Mentoring is widely acknowledged as an increasingly more powerful and important aspect of developing people in sport, including leaders, officials and coaches. There are a variety of definitions of what mentoring is. Across all the different definitions, mentoring is characterised by an intense ‘caring’ and ‘guiding’ quality.
A key principle of mentoring coaches is that the coach remains at the centre of their own development and the mentor supports as required. A mentor doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but seeks to work with the coach to help them find the answers themselves.
According to the Sport Ireland Coaching Report, participants noted the variation of having female role models and mentors available and visible. Most found value from having a mentor who was either male or female, but emphasis was placed on the particular benefits of having a female mentor within a sporting context. They noted the importance of female role models in encouraging and inspiring a pathway in coaching for other females.
I had changeable mentors over the path of the eight years I was coaching. Initially, it would have been the two female coaches that were in the age group ahead of me. I would have looked to them, but then after that, I was looking for best practices around the club. I found another mentor that was male. He was of a developmental style as well. I looked to him for guidance and all that kind of stuff. I also got involved as well in mentoring, I was also mentoring age groups behind me.
As outlined under the Barriers for Progression, key issues for many women in coaching include confidence (in certain situations), gaining practical coaching experience (especially at a high performance level), and access to informal and formal networks. Having a mentor who can help check, challenge, advise and support a female coach, can be a really powerful tool in addressing the issues and often opening doors to people and opportunities.
While the benefits of mentoring are widely acknowledged, it is important to note that not everyone can be a good mentor, especially if they haven’t received any training. For example, the male Head Coach in a club might be a fantastic coach, but it doesn’t mean that he is a suitable mentor. Successful mentoring programmes include an element of mentor training whereby individuals understand how to build the relationship with their mentees and support them rather than tell them. Mentors can also come from other sports, rather than within your own sport all the time.
The Coaching Association of Canada has some useful resources, see links below
View a full range of mentoring resources from the Coaching Association of Canada
Chapter 3: Developing Coaches Suggested Actions
Write a set of guidelines for clubs encouraging them to try and establish mentoring between their experienced coaches and others.
Establish a women in coaching mentoring programme in your sport. Coaches can nominate themselves via an application form. The sport provides opportunities for all coaches to meet and learn while also pairing them with a mentor.
Collaborate with other sports to create joint mentoring programmes.
For those who are just starting their coaching journey – prior to any course starting, appoint a mentor to work with a small group of interested women, doing some pre-course work and mentoring the whole group, before, during and after the actual course. This is cost effective and has the added benefit of starting to develop a peer mentoring group which can transition into a wider network for the female coaches.
Coaches with potential to progress to the next level or who are aiming to coach at HP level, will benefit enormously from having a mentor for a period of time.