Youth mentorship in sport - the difference maker

Youth Mentorship

Keep them involved and engaged.

Youth sport associations are often run by volunteer leadership mostly comprised of parents.  Despite struggling with the recruitment and retention of coaches, associations overlook a major pool of untapped resources already within their networks: the senior athletes. Youth mentorship within sport associations has many practical and social benefits.

I have noticed as kids get older and are faced with competing priorities, their involvement in organised sport often wanes. Unfortunately, this happens at an age when they most need a purpose, a sense of community and making physical fitness a habit. 

Youth Mentorship 2

A brighter future through leadership opportunity. 

Developmentally, by the time young people reach the age of 13, they have an increased desire for independence. This is an incredibly important time when this need should be supported in a positive way. Research has shown youth mentors have enhanced:

  • reasoning skills

  • self-esteem

  • empathy

  • conflict management skills

  • organizational skills

Youth Mentorship 3

Kids relate better to kids.

Recently, my 14 year old daughter’s professional math tutor told me that my daughter is responding better to her 17 year old peer tutors. This shouldn't be a surprise. Kids look up to older kids and pay attention to them. They see a future for themselves in these peer teachers and mentors.  They are exposed to possibility - goals and dreams for themselves that are not so far off in the future – they are attainable.  If they keep at it, one day they too can become a math tutor, a swim coach or a basketball referee!  Benefits to kids who have a youth mentor can be:

  • an increased academic achievement

  • a greater self-efficacy

  • an improved social skills

  • a decreased behavioural problems

  • a lower rate of engaging in risky behaviours

  • a greater feeling of connection to school (or team)

Youth Mentorship 4

Less conflict.

A powerful and significant by-product of youth mentorship is a decrease in organizational conflict. There is no perception of bias when the coach is a 15 year old volunteer or a 17 year old short term contracted employee. These young coaches provide parents with an opportunity to see a future for their own child as a leader within the organization. Parents are able to enjoy their child’s participation rather than worrying about inter-personal dynamics with parent coaches or referees.

We must support the youth who step into these roles. We must ensure that they are not exploited by compensating them for their work by way of reduced or waived participation fees, honorariums, and/or employment contracts.  Associations must have the policy and structure in place to manage conflict when it arises. Conflict management skills are easy to learn. If youth are supported to gain and practice these skills by association leadership, they are given invaluable experiences for any career path that they choose to pursue.

Youth Mentorship 5

It is a win - win for all involved.

Sport organizations may spend years investing in and developing athletes from a young age. It is time for them to look at retention.  

There are many upsides to creating opportunities for youth leadership within sport associations. We see a decrease in organizational conflict, an increase in retention of senior youth athletes, mentorship for younger athletes that will keep them involved as they age and practically, associations will have a greater ability to run programming. The reasons are clear. If training, policy and organizational structure is in place to support this model the benefits may be endless.

Reference: Issue 7 of Research in Action, Michael Karcher, Ed.D., Ph.D