The Mentor Factor - (track #3 from the Performance Coaching Audio CDs)
I’m not sure why this is true, but it seems to me that some of the most important things in life are really hard to learn. Like being a parent for the first time – who is really prepared for that? I can’t think of two more unqualified people in the world than a mom and dad on the first day of this job. We just don’t take courses in parenting. It’s the same thing with coaching. The role of a coach is critical to the development of many people, but it’s hard to find good information about coaching and how to coach. When I first became a coach, I was really astounded at how little information was available. Now, there are a few books that I guess you could pick up, but if you ask most coaches where they learned how to coach and they’ll probably say “Well, I just kind of picked it up.” Stay at something long enough, and pretty soon you get good at it.
I spent about 6 years in Colorado Springs, and during that time I was reflecting a little bit on what I had done and what I had accomplished as a competitor. I had been a coach much longer than I was a competitor. When you tell people you are an Olympic gold medalist, they just kind of quit thinking you can do anything after that; you are always introduced as the Olympic gold medalist. But I have actually spent more time as a coach. I was the Olympic coach in ’84 and ’88 and had many competitors going to the Olympics and World Championships. We certainly developed our share of Olympians and World Champions, even a couple guys that actually went on to win gold medals in the Olympics. It gave me a lot of insight into what might help other people. I found as a coach I needed to be very efficient in what I did.
Running the International Shooting School, most of my students were there because they were pretty much on tight budgets; they didn’t have any big government support. My students were private students, and their parents were normally paying for it – so we had to get the money’s worth for everything that we did. So, I was always looking for ways that would work and principals that would help me become more effective and more efficient.
I’m going to share those with you. Some of these may be things that are common sense, and you may say “Yeah, I’m doing that already” – that’s great. Some of them may be new and different for you, they certainly were for me. I wish I could give credit for all the great people that shared these things with me. Sometimes I’ll remember where I learned something or who taught me something, but most of the time I just can’t – so I apologize to all those guys that I’m standing on the shoulders of, but I will tell you what I know about it and how we were able to develop a very effective and efficient system to help people perform well under pressure.
One of the things that I had to learn early on was that I can’t take credit for any of the successes of my students and I can’t really be blamed for any of their failures. I had a hard time with that. I kind of felt responsible when they didn’t perform well; and although I don’t think I ever felt like I wanted to take credit when they did do well – but I think one of the things you have to come to grips with early on is that you are only there for one reason, and that is to save the performer time. You’re not there to win through them or to win even with them – you’re there really just to assist them, or to aid them in their struggle and their journey in the sport.
And so, we can’t make an athlete perform, but we can help them to perform and we can save them time and that’s really our role, to help someone do a better job. Now there is a special relationship that sometimes occurs in the performance coaching situations. It doesn’t always occur, and it doesn’t have to occur for you to be a good performance coach. But when it does, it is really remarkable – and I’d like to like to talk about it first. It’s called the mentor factor.
Mentorship is an extremely interesting thing when it happens. When I surveyed Olympic champions to find out what they were doing mentally to win, this concept kept coming up of “Well, I had a mentor one time that told me this” or “I had someone who mentored me” and I thought, can we define this, can we define this mentor experience? When does it happen? When is it not a mentor experience? How can we come to understand what’s going on?
So, I discovered this way of doing it. I think you have a mentor when three things exist at the same time. You have a person that is capable, caring, and is a confidant. A mentor has to be, in my opinion, of course everything in this tape is about my opinion, I’m a world class expert in that (as we all are) but, I believe for it to be a true mentorship experience, all three have to happen.
A capable person is someone who is capable of helping in the area that they are mentoring. Now, parents are often capable in helping their children and mentoring to their children, but sometimes they’re not. If my child is learning to play the flute, for example – if I don’t know how to play the flute, I’m not capable of mentoring to them in flute playing.
The second area is that they must be caring. Now, I hope that all of us as parents are caring, and caring all the time. But a caring person is someone who is vitally interested in not only the success of this individual, but interested in them personally. And that they care about them, and want what’s best for them.
And finally, they must be a confidant. It is a situation where you have the trust of the individual so that they’re able to come to you and say “I’ve got a challenge” and know that if they share a personal thing with you that it will stay personal. This is a very special relationship, so if you’re fortunate enough in your life to have even one mentor – it’s an incredible situation.
In order for it to be a mentoring experience, you have to have a teaching moment occur. For a teaching moment to occur, you as the apprentice need to go to the mentor and say “I need help” and be willing to listen. I think many of us have mentors in our lives, but we don’t have the teaching moment. But when those two come together – the mentor is available, and the apprentice is ready to be taught… it is a miraculous turning point in a person’s life.
I can probably count on one hand all the mentors I’ve had in my life, and all the teaching moments I have had in my life – and that’s true of most people. We would hope that we would be in a position to mentor more often. Maybe we don’t look for the mentor situations or we don’t try to find them because it is certainly an important thing, but it is not something we are taught in school or something you expect to necessarily have happen.
But the mentorship experience is powerful, and most elite performers have had a mentor. Now I suppose my mentor, the one that I remember certainly first, was my father. Now, I’ll give you an example of how this happened. I was the kid that never made the team, I mean I was bad at everything in school, the kids wouldn’t even pick me for dodge ball I was so poor. And so finding a situation where I could learn a sport, or to succeed in anything was a big task for my father. He was always looking for something for me, and encouraging me.
So when we discovered rifle shooting, and he took me to a rifle club – it was a great experience the first day. I really liked it and my father could tell that this was maybe something that would build my self-image, so we went back the next week for the next rifle team meeting and we found out that they were going to close down the program because they just didn’t have enough interest. I was just devastated as I walked off the range. Here was something I finally found that I was interested in and could probably do well and now I had no opportunity. My father just looked at me and said “Don’t worry about that son, just because they’re not going to shoot, doesn’t mean you’re not going to”. And I didn’t know what he meant, but he had already made up his mind at the meeting that he was going to buy a rifle for me, a rifle for himself, and all the equipment that we needed, and got the keys to an indoor range.
He would pick me up after school about 3-4 days a week and would take me to the range and he would train me – and he became my first coach. But that was a mentor experience for me because not only did I learn about rifle shooting, but I got to learn about the special relationship of a father and son can have together.
This article is a short track from the Audio CD set Performance Coaching - to order the complete set go to http://www.mentalmanagement.com/a_mentorship.html
Lanny Bassham is the author of "With Winning in Mind" and "Freedom Flight - The Origins of Mental Power". His Mental Management System has been used by elite athletes and performers since 1977. To find out more about his program please call 800-879-5079 or 972-899-9640 - firstname.lastname@example.org www.mentalmanagement.com