The Importance of Mentoring

April 8, 2019

In today's world of college and high school athletic administration, mentoring coaches is often overlooked because of the increasing responsbilities and pressures that adminisitrators face. There are many reasons for AD's not to add this task to their list of duties. Jan Hathorn, the Athletic Director at Washington and Lee University and a former coach at the school, would argue that the most important aspect of an athletics director’s job is supervising and guiding coaches.

"Not mentoring your coaches is like a coach not coaching his or her team," Hathorn wrote in an article on "The process builds the important elements of community, support, and teamwork.

Additionally, mentoring coaches directly benefits the student-athletes. A supported, trusted coach is usually a contented coach—and most of us are far more effective when we’re content."

Hathorn offers the following suggestions for mentoring coaches.

Put people first. Effective mentoring requires building strong relationships based on trust, respect, and integrity. Fostering such relationships takes intention. You are busy with organizing and attending meetings, coaches are busy focusing on their teams. Finding time to strengthen relationships has to be a priority. People have to be more important than tasks.

Schedule time to talk. One way to ensure you get quality time with coaches is to schedule meetings with them one-on-one, even if it’s just a few per year. Depending on your availability, one or two additional meetings, outside of a yearly performance review, can go a long way to building stronger relationships.

Clearly define expectations. Everyone wants to know what’s expected of him or her, and most everyone wants to meet or surpass those expectations. Developing and communicating your expectations serves as a road map for your coaches and the direction of your department.

Hathorn wrote that, "Throughout the year, I offer frequent reminders of our goals to the staff through PowerPoint presentations at our monthly staff meetings, as well as in emails and other communications. This helps give our coaches constant guidance, especially when challenges arise and hard decisions need to be made."

Offer cross-mentoring. "Everyone in your department has something to offer, and we have found it to be a rich and fruitful exercise for coaches to learn from each other. I have often told my staff that I am the product of many caring colleagues who took time to teach me as I grew in the profession," Hathorn wrote.

Share wisdom. "As an administrator who is a former coach, my past experience—both the successes and failures—have proven to be a wonderful resource for developing the coaches I supervise," Hathorn wrote. "However, I also make it clear that my stories are just teaching points, not necessarily the only, or best, approach. I’ve found there is a delicate balance of offering a personal perspective while making sure the conversation is about them and not me."

Embrace the process. "I like to tell my coaches that there’s no success without failure. Any administrator who is being honest will tell you that he or she learned to make good decisions by making bad ones," Hathorn wrote. "This is important for coaches to know so they are encouraged to constantly improve and grow."

Be a role model. Hathorn sums up this point very well. "Every day, you are a model of what you believe," she wrote. "And your coaches, as well as your student-athletes, are watching everything you do. We can either intentionally mentor our coaches or we can let the world around us mentor them."

Mentoring Other Athletic Directors

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach, in which he won numerous national and state awards.  He makes presentations throughout the year to athletic director around the country. In an article on, Hoch provides the following advice on how an athletic director can mentor new athletic directors in their area.

When mentoring a new athletic director, I would suggest starting with the basics. The logistics of what we do can become overwhelming when each piece of paperwork and policy is new, and going over each of the key ones can greatly decrease a new administrator's learning curve.

Paperwork: Explain how to check and file eligibility forms for fall teams and provide tips on how to organize the associated paperwork from athletes--permission forms, physical forms, emergency cards, and signed codes of conduct. If a new athletic director doesn't have a good system in place, paperwork will become overwhelming.

Hosting Checklist: Share a checklist of how to set up a stadium for a home contest and how to cover an event. While each setting is somewhat unique, there are enough similarities to get the new athletic director on the right track. 

Rules: Make sure to discuss the rules and regulations of your governing bodies. If an athletic director is in doubt about a rule or policy involving the safety of athletes, team entries, or eligibility, he or she should not hesitate to call for the official interpretation. Provide phone numbers and contact names for your central office, league headquarters, and state association.

Deadlines: Talk about important due dates during the first six months of the school year. These should include deadlines for eligibility forms, tournament entry forms, payroll information for fall coaches, and any other specifics in your area. Suggest asking coaches to return their forms a few days before the actual due date. This gives us the opportunity to chase after anyone who is late in turning in their paperwork.

Associations: Provide all the necessary information to join the state and national professional associations. Why include this as essential information? First, it allows a new athletic director to be covered by liability insurance. Second, it gives them access to a host of professional development information. True, a new athletic director won't have time to read all the materials, but the information will be there when he or she does, or if a specific question pops up.

Concluding this initial meeting may make you feel like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. It's true that the people we mentor may not have completely absorbed everything we've said. But we've got to let them fly on their own--and we've got to get back to our own work!

A few days after the initial meeting, try to call your mentee to see what questions have arisen. Urge him or her to ask about anything that might affect the health and safety of the athletes, an oversight or mistake that could jeopardize eligibility, or a situation that might cause a legal problem.

If possible, invite the mentee to your office to demonstrate some of your systems. Provide a tour of your filing system to show how to quickly access the most frequently used forms. Consider sharing every pertinent checklist, form, policy sheet, and guideline that might be helpful. 

From there, make yourself available to the new athletic director as needed. Encourage him or her to call about anything--even just to vent. And you might check in with them if they don't call themselves. Some rookies are hesitant to ask for help, and others don't find the time. A "how are you doing?" phone call can force them to take a step back, which we all need to do every once in a while.

The key for both the mentor and the mentee is to share whatever you can. There is no need to struggle creating a new document, policy, or guideline. Why reinvent the wheel? Just share and help.

One more helpful touch is to sit with your mentee at his or her first league meeting. As items on the agenda are covered, you can provide a little additional information that may be obvious to everyone else. Also, during breaks in the meeting, introduce the rookie to your colleagues. This allows him or her to connect a face with a name listed in a directory and provide the opening for that first phone call.

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