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A twist on mentor training for athletes

Indonesia emphasizes mentor training for athletes  photo credit: IMG_9181 via photopin (license)

Indonesia emphasizes mentor training for athletes
photo credit: IMG_9181 via photopin (license)

Frequently I talk about opportunities being around you at all times. Many times they are there, right under your nose. Too often athletes miss the opportunities available to them because they have pre-conceived expectations. Their expectations of how things ought to be get in the way of seeing what is possible. Here you’ll see an example of how mentor training for athletes has hidden benefits.

A powerful example of out-of-the-box mentor training for athletes occurred in Indonesia. From 1977 to 2001, the country excelled in badminton, and before championship matches, during practices, they offered free tickets to residents to come and fill the stands to give the players the sense of being in a serious competition.

As European players began appearing in international tournaments, they created a new challenge for the Indonesians because the Europeans were taller. What did the Indonesians do? They rebuilt their courts to compensate for the difference in height. On the new courts, ranked Indonesian players got used to playing someone who is taller.

Indonesia’s vision-based training paid off and they started to win again.

Vision based training wins

In addition, higher-ranked Indonesian players help train the beginners, who are just starting to prepare for the Olympics. This peer mentor training helps both groups. Younger players get used to practicing with people with a lot of experience, and the higher ranked players gain the reinforcement of the concepts and principles that comes from teaching what you know.

In another example, closer to home, I was leading mental toughness training with freshman volleyball team. One of the players mentioned being intimidated by taller players on the other side of the net. Her anxiety when facing taller players affected her performance.

Once she voiced her concerns, other girls on the team agreed that playing taller girls caused apprehension. They’re beliefs about taller girls impacted their game. Like so many athletes, they were keenly aware of the problem, but failed to have a solution.

One of the coaches reminded the girls about the game against a strong, rivalry team. During this game they worked together as a team, playing on their strengths. Acknowledging this helped to challenge their thoughts that they couldn’t hold their own against taller girls.

How one team faced their fears

My suggestion was to face their fears. Sounds good, but how? Begin practicing periodically against the varsity volleyball team since those girls were taller, stronger and more accomplished. By doing this on a regular basis, they would eventually overcome their fears about playing taller girls. The experience would teach them how to work together as a team, finding their strengths.

They expressed concerns about the varsity team criticizing their performance. That response was only masking their anxiety about being on the court with a stronger team. If anything, the varsity team would understand their concerns because they probably shared similar concerns when they were freshman.

Mentor program training

Volleyball team gained an edge with peer mentor training  photo credit: VBSenior09-0354 via photopin (license)

Volleyball team gained an edge with peer mentor training
photo credit: VBSenior09-0354 via photopin (license)

Mentor program training benefits the mentor and the mentee. The younger athletes benefit from learning shortcuts and strategies from more seasoned peers. The older athletes reinforce their learning, building confidence through leadership, as they work together.

There are definitely aspects of traditional training you ought to be doing because they’ve been proven to work. My point is, don’t stop there. Look for opportunities to reach your vision, regardless of where those opportunities come from.

At first, they might not appear to make sense or might seem inconvenient, but be receptive to them because, in the long run, they’re going to help you get where you want to go at a quicker pace.

Indonesia has successfully been using this strategy with their elite badminton teams, with great success. This volleyball team modeled this approach. It was a win-win for everyone. Having a coach believe in you is powerful. Having a peer mentoring program for athletes is priceless. Following best practices, this is a strengths based approach, highly cost effective and guarantees a great return on the time investment. Everyone wins.

Challenge: What’s been your biggest challenge? How has that been affecting your performance? Mentor training for athletes is a win-win. Who do you know, locally or virtually, that is strong where you struggle? Consider one thing that you’d like to deal with your challenge. How would things be different once you dealt with your biggest challenge?  Now decide the first step you could take to resolve your challenge.      

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