When we hear the term mentorship, we almost always have a particular person that pops into our heads. Many of us have experienced some mentoring situation in our lives, whether personally or professionally.
In my 30 years of working in the fitness industry, I have had the privilege of being a mentee and a mentor.
First, let’s look at the definition of mentorship.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary says mentorship is “the influence, guidance or direction given by a mentor.”
Another definition is the guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution.
So, what does the dictionary say about the term “mentor?” Merriam-Webster says the “essential meaning of a mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.”
One might be led to believe the mentor is the most experienced in an area and the eldest. While this may be true, I do not think it is the only way to a successful mentorship.
When I was young and starting my fitness career, my mentors were usually more experienced and older than me. Later in my career, while working in campus rec, I truly enjoyed a more inter-generational mentor/mentee experience. As a non-student employee on a college campus, I often found myself learning from those much younger than myself, and it helped keep me fresh and pertinent in the fitness industry. I also had many years of experience to bring to the table, so I had much to offer my younger peers.
Most collegiate rec programs have mentorships in place for most staff positions. Mentorships are a trusted relationship and a meaningful commitment.
Being open to learning through mentorships can be an exceptional experience for both mentor and mentee. It also creates a strong community of collaboration among the staff and great opportunities to build each other up.
There are a few different ways to set up mentorship experiences to be successful:
- The traditional one-on-one mentorship. A mentee and mentor are matched depending on the program area to help the mentee become more experienced and confident in that area.
- Group mentoring can also be very productive. A mentor meets with a small group or cohort to guide and grow the group in a particular program area.
- And more recently, many collegiate programs have found success in distance mentoring during the pandemic shut down. I was pleasantly surprised how well this worked out in the group fitness arena.
Mentorships can last anywhere from one session or meeting to a six to 12-week program and beyond. Educause states that there are four stages to the mentoring process that help it to be successful.
- Enabling growth
These sequential phases build on each other and vary in length. There are specific steps and strategies in each stage that lead to mentoring excellence.
The Negotiating Stage
I believe the most valuable part of mentoring is the negotiating stage. In the negotiating stage, the mentor sets and agrees with the mentee on S.M.A.R.T. goals:
- Specific: State the goal in specific but straightforward terms.
- Measurable: How will we measure progress?
- Attainable: The goals need to be appropriate and achievable.
- Realistic/Relevant: The goals need to be realistic. It is better to do things in smaller steps than to be disappointed when expectations are unrealistic.
- Timely: What is the time frame of the goal’s success? What are the checkpoints? Assign a time, even if only a guess, to each goal to check progress.
These S.M.A.R.T. Goals can be excellent checkpoints in a mentorship with any format for a new group fitness instructor or in the onboarding/orientation process with a new personal trainer.
While nationally accredited certifications show a high level of knowledge and understanding in a particular area, nothing compares to being in the field and experiencing seemingly unsolvable situations.
A mentorship can speed along the process of experience in some ways. It can be beneficial to the mentee by exposing them to some of these scenarios ahead of time to discover that they, the mentee, can cope when things get sticky.
One Last Piece of Advice on Mentorship
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn from others in areas of your profession that you may not be as skilled in yet. Maybe you are a qualified Step instructor but would like to know how to teach kickboxing.
And I also encourage you to take the time to teach others in your field of expertise. Pass on your knowledge and be the best encourager to your mentee as possible. Can you think of someone in your department that is great at something you would like to learn? Do you know another peer you feel would benefit from your knowledge? It is an honor and privilege to be asked to be a mentor; these are opportunities to grow as a professional, and your skills get stronger as you teach them to other pros.
2022 is here. What will you do this year to learn something new through mentorship, and what will you do to share your knowledge with another? Spread the joy.