, nurturing and place the success and welfare of student-athletes above their own goals. In addition, they need to be available and willing to help a new coach.
Once coaches have been identified to serve in this capacity, there are a few more details to address. How does the athletic director prepare these individuals to help their mentees? Since the athletic director is the leader of the athletic program, it is important that he or she guides, teaches and leads these individuals.
A good starting point is to schedule an orientation meeting or workshop for coaches who will serve as mentors. Ideally, this session should take place during the days set aside for teacher orientation prior to students returning for the start of the year. During this meeting, a list of expectations should be provided for these individuals as well as supportive materials to be used during the meetings with their mentees.
Also, an outline should be provided as to when, how often and under what circumstances a mentor-coach should meet with a mentee. At the start of a season, it may be necessary to interact with a new, inexperienced coach more frequently. But at a minimum, a mentor should check with a new coach weekly and be available if an unforeseen problem develops. All of this needs to be explained to mentors.
A weekly meeting with a mentee should be established. For example, both individuals can have lunch together – assuming that they have the same scheduled lunch period – or perhaps sit down during a mutual planning period or 15 minutes before the start of school. Each mentor and mentee can and should find their own best time. But each pair should establish a definite, set place and means for a conversation involving questions, advice and inspiration.
Beyond determining who is best suited to serve as a mentor, it is important to ascertain what should be covered through these working relationships. Obviously, the topics have to be tailored to the individual setting and the needs of the coaching staff. Some general areas, for example, which should be incorporated in a program would include, but not be limited to:
These topics and the mentoring expectations should be shared and reinforced with staff members who are going to fill the mentor role. (A more complete list of possible topics or aspects to cover can be found in the Ideas that Work article on page 38.)
Since mentoring does take time and effort, it is wise and helpful to use out-of-season coaches to serve as mentors. With an established coach’s own teaching, coaching and family responsibilities, it would be difficult to also reach out and help someone else during one’s in-season.
In order to establish a working relationship between mentors and their mentees, consider hosting a social event prior to the start of the season. This step can take the form of a pizza party, bowling, golf outing or other similar activities that provide an opportunity for both individuals to be introduced and to get to know each other better. Having some fun in a casual setting can help break the ice and possibly develop a little rapport.
As the mentor of mentors, the school’s athletic director should periodically provide coaches who serve as mentors with reminders and a review of the topics that should be covered. One should never assume that everything that should be presented has been completed or is scheduled. Constant reinforcement and supervision are needed in order to achieve the desired outcomes of helping new coaches to be integrated into and successful in your program.
The athletic director should consider prioritizing the list of possible topics to cover, and when they would be best presented. Prior to a coach’s first season, for example, he or she would probably need help with completing eligibility forms, inventory control when distributing uniforms and equipment, and similar topics.
In addition to a paired working relationship between a mentor and mentee, experienced coaches who have a specialized expertise can be used to work with new, inexperienced staff members. For example, there may be individuals who excel in planning practice sessions, time management or dealing with parents. These specialists could assist any new coach who might need help with one of these specific topics.
A successful mentoring program takes planning, supervision, guidance and constant effort. While your experienced coaches play an important part as mentors, the athletic administrator is ultimately responsible for the direction and success of the mentoring program.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 630 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.