Part 7 – Mentoring
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
This is the seventh article in a series of 13 on developing your coaching skills. For the full list of articles in the series see the articles page.
Our previous article discussed how you can develop while supporting and assisting another coach. In this article we will start in Part A by looking at how you can develop by working with someone that is external to your coaching environment: a mentor. In Part B we will look at how you can improve your own coaching by mentoring another coach.
Part A – Working with a mentor
We start this article by looking at how a mentor can help you to develop.
A mentor is someone who works with a coach with the aim of helping them to improve the effectiveness of their coaching. The mentor is not a master coach: they do not tell the coach what to do or show them how to coach. Instead they provide a sounding board and assist the coach to identify and work towards their development goals.
Benefits of working with a mentor
The idea of working with a mentor is that they will help you to improve your coaching. There are several benefits to working with a mentor as they can:
- help you to raise your awareness by asking you questions and providing you with information on what occurs during your coaching sessions;
- help you to understand the coaching process better by discussing what is occurring in your sessions and examining how you are coaching;
- assist you to deal with issues you are facing in your coaching by asking you questions and helping you to examine the underlying causes; and
- assist you to develop and then implement a coach development plan, including monitoring the goals that you set for yourself.
The mentor’s role
The role of your mentor is simply to help you to develop. They will do this by asking you questions, tracking your progress, challenging you when necessary, and providing feedback on your coaching. Your mentor will work through the mentoring process with you, helping you to write a coach development plan and then work towards implementing it. They will be someone that you are accountable to, keeping you focussed on your development tasks. Let’s look at how the mentoring process works.
The mentoring process
The mentoring process is a cycle which involves having discussions with your mentor and your mentor observing you coaching. The process involves four stages: an initial meeting, a pre-observation meeting, an observation and a post-observation meeting.
The first step when you start working with a mentor is to have an initial meeting where you set up the relationship. During this meeting your mentor will discuss the ground rules and how the process will work. You will discuss the goals that you would like to achieve and come up with a coach development plan. This plan will form the basis of your relationship.
One of the tasks of your mentor is to observe you coaching and to then supply you with information they have recorded from the session. This information will be used to raise your awareness and to help you to identify areas to work on. Before your mentor observes your session they will first meet with you to discuss what will happen. At this pre-observation meeting you will discuss the objectives for the coaching session. Your mentor will want to view your session plan and have a discussion around it. They will also identify what you want to work on in the session, or what you want to receive information about.
For the observation your mentor will record information on what occurs in the session, based on the area that you want to address. For instance they might record how long you spend giving instructions, or how long athletes spend on certain activities. They could count how many opportunities each player gets to perform a specific skill, or they could count how often you ask questions or say certain words. The purpose of the pre-observation meeting is to identify what your mentor will be observing and recording.
As you deliver your session your mentor will observe and record the data that you have agreed on. They won’t step in and assist with the session. Once the session is finished they will tally up the data they have recorded and perform some analysis on it. This will allow them to bring some useable information to your post-observation meeting.
Following the session you will meet with your mentor to discuss what they have observed. Here your mentor will provide you with the data that they have analysed and you will have a discussion around what the data says about your coaching. From this discussion you will identify what you would like to improve and set some goals which will go into your coach development plan. You will also identify the actions that you will take to achieve these goals, placing these actions into your coach development plan also.
The process is a cycle and following the post-observation meeting the next step is for you to spend some time working on the actions you have identified. After an agreed period of time you will meet with your mentor for another pre-observation meeting. At the following observation your mentor will collect data again on the agreed area. Your discussion in your post-observation meeting will be to identify if the actions you have taken have resulted in an improvement in the desired area (based on the data collected). From here you will either do more work on the area or identify a new area to focus on.
Let’s have a look at how Coach Gary worked with his mentor through the mentoring process.
If you decide that you would like to work with a mentor it is important that you choose an appropriate person to approach. When looking to find a mentor look for someone that:
- you respect and can get along with;
- is good at asking questions and helping people to develop their own skills;
- has enough time to mentor you; and
- is independent (that is they do not have a role in assessing you or determining your selection to coaching positions etc.).
There are different ways that you could source a mentor. You might approach a coach that you had that you feel can help you. There may be a more senior coach in your club. You may know of a business contact that is good in this area. Your local Regional Sports Organisation may have a programme for connecting mentors with coaches. The key is to be proactive and find a mentor: don’t expect someone to offer to mentor you out of the blue.
Getting the most from working with a mentor
A common mistake people make is that they expect their mentor will tell them what to do. They believe they will learn from their mentor through instruction. As your mentor’s role is to help you to help yourself it is critical that you take an active role in the relationship. To get the most out of working with a mentor here are a few things that you can do:
To get the most out of your meetings it is important that you do some work beforehand. This will ensure that you are ready to discuss the areas that will benefit you the most. This preparation should include:
- knowing what you want to talk over with your mentor;
- reflecting on your recent coaching practice to give you some discussion points;
- reviewing your progress towards your goals;
- collecting any relevant materials or information to bring to the meeting; and
- being clear on what you want to achieve in the session.
