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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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.
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:
- The development of program goals and focus
- An initiation stage that involves mentor screening and entry
- Mentor training
- The cultivation of the mentor–mentee relationship
- Separation, termination, or closure of the mentor–mentee relationship
- 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:
- Define the individuals that the mentoring program is designed to serve (What is the need? What are their ages, gender, and common characteristics?).
- Identify the types of individuals that would best serve as mentors.
- Determine the type of mentoring program that will be offered (e.g., one on one, group mentoring).
- Determine if the program will be structured as part of an existing organization or a stand-alone program.
- Determine the nature of the mentoring program (e.g., youth development, career assistance, improved academic performance, character development).
- Identify what outcomes will be associated with what the program is hoping to accomplish.
- Decide when the mentoring sessions will take place.
- Determine the length of the program and how often mentors and mentees will meet.
- Decide where the mentoring will take place (e.g., school, faith based, work, e-mentoring).
- Define program stakeholders (e.g., advisory board, parents, mentors, mentees), and identify how they can promote the program.
- Determine ways the program can be evaluated for its effectiveness.
- 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.
- 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.
- Armour, K., & Duncombe, R. (2012). Changing lives? Critical evaluation of a school-based athlete role model intervention. Sport, Education, & Society, 17,381–403.
- Carter, A. R., & Hart, A. (2010). Perspectives on mentoring: The black female student–athlete. Sport Management Review, 13, 382–394.
- 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.
- (2005). How to build a successful mentoring program using elements of effective practice. Alexandria, VA: Author.
- 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.
- 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.