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Deflections: The Spray Mentor



Years after the Montreal experience (see last week’s blog), I became a “spray mentor.” This is a person who sprays his audience with ideas that have a stick ’em coating. The theory is if you spray your ideas at lots of people, some ideas will stick.

There’s a fundamental problem with this fantasy though. It’s not mentoring at all. It’s just lecturing. It doesn’t even scrape the surface of the definition of communication, which cannot be uni-directional to be effective.

Still, I sprayed. Often. 

To my chagrin, I was unable to single-handedly reverse the tide of what I felt was mediocre coaching in minor. This despite dozens of presentations on an array of topics about teaching and coaching the game.

Some I did myself and some I farmed out to other local experienced and talented hockey teachers. They were good presentations, too, using the latest hi-tech gadgetry like overhead projectors and flip charts. We’d get 30 to 40 coaches to attend and were naively confident we were changing the face of coaching in the region. It was spray mentoring in its purest form.

With the best of intentions, our attitude was if you properly educated one coach, we would improve the lot of 15 kids. The math was easy. Thirty coaches meant 450 kids would be better off. We’ll assume the content we sprayed had a little meat on its bones.

However - and this, I later discovered, was a big however - a one-off lecture on teaching anything in minor hockey probably had about the same long-term impact as a driving school instructor saying to a student, “Start the car. Good. You pass.” Sufficient to get you down the street to the corner store. Not so good for an hour-long trip across town through rush hour traffic in bad weather.

By the time an association hired me to develop its mentorship program and help its competitive team coaches, I’d long been questioning the value of spray mentoring. I had no evidence it didn’t work, nor that it did. But it just didn’t feel right. I kept asking myself, “If I’m a new coach and this guy is spraying information at me on how to create successful one on one attacks, where’s the follow-up?”

When the 1999 Molson Open Ice Summit dropped its findings on the Canadian hockey public, I was relieved to see my ideas on mentoring were in line with what the poobahs called for. They weren’t talking about lectures or presentations. No, mentorship meant actually ongoing communication with coaches. In fact, I’d done that as the head coach of a club in France between my Montreal years and the Ottawa ones. What turned me into a spray mentor? I don’t know.

So then, how to minimize the spraying yet communicate with coaches and offer proper individual help?

The answer came with breakfast.

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