Hidden Impact of Mentoring

Soon I will go to Sochi to continue my work as a mentor to the Canadian Olympic Team. It will be the ninth Olympic Games that I’ve attended, my fourth as a mentor. I’ve been working with some of the Canadian winter athletes since before the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics and I’ve watched them mature from wide-eyed Olympic rookies to Sr. veterans, multi-medalists and Olympic Champions. They have become fabulous athletes and community citizens: there are so many incredible career champions among them. They now, are the role-models and mentors and I am so proud to have had the chance to work with them.

While in Sochi there is no plan for me to be on TV; I’m not there to be a spokesperson or an analyst. My role is to continue to be part of the Canadian Team’s preparation. Much of what I do is subtle and behind the scenes. All the athletes have access to professional mental performance consultants (often sport psychologists) that help them with specific field of play issues. They have coaches and team mates who are with them and support them daily. The mentoring I do is done in broad strokes; I pop in and out of camps and meetings, I send emails, or we exchange txts. I know I don’t connect with everyone on the team but that’s okay, everyone wants and needs different support and guidance. Often I explain my role like this- I offer to take the horses to water; if they drink, or how much they drink, is up to them. Throughout the year I am one of their many resources.  

When I first started going to the Olympics in this role it was a huge shift for me. To be frank –

it felt odd that it wasn’t about my goals; I was at the Olympics but not part of an Olympic performance. As an athlete my training and preparations had all been about building and then executing my Olympic performance. Now, as a mentor, I don’t build anything at the Games – I will have contributed some ‘tools and bricks’ (grains of rice? 🙂 ) and it’s up to the athletes (and their coaches) to do all the building. I’ve changed my perspective on the importance of roles like mine, and now, I get it. It doesn’t have to be about “me” or “my”.

Now I contribute to preparation: I proudly observe performance. I’ve shifted my perspective.

truly believe, in every environment, knowledge is power. Confidence, strength, and the magical concept of ‘flow’ come from being able to access answers, particularly when we are challenged by our own “Can I? Will I?” moments. Mentoring is not about passing along my answers, I hope to teach the people that I’m working with how to be open and aware so that they can find their own answers.

Since I’m not always present for the conversations that my email messages are intended to start it’s easy for me to wonder about my impact. Can one grain/ tip – or even a few – make a difference? I think teachers and other mentors must wonder this from time to time too. How do I know if I’m making a real difference? Can I measure this? When I began mentoring I was discouraged by how little feedback I got. I almost stopped. But when feedback comes, whether it’s been by the penny or the pound, it’s made me feel so good. I realize that even one grain can make a big difference in the biggest of buckets.

There have been some tweets and emails lately that continue to make me so proud of the work I do. They remind me that there is an impact, even if it’s often hidden, to being a mentor and sharing what I know and feel. I am so grateful.

An email from Kaitlyn Weaver (Figure Skating, Dance)

“I know you know how much of an impact you’ve made on me thus far, but I just wanted to say THANK YOU one more time. You said that this would make us bigger and stronger, and you were right. Now here we are, four years later vying for a medal.. just like you also predicted. Thank you for shining the light for me. “

And this one from a while back…

[Random note – The black eye in one of tweet pictures was the result of playing fetch with our dog, Bernice. I reached for the ball just as she jumped. A dog’s head trumps an eye socket every time! It was a doozy of a shiner – my first. ]

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