Mentoring for Coach Development

Mentoring for Coach Development

The following is a paper I wrote a few years ago regarding the role of mentoring within coach development.


Mentoring occurs when a coach works with another coach to help them to change their practice for the better (Layton & Australian Sports Commission., 2002). The following report will discuss the use of mentoring to develop coaches, the roles that a mentor takes on and some guidelines for creating an effective mentor-coach relationship.

Aims and Benefits

A key aim of a mentoring relationship is to contribute to the transformation of experience into knowledge and expertise (Jones, 2006). The purpose of mentoring is to move a coach from being a dependent, novice problem solver to an independent, expert problem solver (Barnett, 1995). It is a process oriented relationship, which involves knowledge acquisition, application and critical reflection (Zachary, 2002). The mentor works to assist the coach to become more reflective, and to move towards developing expert problem solving skills (Barnett, 1995).

There are several benefits of a mentoring relationship. These benefits are for both the coach being mentored and the coach performing the mentoring role. In business, studies have shown that mentoring results in greater organisational rewards (Chao, 1997). Coaches being mentored show increased confidence and motivation, receive constructive feedback, are able to translate theory into practice, gain opportunities to network, and are exposed to ongoing learning (Layton & Australian Sports Commission., 2002). Where reflective writing is used, sharing this with a mentor has been shown to result in a higher level of reflective writing (Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, & Mills, 1999). For the coach performing the mentoring role, benefits include learning about how learning occurs, observing the practice of others, developing interpersonal skills, self confidence and increased enthusiasm for their practice (Bloom, Durand-Bush, Schinke, & Salmela, 1998).

The Mentoring Role

There are a number of facets to the mentoring role. It is important that the mentor helps the coach and works with them, rather than prescribing what they should do (Jones, 2006). The mentor will take on the form of a ‘critical friend’. A critical friend will ask questions, provide feedback, critique work and look at problems from another perspective (Costa & Kallick, 1993). A mentor can help a coach move through their zone of proximal development. In this case the learner receives instructional support from a more capable other, the mentor, within a particular context (the coaching environment). The learner (coach) internalises the ideas and is more likely to perform independently in similar problem solving situations (Jones, 2006). There are a number of roles which the mentor may take on, which include the following:

  • Parent figure – helping the coach by offering advice, answering questions and solving problems.
  • Support system – providing the basic knowledge to help the coach to get by.
  • Colleague – sharing ideas and providing advice.
  • Scaffolder – sharing with the coach different routines that can help them to build their experiences.
  • Nurturer – providing opportunities and challenges to grow the coach.
  • Encourager – challenging the coach and affirming their value.
  • Counsellor – problem solving, acting as a sounding board.

(Abell, Dillon, Hopkins, McInerney, & O’Brien, 1995; Anderson & Shannon, 1988; Kram, 1983).

Mentor Qualities

In order to fulfill the above roles, the mentor needs certain qualities in order to be effective. While not necessary, it can be useful for the mentor to have expert power, by holding an appropriate position within the sport (Cushion, Armour, & Jones, 2003). The mentor’s role is one of guidance, and the mentor needs to be able to help the coach to reflect on their instruction, researched knowledge and practice (Jones, 2006). This suggests that the mentor should have experience in reflecting on their own practice. The use of questions is important, as the mentor should guide rather than prescribe. A mentor should be proficient and experienced in using a questioning approach, and able to know when to advise and when to hold back.

Mentor – Coach Relationship

The relationship that the mentor develops with the coach is important. The coach must feel comfortable to be open and honest with the mentor if the reflection process is to be effective. The relationship must be based on trust, and the nature of the relationship must be clear. For instance, if the role involves evaluating the coach then it is less likely that the assessed coach will be open and honest with the mentor (Costa & Kallick, 1993). It has been suggested that rapport and trust are critical to the relationship (Bloom, et al., 1998), and that this can be developed through interaction and respect. Respect was seen as being dependent upon the mentors experience and knowledge, so professional respect was necessary for the relationship to work (Abell, et al., 1995). Respect can also be developed through regular interaction, such as formal and informal meetings, and the nature of the topics discussed during these meetings. Openly sharing ideas can also be a catalyst to developing mutual trust and respect.

Providing Feedback

One of the roles of the mentor, which is tied to and impacts upon the relationship between the mentor and the coach, is the provision of feedback. Feedback needs to be open, honest and robust. Effective feedback will have certain qualities which include:

  • that it comes from a credible and qualified source
  • that it has meaning to the coach
  • that it addresses something the coach can change, and
  • that it is confidential and timely.

(Hopkins-Thompson, 2000).

An important note with regards to providing feedback is that feedback that focuses the learner on the task is useful, whereas focusing on the competence of the coach, such as where they are failing, can be harmful to learning (Swap, Leonard, Shields, & Abrams, 2001).

