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Athlete Centered Coach 21 Great Leaders Are Strong Mentors

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

June 23rd, 2022

We Don’t Know that We Don’t Know

Many sports leaders unwittingly build a wall between themselves and the common rank and file member of their coaching fraternity. They may wish to be influential with all stake holders, but the way they carry themselves, acts to prevent it. Quite a few so-called leaders, walk amongst the crowds with scales on their eyes, the scales that weigh the value of objects, to check for the value of a transaction. When each encounter becomes a transaction, their leadership is diminished, it's as though they calculate how spending this much time with this person adds to them, or subtracts. Those that are looking to make the best use of their own time, by engaging only in transactions that are win/win, or benefit them more than the other, don’t really advance the health of the body they lead. The systems they then put in place have a tit for tat, quid pro quo. Then people scratch their heads and wonder at the greying of the organization, because not enough time and energy was invested in the young, or those who didn't bring as much initial value to the organization.

Good Intentions Or Gatekeeping?

I have been recruited numerous times to serve on boards and in other leadership positions, because “It will be good for your career”. Which on the face of it seems like a worthwhile endeavor, but my experience has shown that a lot of effort goes into a developing plans that can be wasted by the next level in the organization. You work so hard in your committee, perfect your work, and then the board out of political expediency changes it to suit their friends. So, instead of engaging in that kind of activity, I save my energy for what will make a real impact.

I’m thankful for those who serve in that capacity, gaining the access they do, running the events they run, but there also seems to be a corresponding punitive measure if one does not get involved in that way. The people on the inside, look down their noses at those who seem to be disengaged, but they don't realize they are perpetuating a system that puts people on the outside. In my own case, I turned down some offers, because I had school aged children at home that needed a father’s attention. In other cases, I resigned, or did not accept the invitation because of deep systemic political problems in the organization, with some dysfunction thrown in for good measure. When I shared my concerns, and potential solutions, about the problems with say election fraud for a board seat, backroom deals, hidden agendas, and conflicts of interest, I generally get that glazed over look from those in charge, or a tacit ‘We will look into it’. Of course, no real action would be taken after the look.

Why is all this important?

Missing the Mark of True Leadership

When so-called leaders are so preoccupied with currying political influence, then they are off the mission of developing the people in their organization. What’s really missing in sports leadership is mentorship, not the mentorship of trying to climb the ladder and gain political favor, nor the mentorship from an expert who attempts to fill the neophyte with knowledge, but a true relationship of development in that person based on listening and trust.

Various organizations offer a type of mentorship, but much of it goes begging. Why does this happen? From what I see, the main cause is a lack of full sincerity by mentors. True mentors necessarily take the time to really listen to, and understand the person they are mentoring. The best mentors are not simply checking off a box on a to-do list that includes spending x number of minutes talking to a client. They instead are fully engaged and really care about the outcomes of the mentee.

Bad mentors give off an air of lording it over their pupil, as if they are the source of all knowledge, and that the student would do well to accept everything they say. The bad mentor will often say ‘yes, but…’, even when the one who wants to grow has entered into the first stage of discovery. If the developing coach, pro or administrator questions the conventional wisdom of poorly run program, they will be redirected away from that issue. A good mentor will also be challenged by their mentee to pursue a still more excellent way of delivering service.

Value the Challenge a Strong Upstart Can Pose

Almost a year ago, I was at a conference, speaking. I had finished my presentation and a challenging question came from the group of coaches. The tone of the questioner was one of disagreement and argumentative to the point I was making about athlete centered coaching. I had to shift from being offended by the challenge, and answered as fully as I could at the moment. I had to stop and say to myself, "Ignore the tone, and listen to the content of the question". It was a valuable moment, because I know that when one person asks a question, many times there are others thinking along the same lines, so it presented me with an opportunity to fill in the information people really wanted. For those who didn’t think of the question, it would help them to understand how to deal with push back from others, should they want to teach what I was teaching. What happened after the talk was also interesting.

I was talking with two veteran coaches, both of whom affirmed that I had ‘put that young in his place’. The tone of which seemed to indicate that I had really showed the younger coach who knows more, I do, and that they should follow my wisdom. I shot back to these coaches saying what I expressed above, and that the younger coach had brought a lot of value to the situation with his question. There was a non-verbal look of acknowledgment, that I was correct in my assessment although we did not talk much further on the topic. This indicates part of the problem in our sports culture, where we often have a ‘you need to pay your dues’ type of attitude. Instead, what is far better is to value all points of view, realize that younger coaches can offer some incredibly valuable insights, some very pure logic and amazing innovation.

The Hidden Hand

In what can be described as a hidden hand guiding all things, this young coach then met up with a friend of mine, Styrling Strother, in another state, and told his story of the interaction. What the young coach did not know, is that Styrling and I are great friends and former business partners, and that I had already told him the story. So, this young coach was amazed when Styrling said “Oh, you are THAT coach!”. As a result, both Styrling and I have struck up a friendship with this guy, and while not an official mentoring relationship, one of collegiality and mutual support. Still later, we met up with him at a major tennis conference, and continued to nurture this new found friendship. I believe this young guy was relieved to meet with me later, finding that I was not at all put off by his question, from nearly a year earlier. A few months later we spent some quality time at another major tennis event, sharing a lot of good information, and doing a great interview telling the story of how we became friends.


In an alternate universe, this young coach would have been left out in the cold, waiting for the time when they could receive acknowledgement by paying their dues, learning to show the proper amount of respect to a superior more knowledgeable and experienced master.


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