Mentoring in Sport

Mentoring is a process in which a mentor, who is typically more experienced or older, helps a mentee  or  protégé  grow  and  develop  in  some  way. As such, a mentor may be thought of as a guide, tutor,  counselor,  or  adviser.  In  sport  and  exercise psychology (SEP), mentoring is commonly thought of in terms of the supervision of graduate students or  professionals  becoming  involved  in  the  field. In  such  settings,  mentors  help  these  individuals develop their consulting skills, as well as develop professional attitudes and values about important issues such as ethical practices. However, mentoring  has  many  other  applications  for  SEP  professionals to consider. In many cases, the individuals that  professionals  in  the  field  of  SEP  work  with or  teach  are  involved  in  mentoring  efforts.  For example,  physical  education  (PE)  teachers  mentor  undergraduate  students,  as  do  certified  athletic  trainers,  exercise  professionals,  and  coaches. In  addition,  many  sport-based  programs  focused on  youth  development  have  included  mentoring of young people as a key process in achieving their goals.

Given the widespread application of mentoring in  sport  and  exercise  settings,  as  well  as  in  SEP, it is important that professionals in the field have an  understanding  of  mentoring  and  the  mentoring  process.  This  entry  is  designed  to  provide  an overview of mentoring and its application to SEP.

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Defining Mentoring

Unfortunately,  there  is  no  universally  accepted definition  of  mentoring.  Dictionaries  define  mentors as trusted counsels, teachers, coaches, or loyal advisers.  When  describing  mentors,  those  in  psychology and business have used terms such as role models,  individuals  who  help  others  achieve  life goals, or career guides. Mentoring, then, seems to be equated with and used interchangeably with a number  of  other  terms.  These  include  teaching, coaching,  advising,  counseling,  educating,  tutoring,  guiding,  training,  developing,  molding,  supporting, and shaping.

While no universal definition of mentoring can be found, looking across various definitions reveals many common characteristics. These include (a) a situation  usually  involving  two  individuals  where a relationship built upon mutual trust and respect occurs;  (b)  a  mentor  who  possesses  more  power, knowledge,  and/or  experience  than  the  mentee; (c) a flow of information from mentor to mentee; (d) a process that involves the transfer of knowledge, experience, or power from the mentor to the mentee; and (e) benefits for both the mentors and mentees.  Therefore,  for  the  purpose  of  this  entry mentoring  is  defined  as  the  process  by  which  an older  or  more  experienced  individual  formally  or informally works with and counsels another young or less experienced individual(s) for the purpose of enhancing their growth and development whether that  involve  the  development  of  skills,  attitudes, values, and/or dispositions.

Types of Mentoring and Mentors

There  are  a  number  of  types  of  mentoring  that can  occur.  These  include  traditional  one-on-one mentoring,  peer  mentoring,  or  group  or  team mentoring.  It  should  be  noted,  however,  that  in group  mentoring  situations,  it  is  recommended that the ratio not exceed one mentor to four mentees  at  any  one  time.  There  is  also  e-mentoring, which  is  undertaken  using  various  technologies like  Skype,  videoconferencing,  or  the  Internet. Mentoring  can  also  occur  in  formal  structured programs  such  as  a  supervisory  experience  in  a counseling  or  clinical  SEP  or  informally  where  a new  member  of  an  athletic  team  is  mentored  by a veteran without being formally asked to do so. Whatever the context or structure, however, mentoring has been found to be effective in both formal and informal settings.

Mentoring Research in Sport and Exercise Psychology

When the research on mentoring in sport and exercise  settings  is  reviewed,  several  conclusions  are clear. First, there is a lack of research on mentoring. More often than not, one finds articles calling for  the  use  of  mentoring  with  sport  and  exercise participants,  articles  discussing  how  mentoring might  be  used  or  reviews  of  the  literature  often relying on research and studies conducted in other fields  like  business  and  education.  Second,  there are almost no systematic lines of research. Third, most  of  the  studies  are  descriptive  in  nature  and few attempts have been made to propose and test possible  theoretical  explanations  for  mentoring and mentoring effects.