Structuring the Mentoring Program

There are several methods that could be employed in order to structure a mentoring program. A mix of formal meetings, practice observation and review meetings are recommended. This will allow the mentor – coach relationship to develop, and ties the coach’s practice to the learning and functioning of the mentoring role. Some suggested activities are provided below, which could be used depending upon the nature of the mentoring relationship and the time available for the mentor and coach to meet. It is important to note that as one of the main roles of the mentoring process is to help the coach to become a reflective practitioner, it is important that reflection is the base of the relationship.

  • An initial meeting for the mentor and coach to introduce themselves, and for the coach to set goals and outline what they want to achieve from the relationship. The mentor should make clear their experience and the grounds on which they are suitable for being a mentor, and the coach should help the mentor to understand their current level of practice, and where they would like to move to.
  • A reflective journal (or similar medium) should be set up which the coach uses regularly. The mentor and coach can have meetings where they review the issues raised in the journal, issues that the coach has faced in practice, and the mentor can provide advice and a sounding board to the coach.
  • The mentor and coach can meet prior to a practical session, so that the mentor can help the coach to plan the session, can point them to areas that they need to take into consideration, and can probe the coach with questions.
  • The mentor would then attend the practical session to observe the coach with the objective of being able to offer them feedback and another perspective.
  • The mentor and coach meet post-session to review the session, probe other alternative courses of action, and to guide future research or areas to develop.

Other options exist for inclusion in the mentoring role, which could include:

  • Storytelling – where the coach describes a situation that has occurred, and together they explore the meaning and other possible courses of action
  • Setting of tasks – these could be research tasks or reflective tasks that challenge the coach and push them out of their comfort zone
  • Observing video footage of the coach delivering and pointing out areas to observe or reflect on, and providing feedback
  • Pointing the coach to other sources of resources, areas of development and other coaches or experts.

Guidelines for the Mentoring Role

The following is a summary of the key points that should guide the development of the mentoring program and the mentor’s role within it:

  • The role of the mentor is to guide the coach, through questioning rather than telling them what to do
  • The mentoring process is based on reflective practice, developing it in the mentored coach and using it throughout the mentoring process
  • The mentor should ask more questions, probing for further detail, and point the coach towards ways of thinking they had not considered
  • An evaluative role for the mentor should be avoided in order to foster a trusting relationship, which is key to the mentoring process
  • The process should be based on promoting learning within the proper contextual environment – coaching practice
  • The purpose is to help the coach to improve their practice, by acting as a more capable other.

Done well, mentoring is a highly effective tool for developing coaches. Mentors need to focus on asking questions and helping the coach to learn from their experience. By providing constructive feedback, an alternative view point, and a sense of accountability, a mentor can help their coach to improve their effectiveness and enjoy their coaching role even more.


Abell, S. K., Dillon, D. R., Hopkins, C. J., McInerney, W. D., & O’Brien, D. G. (1995). “Somebody to count on”: Mentor/intern relationships in a beginning teacher internship program. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(2), 173-188.

Anderson, E. M., & Shannon, A. L. (1988). Toward a conceptualization of mentoring. Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1), 38-42.

Bain, J. D., Ballantyne, R., Packer, J., & Mills, C. (1999). Using journal writing to enhance student teachers’ reflectivity during field experience placements. [Article]. Teachers & Teaching, 5, 51.

Barnett, B. (1995). Developing reflection and expertise: can mentors make the difference? Journal Of Educational Administration, 33(45).

Bloom, G. A., Durand-Bush, N., Schinke, R. J., & Salmela, J. H. (1998). The importance of mentoring in the development of coaches and athletes. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 29, 267-281.

Chao, G. T. (1997). Mentoring phases and outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 51(1), 15-28.

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (1993). Through the lens of a critical friend. Educational Leadership, 51(2), 49.

Cushion, C. J., Armour, K. M., & Jones, R. L. (2003). Coach education and continuing professional development: experience and learning to coach. Quest (00336297), 55(3), 215-230.

Hopkins-Thompson, P. A. (2000). Colleagues helping colleagues: Mentoring and coaching. NASSP Bulletin, 84(617), 29-36.

Jones, R. (Ed.). (2006). The sports coach as educator : Re-conceptualising sports coaching Abingdon: Routledge.

Kram, K. E. (1983). Phases of the mentor relationship. The Academy of Management Journal, 26(4), 608-625.

Layton, R., & Australian Sports Commission. (2002). Making mentors : A guide to establishing a successful mentoring program for coaches and officials. [Belconnen, A.C.T.]: Australian Sports Commission.

Swap, W., Leonard, D., Shields, M., & Abrams, L. (Writer) (2001). Using mentoring and storytelling to transfer knowledge in the workplace [Article], Journal of Management Information Systems: M.E. Sharpe Inc.

Zachary, L. (2002). The role of teacher as mentor. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2002(93), 27-38.


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