Sep 25, 2018Finding a Mentor
In my senior year of college, I interviewed for several prospective teaching positions. At the end of each interview, the person conducting the session — usually an assistant superintendent or principal — asked if I had any questions. I always did: “What are the chances of coaching at your school?”
When I heard that one school needed coaches in every sport, I immediately accepted its job offer. Initially, I coached the freshman basketball team. The following year I moved into the junior varsity position. Halfway through my first j.v. season, the head coach asked me, “Where would you like to be in 15 years?”
At 23 years old, the thought had never occurred to me, and I stuttered, “I coach soccer, I’m your j.v. basketball coach, in the spring I coach tennis, and I teach five classes a day. I love it. I’m extremely happy.”
He responded. “I didn’t ask if you were happy. I asked where you would like to be professionally in 15 years. See, in order to reach a goal or career objective, you have to take concrete steps to build credentials in order to get to your desired position. It doesn’t happen by accident. So, where would you like to be?”
Since I didn’t have a ready answer, the head coach dropped the subject. However, a few weeks later he repeated the question. This time, I muddled out, “I might like to be a head men’s basketball coach on the college level one day.”
“Good,” he replied. “Now, what steps are you going to take to get there? Being my j.v. coach isn’t going to get you to your goal.”
This was my first exposure to a mentor. I had no idea what the concept involved prior to that interaction. As I went through my career, I had two additional, extremely helpful individuals serve as mentors. They were invaluable to my professional growth.
While some mentors may simply “appear” in your life, there may be others whom you have to seek out. The following thoughts should help you find your next career guide.
Keep your eyes open. Learn to spot the coaches or teachers in your school or in neighboring districts who have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. These individuals are usually very easy to recognize. They may not have a title, but everyone gravitates to them and seeks their subtle, sound advice. Get in line and ask them to help you.
Be open minded. Stay receptive to ideas and advice. While it is good to have your own ideas, you can learn a lot by listening. You don’t always have to follow the advice you receive, but at least be willing to consider ideas and suggestions. Take advantage of the experience and perspective of others and, in doing so, you may proceed more quickly and without encountering as many obstacles.
Look beyond your circle. Venture outside your specific sport for advice and help. For ideas on sport-specific skills, drills, and practice organization, coaches within your sport can be extremely helpful and should be consulted. But on a broader topic like your professional career, reaching beyond your individual sport makes sense because you will be expanding the number of potential mentors.
Increase your odds. Join professional organizations, such as your state coaches’ association, and attend their annual conferences. When you do, you will come into contact with others in your sport and in athletics in general who may be able to point you in the right direction. Your next mentor may be the individual sitting next to you at a session or someone you meet at lunch.
Show gratitude. Always thank anyone who is willing to help you determine and move toward your career goals. This person has his or her own life and responsibilities. By giving time and energy to help you with your future, a mentor is providing a gift and making a sacrifice.
And of course, as you progress in your career, don’t forget to reach out and be a mentor to the next batch of new, inexperienced coaches. Giving back is a privilege and an important part of the job for any professional.