A Coach As A Mentor

When I realized it had been two months since my last post, I committed to getting a new post written immediately…and that was a month ago!  Now three months from my last post, it’s time to start typing.

Many of you are probably aware of various incidents that have occurred across the US in high school football recently.  To me, the most troubling piece of these actions has been the involvement of certain adults.  The two highest profile occurrences were the two kids in Texas that targeted an official and the kid in New Jersey that targeted an opponent.  In the case of the Texas kids, it has now been discovered that they were directed to target the official by an assistant coach.  The kid in New Jersey has his mother loudly and publicly defending his actions as an accident.  (Without commenting myself, you can find the video clip with a quick internet search and decide for yourself if it looks like an accident.)

Before I get up on my soapbox, I want to make a couple things clear.  First, I understand the mother’s need to defend her son; I get that she doesn’t want him to be guilty of this for many reasons: character, opportunity for scholarship, community perception, etc.  While I don’t agree with the way she’s handling this situation, I do understand why she’s doing what she’s doing.
Secondly, kids can be idiots.  Yes, that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.  Kids do dumb things on their own all the time, especially teenage boys.  I could get into the science of brain development to further explain, but I think it’s easier if we just admit and accept that, sometimes, kids do dumb stuff.

All of that said, I want to talk about what our coaches’ roles should be in the lives of our athletes.  I’ve written multiple times about the importance of educational based athletics compared to most club sport philosophies.  Our programs shouldn’t be run just to win games, hang banners, and send kids off to college teams.  Our programs should be in place to teach usable life lessons and prepare kids to be adults…while trying to win games, hang banners, and send a small number of kids off to college teams.

The term that we often hear associated with teachers and coaches is “mentor,” but many people don’t know the origin of that word.  Mentor is a Greek word with its roots in the Greek mythological epic poem The Odyssey written by Homer.  In The Odyssey, Odysseus leaves his old friend Mentor in charge of his household and young son, Telemachus, when Odysseus decides to join the Trojan Wars.  In Odysseus’s absence, Mentor’s role was to manage the household tasks typically left for a family’s patriarch and provide wise counsel for Telemachus during the boy’s childhood.  Because Odysseus was gone for 20 years, Telemachus was essentially raised by Mentor.  Mentor’s role in Telemachus’s life was so important that even Athena changed her form to look like Mentor when she wanted to give advice to Telemachus.

Because of his role in classic Western literature, the name “mentor” was absorbed into the English language to mean, “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher,” or “an influential senior sponsor or supporter.”
To further my etymology sidebar, I’ll explain the background of the word “coach” as well.  The original definition of “coach” was in the sense of a vehicle designed to carry passengers.  At some point in history, it was recognized that tutors were carrying their pupils toward exams in the same manner a carriage carries its passengers toward a destination, which started the use of the word “coach” to refer to people who teach or train others.
So the real question for coaches is this: Towards what “exam” are you carrying your athletes?  Is your exam just the games, or is your exam life?  It is my belief that coaches in the educational based athletics world should be preparing our kids for life.

I offer that brief background as a basis for reflection by coaches: Are you fulfilling your role as a mentor in the lives of your athletes?  Are you coaching your athletes in the same manner you would expect someone else to parent your own children?  Are you serving as a proper parental replacement for the kids entrusted in your care for two hours a day?  If you’re going to be a mentor, you should strive to be like Mentor.

As always, I encourage comments, emails, or interaction via social media.  Let me know what you think!


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