Will You be my Manatee?

When I first envisioned writing about mentoring, I had a particular image in my head; the wise, older individual overseeing the younger person as the future successor.  Now, while that isn’t completely wrong, it’s also very far off from what really happens when we look at mentoring in the judge community.  Whether it’s polishing rules knowledge, increasing soft skills tied to player relations, or the logistics of running events of all sizes, no judge comes to the program with all the skills they need honed and ready to go.

The level of mentorship that flies around the judge program is what makes it so unique.  It’s not something that’s defined by levels, age, or experience.  I’m lucky to have met and worked with so many judges of different levels in my journey through the program most of whom happily embrace mentorship.  The great thing about mentoring is that sometimes it’s a very pointed, on purpose kind of action.  A judge comes to you for help or growth and so you provide guidance to best of your ability.  You talk through their issues; give them advice as you can; help them push for and reach their goals.  It doesn’t even have to be something big; maybe they don’t quite understand the intricacies of WER so you spend the afternoon tweaking their skills.  It may have just been an afternoon to you but now each time that judge works with that program you can bet they’ll remember you and the help you provided.

The other kind of mentoring can happen quite on accident.  You’re chatting with a judge and the next thing you know you’ve shared ideas back and forth about tournament logistics or how to make your local game stores more inclusive.  To some this may seem to be a simple sharing of ideas but it’s also a little piece of mentoring that’s been shared between colleagues.

Manatee me
Everyone can be a manatee!

But let’s say you’re more in category one than two.  Someone has come to you for advice, seeking guidance on the tumultuous journey that can be working your way into the program.  Very few people can make it through this process without help; the sheer amount of information you need to acquire as you move forward can seem insurmountable; beginning this journey often looks impossible.  I had a great first mentor in the program, and the mentors that have followed have all approached mentoring with similar techniques.  I’m going to share a few things that I believe they did right.  This structure gave me the confidence and drive to keep going even after stumbling here or there.

Make it okay to make mistakes. As a society, we look at mistakes as things to be avoided at all costs but in actuality mistakes are how we learn.  I can all but promise you that you will and do remember your stumbles much more than you remember your easy journeys.  Creating an environment where they can be confident enough to jump and know that someone is there to catch them if they fall is a powerful thing.  It also means they’ll be comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

Explain things in plain terms.  Nothing will make your ‘manatee’ more frustrated than you wrapping your explanations in jargon.  Yes, they do need to learn the terms and vernacular of judging but it is best to ease them into things.  Lower stress and frustration means that they will absorb things better.  It also means a happier them and by proxy, a happier you.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics.  People will come to from all different backgrounds and with varying levels of rules and policy knowledge so you’re going to want to set a baseline.  It will give you a place to start and them a place to build from.  Understanding your limits is empowering because once you know where they lay you can push past them.  Even if they insist they don’t need it, make a baseline anyway.  They’ll be thankful once it’s done.

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  Nothing is worse than reaching out and finding silence.   Mentoring can be exhausting or overwhelming but fully retreating isn’t an option.  If it’s becoming too much let your ‘manatee’ know.  Self-care is important, in every aspect of judging.  Conversely, if your ‘manatee’ is too quiet don’t be afraid to touch base to make sure they’re still on board with the process.  Life gets busy; it could be that they need a small pause.  However, sometimes people also realize that this isn’t what they thought it would be.  It’s okay if you have some people drift away.

Be present.  The most important thing you can be is there.  Let them know you care; that you want to see them be successful as much as they want to be successful.  That doesn’t mean you have to give yourself entirely to mentoring but caring goes a very long way.  Sometimes all someone needs is the knowledge that someone else believes they can do it in order to push themselves.  Simple support and belief can make all the difference between success and belief.

Mentoring is a tough but rewarding experience.  Sharing failures can be hard but when you share successes it makes up for the stumbles along the way.  Don’t let your preconceived notions get in your way either; anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be a ‘manatee.’

Let’s help build each other up to make the program stronger.

(Photo credit to Paul Johnson, L2 Judge out of New Zealand)

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