While research on mentoring in sport and exercise  is  certainly  limited,  studies  are  beginning  to emerge. For example, in a 2009 study of mentoring  of  sport  psychology  (SP)  graduate  students, Watson,  Clement,  Blom,  and  Grindley  reported students had positive perceptions of their mentors and the mentoring process whether it was formal or informal. This study also found that peer mentoring  was  evident  at  much  higher  amounts  than in other fields. Other studies have looked at how coaches  and  athletes  are  mentored.  For  instance, in  a  2010  study,  Carter  and  Hart  interviewed  38 black  female  college  athletes  to  understand  their views of mentors in the lives. Results revealed they viewed mentors similar to the ways in which mentors  are  viewed  in  the  broader  research  literature (e.g., as guides, role models, and supporters). These athletes  also  reported  that  different  individuals fulfilled  different  mentor  roles  (athletic  support, career or academic support, and psychosocial support).  Finally,  some  intervention  and  evaluation studies  have  begun  to  be  conducted  investigating the  effect  of  mentoring  programs  within  SEP  settings. These studies typically compare the effect of mentoring on one group of participants against a group that did not receive mentoring. For instance, in a 2012 study, Armour and Duncombe examined the effectiveness of a school-based mentoring program that used successful athletes to deliver motivational  activities  to  disengaged  youth.  Results revealed  that  both  the  young  people  targeted and  their  teachers  reported  positive  reactions  to the program, but little evidence was found for its broader impact on factors such as self-esteem and attendance at school.

More  research  has  been  carried  out  to  examine  the  role  of  mentoring  in  the  development  of coaches  and  physical  education  (PE)  teachers. For example, studies have examined how coaches perceive their roles as mentors, the working relationships  between  supervising  physical  educators, student teachers, and university instructors coordinating the student teaching mentoring experience. All  of  these  studies  merely  identify  and  describe mentoring as a positive tool and process.

In  summary,  more  research  is  needed  on  mentoring in sport and exercise settings. The existing research  parallels  that  in  other  fields.  However, confusion  remains  regarding  inconsistent  and imprecise definitions of mentoring. There is a need to  move  beyond  descriptive  studies  to  ones  that test the effectiveness of mentoring interventions or relationships  between  factors  influencing  mentoring  and  mentoring  outcomes.  Tests  of  theoretical explanations for mentoring are also needed.

Key Mentoring Findings

Looking  across  the  research  in  SEP,  kinesiology, and  in  other  fields  such  as  business,  adolescent development,  and  education,  a  number  of  key mentoring findings can be identified. Some of the more important ones are summarized next.

Mentoring Works

Research  conducted  across  diverse  settings  and individuals  has  shown  that  mentoring  works  and leads  to  such  positive  outcomes  such  as  higher performance,  faster  career  advancement,  positive emotional  states,  and  psychological  growth  and development. Mentoring effects are robust, having been  shown  to  be  effective  in  a  variety  of  educational, sport, and business settings as well as in the field of positive youth development.

Mentoring Effectiveness Is Influenced by a Variety of Individual and Environmental Factors

While  mentoring  works,  it  has  been  found  to be influenced by both individual specific, cultural, and  community  factors  (e.g.,  mentor  experience, mentee readiness to change, context). For example, mentoring effectiveness has been shown to depend on individual characteristics related to the mentor and the mentee such as levels of motivation, cooperation, and involvement. Mentoring effectiveness is  also  influenced  by  broader  environmental  factors such as the community and culture the mentor and mentee are situated in.

The Length of Time Mentored Is Highly Related to Mentoring Success

Research  has  shown  that  that  longer  one  is mentored,  the  more  effective  mentoring  is,  with 1  year  to  18  months  being  the  minimum  length needed to show effects. It has also been shown that across this time period mentoring should occur a minimum of 4 hours per month.

The Quality of Mentor–Mentee Relationship Is Critical for Success

The  quality  of  the  relationship  between  the mentor  and  mentee  has  been  found  to  be  one  of the most important factors influencing mentoring success. The closer and more trusting the mentor– mentee relationship, the more effective mentoring is.  Little  trust  and  poor  relationships  are  associated with unsuccessful mentoring efforts.

Mentor–Mentee Match Is Critical

Because  the  mentor–mentee  relationship  is  so important  for  mentoring  success  it  is  no  surprisethat the mentor–mentee match is considered critical  for  program  success.  In  most  cases,  the  mentor should have more knowledge, experience, and power than the mentee. However, more successful mentoring  efforts  consider  mentor–mentee  age, mentee  needs,  and  common  interests  between mentors  and  mentees  as  factors  influencing  mentor  effectiveness.  Natural  mentors  such  as  teachers, older relatives, other athletes, and coaches can be  particularly  powerful  mentors;  in  many  cases, these relationships are the most effective.

