“I HAVE A MENTOR, NOW WHAT?”
Over the years, I have been mentored by of some of the best referees, not only in the United States, but on the world level. Each of my mentors have taken a personal interest in my development, shared their personal philosophies, techniques, provided advice and counsel, or gave me a swift kick in the butt when I started to drift off course. Even now as an USAW M-1/UWW Cat-2, their influence and guidance continues to have a very positive impact on my career. Regardless of my category or position, I will always be a mentee to those who have given so much towards my development.
The dictionary defines a mentee as a person who is advised, trained, or counseled by a mentor.
A mentor is defined as someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced person. As I look around the USWOA, we have referees who often take on the role of a mentor and are gold-mines of knowledge. Our USWOA mentors have incredible resumes; skill sets and experiences I can only dream. Mentors are the single most important part of your personal development. They take an active part in your development; openly share experiences, philosophies, techniques, and expertise. Without mentors, you’ll be nothing more than a boat without paddles; drifting aimlessly from bout to bout or tournament to tournament.
What is expected of you? What does it take to be someone a mentor wants to spend their time and energy on? Those are both very good questions and if you are not aware of your personal role in the mentor/mentee relationship, you’ll quickly find yourself in the fast-lane racing to failure. The mentor/mentee relationship is very special and becoming a mentee is a privilege. It is easy fairly easy to get a mentor, but it takes effort on your part to maintain the relationship. The very first step to being a good mentee; you must want to be mentored. You will have a lot of personal responsibility making the relationship successful. You should not expect the mentor to do all the work. It’s your development, so you should take the lead in the relationship. A side note, you should have more than one mentor. This will relieve the burden on one individual and will help you become a well-rounded referee. Ok, so let’s take a look at some of your responsibilities as a mentee.
Understanding the USWOA Landscape. Something that is very important but is not really addressed in any great detail, you need to understand the USWOA landscape. No I’m not talking about USWOA’s front lawn. I’m talking about the key people in the USWOA. Who are the members of the Executive Board? Which referees have refereed Olympics and World Championships? Who are our international referees? Who are our top national referees? As an inexperienced referee, you must know who’s-who in our organization. We have a lot of very senior referees, although they don’t get on the mat any more, they mentor by walking around and providing on the spot guidance and tutoring. You must know who these special individuals are and what they bring to the conversation when they address you. Trust me when I tell you, these accomplished referees don’t walk around and offer frivolous advice. When they speak, you might want to listen.
So let me give you an example of how important it is to know the landscape. You just walked off the mat in Fargo and an unassuming, distinguished gentleman walks up to your mat and says, “Hi, I just watched you referee and I have a suggestion that might help you.” So you’re standing there looking at this gentleman and hopefully you know the landscape. If you do, you immediately recognize Bill Stecklein; enough said. If you don’t know the landscape, then I pray you’re smart enough to say, ok, and listen. So let’s assume you don’t know the landscape. You’re looking at this “old guy” thinking why should I listen to him; what can he teach me? Good question, what can “he” teach “you?” Before I answer your question, let me give some background information on who that “old guy” is standing in front of you. Bill Stecklein is an unassuming gentleman who has refereed four Olympic Games, more world championships than I can count, a plethora of high level international events and every high level national event since before most of us were even born. The old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. It definitely applies here. So ya, it’s kind of important you stop what you’re doing and listen to him; that “old guy” may just teach you something. Bill is just one of the many outstanding mentors we have in the USWOA. As I look across the USWOA landscape at some of my mentors, I see Tony Melosci, Dave Errett, John Heyman, Ken Berger, Mike Swisher, Jim Diehl, Bob Wood, Zach Errett, Casey Goessl, Jerry Kuntz, Chris Curtis, Tom Kuisle, Toby Tobiasson, Sam Julian, Mark Mundy, Al Williams and Michael Jordan. Holy cow, I just rattled off seventeen referees who have had a profound impact on my career and I didn’t even mention Rick Tucci, Tom Clark, Bill Stecklein, Kevin Maxwell, Danny Blackshear, or Bill Harper. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. I think you get my point. These individuals, and so many like them, are the reason why our referees develop into some of the very best in the world. They care about you and want you to reach your fullest potential. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a group of mentors to develop and train a well-rounded referee. Now don’t get lulled into thinking only tournament clinicians, OEP instructors, or Executive Board members can be mentors. Mentors come from all parts of the USWOA and quite often they come from within your own peer group. It is incumbent on you to learn and know the landscape of USWOA. Trust me when I tell you, it is in your best interest.
