I coach middle school cross country. Most weekdays from late August through mid-October, I drop whatever it is I’m doing, lace up my running shoes, put a whistle around my neck, and encourage three dozen awkward, gangly kids who are not my own to run (and, some days, to simply walk) with purpose.
Most autumn weekends, I get on a yellow school bus and accompany the team to a race somewhere in my windy corner of northeastern Montana.
I started coaching because my own kids were on the team, and it was another way to be involved with their lives. What I realized along the way—at about the same time they did—is that I was doing a lot more coaching of other peoples’ kids than I was of my own.
What I also realized along the way, and am reminded about daily, is that coaching is not really about teaching my Glasgow Scotties about racing tactics, or accumulating team titles and individual medals. Coaching is about encouragement. And the foundation of encouragement is simply showing up. Many of these kids don’t have an adult in their lives who simply shows up, every day and without excuse, on their behalf. It’s a small but critical ingredient in coaching at any level.
I mention this not to impress you with my level of civic engagement, but because many of you who read this are attracted to the notion of coaching. Not middle school runners, but prospective hunters. Equal to your interest is your apprehension. How can you ever mentor people you don’t know? How do you start? And what are the expectations?
Mentoring is a little like sewing a quilt by hand. Or carving a chair out of a stump. Every new hunter is the result of hard and custom work, but that’s also what gives each of us our unique grain and combination of experiences. Where the relationship between a mentor and an apprentice goes is impossible to predict, but each one is handmade.
And every single relationship starts because the mentor showed up.
As this autumn unfolds, and each of us experienced hunters thrums to the possibility of the season, think about introducing someone new to your world. Don’t fret about where your path goes. But start somewhere. And then keep showing up. It makes all the difference.
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