Mentor Training Is Important

While  there  is  evidence  that  natural  mentors, who  often  are  untrained,  can  have  an  important influence  on  mentees,  research  with  formal  mentoring  programs  has  shown  that  mentor  training is important. Mentoring experts suggest that mentors should have at least 6 hours of training. This training  should  emphasize  that  mentors  should only  mentor  in  areas  in  which  they  are  competent,  and  should  include  ways  to  build  relationships based on trust and respect, the importance of maintaining  a  consistent  presence  in  the  mentee’s life, the need to focus on the needs of the mentee, how  to  set  and  establish  boundaries  and  specific expectations,  and  ways  to  make  the  experience enjoyable. In youth mentoring programs, mentors should be made aware of the importance of efforts to get to know the mentee’s family without getting overly  involved.  Finally,  mentors  need  to  realize that authoritarian styles do not succeed in mentoring. Mentoring should be a dialogue between the mentor and mentee. Emphasis needs to be placed on  changing  the  mentee’s  behavior  by  building  a trusting  relationship  with  him  or  her,  not  forcing him or her to do things.

Formal Mentoring Unfolds in Stages

Mentoring experts have found that the mentoring process unfolds in typical stages, although the exact stages identified vary to some degree across authors.   Often-mentioned  stages   include   the following:

  1. The development of program goals and focus
  2. An initiation stage that involves mentor screening and entry
  3. Mentor training
  4. The cultivation of the mentor–mentee relationship
  5. Maintenance
  6. Separation, termination, or closure of the mentor–mentee relationship
  7. Redefinition of the mentor–mentee relationship if continued contact is expected.

How Mentoring Works

Research on how mentoring works is underdeveloped,  but  initial  findings  suggest  that  mentors help  set  expectations  in  their  mentees.  They  also convey various skills and attitudes. For example, in SEP supervisory situations, the mentor and mentee may discuss consulting techniques as well as ethical issues. Finally, mentors are thought to influence mentors by providing support and encouragement.

Steps to Designing Formal Mentoring Programs

In  the  United  States,  the  National  Mentoring Partnership has identified steps to designing formal mentoring programs. These include the following:

  1. Define the individuals that the mentoring program is designed to serve (What is the need? What are their ages, gender, and common characteristics?).
  2. Identify the types of individuals that would best serve as mentors.
  3. Determine the type of mentoring program that will be offered (e.g., one on one, group mentoring).
  4. Determine if the program will be structured as part of an existing organization or a stand-alone program.
  5. Determine the nature of the mentoring program (e.g., youth development, career assistance, improved academic performance, character development).
  6. Identify what outcomes will be associated with what the program is hoping to accomplish.
  7. Decide when the mentoring sessions will take place.
  8. Determine the length of the program and how often mentors and mentees will meet.
  9. Decide where the mentoring will take place (e.g., school, faith based, work, e-mentoring).
  10. Define program stakeholders (e.g., advisory board, parents, mentors, mentees), and identify how they can promote the program.
  11. Determine ways the program can be evaluated for its effectiveness.
  12. Establish administrative procedures and protocols to ensure that they monitor and support the extent and quality of all mentoring efforts.

These general steps can be applied to almost any formal  mentoring  program  and  across  cultures. Sport and exercise psychologists involved in  developing mentoring programs would be well advised to employ them.


Mentoring  is  an  important  process  that  has  the potential to influence a wide variety of individuals and behaviors in sport and exercise settings and in the field of SEP itself. While there is a broad base of  mentoring  research  in  other  areas,  few  studies have  been  conducted  in  SEP.  Moreover,  studies from  related  fields  like  coaching  and  PE  tend  to be  descriptive  and  devoid  of  any  theory.  In  spite of this, these research findings parallel the general mentoring  research,  clearly  indicating  the  steps that sport and exercise psychologists interested in mentoring need to take.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2006). Introduction to mentoring: A guide to mentors and mentees. Washington, DC: Center on Mentoring 2006 Presidential Task Force, American Psychological Association.
  2. Armour, K., & Duncombe, R. (2012). Changing lives? Critical evaluation of a school-based athlete role model intervention. Sport, Education, & Society, 17,381–403.
  3. Carter, A. R., & Hart, A. (2010). Perspectives on mentoring: The black female student–athlete. Sport Management Review, 13, 382–394.
  4. Jones, R. L., Harris, R., & Miles, A. (2009). Mentoring in sports coaching: A review of the literature. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 14,274–284.
  5. (2005). How to build a successful mentoring program using elements of effective practice. Alexandria, VA: Author.
  6. Wanberg, C. R., Welsh, E. T., & Hezlett, S. A. (2003). Mentoring research: A review and dynamics process model. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 22, 39–124.
  7. Watson, J. C., Clement, D., Blom, L. C., & Grindley, E. (2009). Mentoring: Processes and perceptions of sport and exercise psychology graduate students. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21, 231–246.

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