The Importance of Mentors for Your Coaching Development

Posted on Nov 06 2019

A mentor is defined in the dictionary as “an experienced and trusted advisor”. The role of the mentor is an integral element of the coaching journey and something that should be embraced by experienced and aspiring coaches alike.

Basketball coaches are traditionally generous in nature and in particular, Australian coaches understand the importance of supporting coaching colleagues at all levels of the sport. Our sporting ethos is built around “giving back” and supporting developing coaches is a strength of basketball.

What does a coaching mentor do to support a young coach?

  • Acts as a sounding board on technical aspects such as style of play and systems
  • Provides idea for leadership style and approach
  • Plays the role of a “critical friend”
  • Offers advice on problems/challenges
  • Listens without judgement
  • Presents options and alternate views for the coach to consider

Who can be a mentor? 

In a coaching sense, the mentor does not always have to to be the “wise old head” that has been around the sport for years. The key word in the definition of a mentor is “trusted” and often coaches will have mentors that they have shared experiences with. While experience and knowledge are important, the role of the mentor is not to be the “all-knowing guru”; rather someone who can support the coach navigate the landscape in which they operate.

The head coach often plays the role of the mentor for assistant coaches and this will happen “organically” as the season progress and there are more conversations. But the mentor/mentee relationship should not be defined by hierarchy and can only be authentic if it is more about the relationship than any titles.

Coaches should consider instigating the mentor/mentee relationship with those in their circle and embrace the role of the coaching mentor has in the ongoing development of colleagues. This can be stimulated by finding time for conversation and asking questions. Often, the quality of your conversation will be defined by the quality of your questions. Acting as a mentor is as much about questions as it is about having all the answers.

How can I find a mentor?

Some would suggest the mentor/mentee relationship should develop organically, rather than be structured or created. While many of these relationships do develop over time, it is sometimes appropriate and required for the aspiring coach to seek out mentors and critical friends.

As with worthwhile relationships, engaging a mentor will start with conversations, the courage to ask questions and the openness to listen to the answers. Most coaches enjoy talking about the game, X’s and O’s and leadership, so be inquisitive and thoughtful in the way you approach your questions.

Demonstrate your willingness to learn, grow and make change by taking notes, using thoughtful questions and following up on discussions. Share your learnings with colleagues and be generous with your time. Many senior coaches will be as keen to hear your thoughts and learn from you, so enter every discussion with a clear plan to verbalise your thoughts.

The mutual benefits

For the mentee, the benefits of having a mentor will be significant and often easy to identify and define. By spending time in conversation with an experienced coach and sharing experiences provides learning, clarity and confidence.

But as with any relationship, there will be benefits to both parties. For the mentor, spending time in conversation about the sport will often confirm your thoughts and approach to coaching and leadership and will assist in how you frame articulating your thought process.

“Learn it one day, teach it the next.” As a mentor, have the courage to share your experiences and unpack your philosophy around the sport.

Aspects to consider – 

  • Seek out mentors
  • Embrace the role of being a mentor
  • Bring energy and commit time to the mentor/mentee relationship
  • Have more conversations/ask more questions
  • Take notes – document your thought process

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