4 Questions About Mentoring Athletes

Many of us that have entered the coaching field in Christian school athletics did so in order to have an impact on the athletes that God brings into our circle. Truly a coach is one of the biggest figures in an athlete’s life and development. But what if you could have an even bigger impact on some of your athletes? Great news, you can! The mentoring process is a great way to develop servant leaders for the Kingdom.

To help better understand the mentoring process, this post will answer three questions regarding mentoring.


What is mentoring?

The word mentor comes from ancient Greece in Homer’s Odyssey. Mentor was the name of the slave that Ulysses had charged with the task of raising and educating his son while Ulysses was fighting in the Trojan War. In Homer’s writings, Ulysses was gone for about twenty years. This was quite a task for Mentor.

Mentoring is a long-term process of educating and leading one person in a very specific direction. In his book Coaching Champions: The Privilege of Mentoring, Jess Gibson simply puts mentoring this way,

“Mentoring is spending more time with fewer people.” (p. 23)

The mentor will guide the mentoree in ways that will help him achieve similar status or effectiveness.


Who do I mentor?

This is the key question because you can’t just decide to mentor someone.

Mentoring is an active process that is done intentionally by both parties. You can’t secretly mentor someone without their knowledge.

 We all have the athletes in which we see great potential. We want to mentor these kids and mold them into the vision that we have for them.

However, they have to have a desire to be led by a mentor, and they have to be very teachable and moldable.

This is why you’re able to spend more time with fewer people in mentoring, because few people actively seek out mentorship.

The mentoree also needs to be someone who will appreciate the mentorship that you provide.

Many of our athletes would love the idea of being personally mentored by their coach. However, they wouldn’t appreciate the work that you’re putting into them.

The mentoree has to want and value the mentoring process.


How do I mentor our athletes?

This is where the philosophical rubber meets the actual day-to-day road. How to mentor is hard work, deliberate, and time consuming.

If you and the mentoree are committed to this relationship then it’s going to take lots of one-on-one time. Establish a weekly meeting in which you discuss ways to train and grow.

(As a side note: you need to be very careful in today’s day and age with private meetings with athletes. We would suggest making this a private meeting in a public place on campus. You need to keep your professional distance as well since you are still their coach/teacher.)

Gibson also highlights that a mentor must implement values, skills, and character in the mentoree (p. 27). Implementing these three areas in your athletes will bring about much change in their lives.

As a mentor, you need to encourage change in your mentoree. Help them to identify areas in their life that are not productive to their dreams and goals.

Change is key to growth. Most of the time, the biggest change that needs to take place in high schoolers is responsibility and time management. Point out ways that they can better use their time and be more responsible.

Provide opportunities for growth in their lives. How else will they see if they have changed? Also, you need to test them in what they should be learning from you. After they have spent time with you, delegate certain tasks to them. Their goal should be to perform these tasks just as you would. This will help develop the desired skills and leadership.

It will be tempting to focus on results in this relationship. Remember, they are not an employee, they are an athlete looking to learn from you directly.

In this relationship, the mentor must focus more on growth in the mentoree.

Remember this is a long-term process that will expose weakness and test the mentoree. Gibson described the process best in what he calls the “essence of mentoring:”

I do it, you watch; then

We do it together; then

You do it, I watch; then

You do it alone. (p. 12)


The biggest bit of advice we can give in any mentoring relationship is to pray. Pray that God sends you the mentorees that He wants you to have. Pray that you will model Christlikeness in your daily walk. Ultimately, we should be pointing our athletes and mentorees to Christ.

Yes, they’re following us as a mentor, but ultimately they should be taught to follow Christ.

The best way to mentor is to spend time with the athlete and allow them access into your life to see how you serve Christ in your position.


What is the difference between coaching, discipleship, and mentoring?

This is a great question, and the first part is pretty easy to answer.

Coaching and mentoring a very different. Gibson’s quote from earlier about investing more time in fewer people shows the biggest difference between coaching and mentoring.

Personally, I have coached hundreds of kids, but I have mentored only one.

Coaching is also focused on results. Coaches coach to help athletes acquire skills and compete successfully. While coaches can instill values, skills, and characters in their athletes, they lack the intense one-on-one time that is valued in mentorship.

Coaching is great, it’s been greatly used of God in the lives of countless athletes. Mentoring is just a bit extra.

The difference between discipleship and mentoring is a bit more nebulous. Howard Hendricks states in his book As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship,

 I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap.” (p. 183)

 Hendricks does go on to say that the biggest difference between the two is that discipleship points directly to Christ in every aspect of life. Disciples also should never stop following their teacher (Christ). Whereas in a mentoring relationship, the mentoree is released from the mentor once they are deemed “ready” and “prepared.”

If God can use you to mentor five athletes into becoming Christian coaches, then the impact is exponential as they coach and mentor future athletes. This exponential impact should be the drive of mentoring our athletes.


What are your thoughts on individually mentoring athletes in your department?


Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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