Sports’ big seat at the mentorship table

It seems that Charles Barkley is changing his tune when it comes to being a role model. (Shilling for Weight Watchers will do that). I think Charles’s point was always that he is a role model, he just wasn’t the only role model a young person should have. And that makes sense. Who only looks up to one person, what company only benchmarks itself against one other company? We need a variety of quality people and institutions with which to align ourselves. The challenge for many is finding those worthy of such attention. A lot of times it is not because they don’t exist. Rather it is about access.

January is National Mentoring Month. Take a moment to congratulate yourself because even if you haven’t thought about being a mentor, you have probably held that position as a family member, friend, coach, boss, professor, teammate or professional/personal advisor. Or you actually held the title of mentor. I had the honor of being a mentor for 3 years in the Fulfillment Fund in Los Angeles, an organization that identifies teens with a shortage of resources but not initiative and pairs them with someone who can provide the type of guidance essential to mine the various challenges in our modern society. Believe me, the mentor gets just as much value in enlightened perspective and fun times as the mentee.

Our industry and its array of members have a natural connection to being mentors. We can serve as coaches to players, as advisors to new employees at leagues/teams, companies, organizations, and non-profits, via our alumni associations to current and former students, as former players to current players, and industry leaders to those just finding their way. The mentor relationship can be formal – with regularly scheduled points of interaction or more informal, where giving 30 minutes of career advice ont time can provide a lifetime of value.

Mentoring has always been important. What makes now different? Why should those in sports do more? Well I think at least most of us recognize how fast life has become, how busy we all are, that taking time out to consider the plight of others gets lost in the whirlwind of activity. In a tight economy, it is natural to focus on “getting mine” instead of helping others “get theirs.” But this is precisely when an outsider’s perspective, advice, well-time words of encouragement can make the difference in a person’s life. And why sports? We are an industry built on teamwork, on seniors helping freshman, of alumni rooting for the next generation of players. And we are part of a professional environment that demands greater knowledge and skills than in the past. Many times those essential tools are best delivered not by books but rather those who have gained them through experience.

So as we make resolutions about what we will do more of, better of, or in the case of vices, less of in 2012, please keep in mind something that you are naturally capable of doing. Find time to mentor. It will make you a better person and give us a better industry.

About National Mentoring Month
Created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, National Mentoring Month focuses national attention on the need for mentors, as well as how each of us—individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities and nonprofits—can work together to increase the number of mentors to assure brighter futures for our young people.

To learn more about National Mentoring Month, how to be a mentor, and other ways to contribute, please click here.