By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician


The purpose of this article is twofold.  First the article will focus on what a mentor is and secondly why should all officials seek out a mentor to improve their soccer officiating career.  In order to understand both concepts a definition of mentor needs to be established.  The original mentor was in fact Mentor.  He was a friend of Odysseus and was charged with educating Odysseus’ Telemachus.  A mentor is a counselor or guide.  The goal of a mentor should be to empower the individual they are working with so that they can develop their abilities to the fullest extent.  Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where a subject matter expert invests their time and energy and personal knowledge to assist the growth and ability of another person.

At the intercollegiate level, an official’s mentor is a NISOA member who is older, more experienced individual who can help the younger official understand the organization, provide suggestions on how to advance and encourage high performance.  Mentoring can be both formal or informal.  A formal mentor is someone assigned to work directly with the younger individual on a longer term basis.  These individuals may meet on a regular basis to discuss game situations, advancement opportunities, culture of NISOA, etc.   An informal mentor may be a senior official that the younger official feels comfortable with and contacts when necessary to seek advice or information.  Care must be taken so that the informal mentor is not in conflict with the formal mentor.

Mentoring should not be confused with counseling.  A mentor goes beyond a counselor and develops a unique relationship with the individual and becomes a confidant, a teacher, a friend and more.  The mentor helps the individual develop both personally and professionally so that they have exceptional standards of performance.  Mentors need to have the ability to listen more and talk less.

Mentors perform a variety of duties which include setting high performance expectations, offering challenging ideas, building self-confidence, offering friendship, listening, teaching by example, offering wise counsel, encouraging, inspiring, assisting, and developing high ethical standards.  This approach allows the younger official to advance to their highest potential.

A mentor must devote a substantial amount of time to be successful.  A NISOA mentor must keep up on the latest NCAA rules as well as approved mechanics and techniques.  The information being provided by the mentor must be fact based and not opinionated that may taint the young official.  The mentor must understand the younger officials needs and work toward a successful ending.

The younger official has many responsibilities to make a mentoring program successful.  First the young official must be willing to listen.  Just like in an assessment, if the official is not opened to listen and learn the effort is wasted.  This may mean having a sense of loss from giving up familiar and comfortable beliefs, behaviors, etc.  There should be no fear of failure or change.   They should be most willing to instigate change.  A young official should work with the mentor to correct problems and improve skills.  The young official should utilize the mentor to help develop self confidence at all levels of the game.  A young official must have patience during mentoring.  Change is not immediate and takes time for the young official to work on new techniques, change behaviors, etc. so that they become a top level official.

Everyone makes mistakes or makes improper judgment decisions.  The key is when this occurs the young official works with the mentor to make the situation a teaching moment so that they learn from it and improve so that a similar situation does not occur in the future.  The official must take responsibility for the mistake and develop new skills to prevent it happening again.  The mentor and young official can work together to analyze the problem, determine what the “performance gap” was and develop a plan of action for closing the “gap.”

Individuals must remember that a mentor is not a rescuer.  Everyone must take responsibility for their own actions.  The mentor is there to help through situations so that the individual can improve based on their own skills and abilities.

In summary, mentoring is a partnership.  The mentor uses their experiences, insight, and wisdom to help the younger official.  The younger official works with the mentor to develop new or improved skills, learning the culture of the organization and developing to their highest potential.