By being prepared you can make the most of the limited time you have with your mentor.
Mentoring works best when you take charge of your own development. Don’t leave your mentor to chase you up: complete the tasks that you agree to do. Take the lead and contact your mentor to arrange to meet with them. If there is an area of your coaching that you want to discuss then bring it up with your mentor. To get the most from your mentor you need to drive the process and take responsibility for moving it forward.
Reflect on your practice
If you regularly reflect on your practice then you will have a much better awareness of your coaching style. This will give your mentor an opportunity to go deeper in your discussions, maximising the benefit that you get from working with them. Your mentor should ask you questions that challenge you beyond the questions that you should have already asked yourself.
By reflecting on your coaching you will be able to have a more informed discussion with your mentor. You will also be more likely to have identified areas that you are struggling with or that are barriers to achieving your goals. These are the areas that you want to be discussing with your mentor.
Regularly review your goals
As we discussed in issue three your coach development plan will contain some goals that you have set and some actions you have agreed to take in order to achieve those goals. If the only time that you look at these is when you sit down with your mentor then your progress could be slow. By making sure that you are making steady progress towards your goals – by keeping focused on them – the time you spend with your mentor will be maximised.
Be open and honest
For a mentoring relationship to work a high degree of trust is required. If you are not prepared to be honest about yourself and your coaching you will make it very hard for your mentor to be effective. How you respond to what your mentor asks you will determine the follow up questions that they ask. If you give a false answer then their line of questioning will go down a path that will not actually be what you need. You need to be open and honest with your mentor if they are to help you.
Failing to inform your mentor of relevant information is another way of reducing the effectiveness of the relationship. For example, say you are self-conscious about your lack of understanding of how to teach a certain technique in your sport. As a result you do not put much focus on this area for your players. If your mentor questions this area of your coaching you may just tell them that it isn’t an important area for the players you are working with. By not being completely honest with your mentor you have prevented them from helping you in an area that is important for your development. You have also weakened your relationship with them.
Being mentored by someone else is a great way to speed up your coach development. By taking on a mentoring role you can also develop your own coaching skills. In Part B of this article we now look at how to benefit from mentoring another coach.
Part B – Mentoring another coach
For the second part of this article we will have a look at the ways you can benefit from being a mentor to another coach.
Benefits of being a mentor
Being a mentor is about helping another coach to develop and it is also a great way to develop your own coaching. The process of observing and discussing coaching ideas with another coach is a great way to further your own understanding of the coaching process. Here we will just be looking at how a mentoring role can help you to develop your coaching; we won’t be looking at how you mentor.
As a mentor you will go out and observe your mentee coaching. This will give you insights into how other coaches operate and will provide you with plenty of opportunities to learn. You may see the coach do things that you can apply in your own coaching. You may see them do things that you would do differently, causing you to reflect on your own practice. By sitting outside of a session you are in a better position to see the effect of certain coaching techniques on athletes. You can see how they react to what the coach does and see which techniques are effective.
Mentoring is a two-way process and the core of the relationship will be the discussions that you have. By discussing coaching topics and techniques with your mentee you are able to deepen your understanding of coaching. You are able to exchange ideas and to discuss the principles that underpin the work that the coach does. As a mentor you will be asking questions and delving deeper into topics. This will allow you to see your own coaching in a new light and you can apply what you learn to your own situation.
Part of your discussions could involve helping the coach to explore issues that they are facing. This will involve looking at the issue, what caused it, what coaching approaches are available to remedy the issue and then applying these. Some of these issues may be applicable to your own coaching; if they are not then the process of talking through them will raise your own awareness.
When discussing a coaching issue you may need to go away and do some research on the topic in order to be able to be of assistance to the coach. The coach may have a specific topic that they want to discuss; to be prepared for this you may choose to look into it in more detail. Although your role as a mentor is not to tell the coach what they need to do, you will still want to be well-versed in the topic at hand. The research that you do as a mentor will also help you with your own coaching.
Developing your questioning and listening skills
Questioning and listening skills are two important skills that mentors use. They are also important skills for coaches to use when working with athletes. By applying your questioning and listening skills while mentoring you will be improving skills that are directly applicable to your own coaching.
Focussing on the process of coaching
To help another coach you will focus on the process of coaching, not just the content of their sessions. A deeper understanding of the coaching process will allow you to apply the principles to your own coaching practice. As highlighted throughout Part B the key to improving is applying what you learn as a mentor to your coaching practice.
Having someone mentor you will challenge you to examine what you are doing and will provide you with feedback to stimulate your growth. Another way of getting this feedback is to have your coaching delivery videoed. This could then be something that you review with your mentor. We will look at how to effectively use video as a coach development tool in the next issue.