One of the unique opportunities which many of us who serve sportspeople is that of being a mentor to them. Whether coach, player or member of the support staff, we often have the ears of men and women who are seeking a mentor for various parts of their lives. Such ministry opportunities take on various forms in terms of relationship, timing, setting, method, resources and more. One should not expect that it’s a “one size fits all” sort of relationship.
The persons who desire a mentoring relationship will certainly vary. I’ve had such relationships with several young people, male and female, who have served as interns for our summer sports camps. This has been very good and productive. Other relationships have been less formal and frequent in meeting together. I’ve met with college student-athletes for breakfast three to four times during a sport season for simple discussion and encouragement. I’ve had a few student-athletes with whom I’ve met in a group and then additionally with the individual for coffee to talk about more personal matters. I’ve also enjoyed periodic meetings with coaches who were looking for ways to integrate their faith into their lives as coaches, so as to transform how they coach their sport and lead their staff and players. I’ve also had a mentoring relationship with sport chaplains, sport mentors and character coaches in my area, across the USA and around the world. Those relationships are furthered sometimes face to face, but more often by phone calls, SMS text messages and emails.
The settings for mentoring sessions will vary widely, depending upon the people involved. Some mentors meet with people in their offices. This has both strengths and weaknesses. Some mentors meet in public places. Jim Stump meets with Stanford University student-athletes in a cafeteria on campus all day, every day for one hour each. He has done this for decades with great effect. I have found coffee shops, conference rooms, cafes, fast food restaurants, sport stadiums, locker rooms and even public parks to be fruitful locations for heart to heart discussions and mentorship.
The aims for mentoring are often varied. In most of my interaction, the one being mentored indicates his or her desire to learn a particular thing and that determines the aim for the relationship. The mentee usually sees the trait he desires to develop in the chosen mentor and therefore makes the request for such a relationship. Seldom if ever has anyone approached me to be his mentor without having identified the area of life in which he would like to further develop. In my own life, I have sought out different mentors related to being a husband, being a father, serving Christ in the world of sport, working with coaches, study habits and subject matter, leadership and more.
A few tips for shaping such relationships follow. This is surely not an exhaustive list and it’s mostly reflective of my experiences as mentor and mentee.
• Choose your mentors wisely. Identify the character traits, skills, knowledge or abilities which you admire and make your invitation to the relationship directly related to those matters.
• Agree to serve as a mentor most soberly. Don’t let flattery at the invitation skew your insight re: the prospective mentee’s commitment to the process and to your ability to serve him or her well.
• Set specific times and locations for your meetings. It’s wise to do so regularly, to insist on punctuality and to have a predetermined amount of time for each session.
• Set a term for the span of your meetings. Starting the relationship without setting an end point for review and renewal often leads to frustration and embarrassment when the relationship simply declines and you’re no longer meeting. Say up front, “Let’s meet together for x weeks or x months and then see where we are. At that point we can either determine that we’ve achieved our aims or that we should continue to meet further.” This way both ends of the relationship have a better chance to sense success.
• Pray together. Most of us learned to pray by praying with others. The mentee will learn immensely from his or her mentor by simply being there. He will hear for what the mentor prays and for whom. She will observe the passion in your voice and the dependence of your heart. Pray for the mentee and thereby express vision, hope, love, compassion and zeal to which the mentee can aspire. Have no doubt, your prayers together will shape his or her lives tremendously.
• Ask the mentee for specific goals and objectives. The mentor has a much better chance to help if he knows the desired outcome.
• Allocate resources wisely. Recommend books to read, films to watch, articles, experiences, study guides, etc. to the mentee and then review his or her understanding of the material. This process has been most helpful to me.
• Engage the mentee in activity. Especially when mentoring leaders, nothing can catalyze the learning process like leading. As the mentee experiences both success and failure, the process is enhanced by real life experience and the mentorship is moved beyond a purely academic exercise. Wisely prepared discussions which follow activities are excellent tools for the mentor to use, expediting the development of the mentee and further integrating the information he or she has gathered from reading and conversation with the mentor.
The role of mentor is often overlooked, too often performed poorly and occasionally transformational. If you’re seeking a mentor for your life or if you’re suddenly in a position to serve as one, respect this relationship and pour out your heart in the pursuit of complete development as a man or woman of God. The world of sport desperately needs men and women who honor Christ Jesus in every facet of their lives. Wise mentors can be powerfully catalytic to the process of our becoming just such people. Let’s get to it.