Pride and Arrogance. To be a good mentee, you must be willing to lower your own opinion of yourself and listen to what your mentor is telling you. Are you a good referee? I can’t answer that, but I’m sure you have potential or you probably wouldn’t have a mentor showing interest in you. If your mentor gives you a suggestion of something new to try, try it. Have the courage to try new things. Accept criticism graciously and learn from your mistakes. Don’t complain; be dismissive, or argumentative with your mentor. If you disagree, discuss it with your mentor in a friendly, professional manner. Too many times I’ve witnessed an accomplished referee attempt to help a junior referee to which the junior referee replied, “I got it.” My friend, do realize you just dismissed an accomplished referee who was attempting to help you improve. Yes, you only said “I got it”, but what you really told the accomplished referee is you’re not interested in their help or want to hear what they have to say. That simple statement shows arrogance and is a fatal error on your part. Please have some humility when dealing with your mentors or accomplished referees. They may just teach you something you didn’t know.
Respect and Trust. Respect and trust go hand-in-hand like peas and carrots. The foundation of the mentor/mentee relationship is respect and trust, without it, the relationship is doomed to failure. A mentor and mentee who respect each other promote a close, personal trust which enables the mentee to expose his or her shortfalls and vulnerabilities without fear of ridicule or retribution. As a mentee, you should be respectful and grateful a mentor is giving their time and effort for your personal development. You want a mentor who is friendly and supportive, like wise; so does the mentor. Mentors are people just like you and they appreciate your friendliness and supportiveness as well. Respect and trust fosters an open and honest relationship which encourages learning and mentoring. I will be the first to admit it is very scary to give up your pride and surrender yourself to a mentor in order to become a better referee. But trusting your mentor shows your dedication to becoming a better referee. Without respect and trust, the relationship will go no-where and just flounder in frustration for both of you.
Communication and Active Listening. A critical element for the success of the mentor/mentee relationship is communication and listening. Communicating with your mentor allows him or her to understand your thought processes and thinking patterns. Ask your mentor questions. I know you will have questions and don’t be surprised if your mentor has questions for you. Questions exchanged between the mentor and mentee should not be a stump the chump session, rather they should be an exchange of ideas for your development. Like I stated earlier, be open and honest. If you don’t know, hey, you don’t know. But I’ll bet you’ll go and figure it out. I like to say, “the only dumb question is the question not asked.” When you communicate a point with your mentor, you should be clear and concise. Don’t let your mentor try and guess what you’re saying. Vague communication typically causes your development to take a wrong turn. The opposite of communicating is listening, specifically, active listening. Active listening skills are very important to ensure both the mentor and mentee are communicating. Yes, you heard what I said, but did you listen to what I said? In this era of everything comes in quick, short burst we tend to hear what is said but we fail to listen what is said. Too many times when we have a conversation we tend to pick out key buzz words and believe we’re ready to take action. As a mentee, it is imperative to not only hear your mentor, but listen to what they are saying to you. Resist the urge to grab a few words and shift your focus to your next thought. If you’re not actively listening to your mentor, all the best mentoring you can receive will be useless. Active listening takes effort and practice. You must train yourself to be an active listener.
So now you are aware of some of your responsibilities to becoming a good mentee. You will never reach your fullest potential as a referee without a mentor. Remember, our mentors have your best interests at heart and they want you to succeed. Appreciate what they do for you and the experiences and insights they share with you. The best part of having a mentor is being able to listen to them, watch them, learn from them and grow with them. Don’t squander away this special relationship; you may not get another opportunity.