In the world of team youth sports, every coach has an invaluable source of support that holds great potential. It is found in the ability of team captains to step in and mentor fellow athletes.
The unique position that these older athletes have, as both peer and leader, makes them very credible in the eyes of younger, less experienced teammates.
With just a little bit of direction, a coach can train up captains to take on mentoring roles – equipping them to shed light on the little nuances of sports that youth sports coaches don’t always have time to address.
Here are three areas where mentoring can take place. They each are outside the scope of specific skill-building, but are equally important to a rewarding youth sports experience:
It can be quite overwhelming to young athletes to find balance in the expectations that come with team life. Day-to-day relationships may become strained with the stress of performance and daily practices.
Typically, team captains have been “around the block” a bit and have figured out some of this balancing act. They can be a great asset to their younger cohorts when it comes to handling relationships in these areas:
- With parents that tend to be critical and/or focused only on success
- With understanding what the coach is expecting and knowing how to approach a coach when you are not playing well
- In keeping the boyfriend/girlfriend connection in the proper perspective
In a mentoring relationship, a team captain will lead by example. However, as peers, captains also have the advantage of being able to speak into situations in a non-threatening way. Learning about what has worked for someone else can make all the difference for a younger athlete who is struggling.
When a young person commits to being on a team they very often will lose 3 or more hours out of every week-day due to travel back and forth from practice and the actual practice time. In addition, meets and/or games can often take up a good portion of a day over the weekend.
This can present a real challenge to fitting in the usual responsibilities such as:
- Daily homework, studying for tests, and school projects
- Babysitting or a part-time job
- Family chores
Team captains have inevitably faced – and are facing – the same demands. Tips and tricks for better time management, or talking through how to request schedule changes from bosses is valuable information that can be shared by a mentor.
Another area that benefits from a simple conversation between an experienced athlete and newbies is knowing the ins and outs of equipment needed for a sport. It may be as straightforward as where to find the best deals on necessary apparel or equipment. Teaching a mentee how to best care for and clean equipment is also helpful.
One of the greatest ways that kids profit from sports participation is in the lessons learned. Handling disappointment and loss tends to require self-control – and it does not come naturally to every athlete. For most, it needs to be learned and practiced.
Mentors can help keep younger athletes accountable to responding well, regardless of the situation.
Here are a few areas where mentors can impact a young athlete so that a knee-jerk reaction does not get an athlete into trouble:
- Reacting respectfully to an official’s unpopular call in a game
- Not being negatively affected by a fan’s distracting actions
- Handling success gracefully
- Not falling apart mentally over a slump
- Disregarding the antagonistic remarks of an opponent
The Power of a Mentor
Tapping into the potential of mentoring relationships is really a win, win, win for everyone involved:
- Young athletes get the benefit of having someone come alongside and make everything easier to figure out.
- Mentoring athletes mature and grow as they make an investment in other teammates.
- Coaches get assistance and support that helps them have a better reach.
As a coach, you can help facilitate growth in all of your athletes by encouraging mentoring relationships to take place.