FA Coach Mentor

National Mentoring Day - The Importance of Mentoring

Graham Keeley, former FA National Coaching Workforce Manager and former England Women’s National Team Coach
In the first of four articles celebrating National Mentoring Day, we highlight the importance of mentoring.

"Simplicity is Genius."

That is what Sir Trevor Brooking told us, as it was a favourite quote of the best coach he had worked with; his coach at West Ham United, Ron Greenwood. Alistair Smith, The FA's Learning Advisor, tweeted that after three days of studying high performance environments, as part of the UEFA Pro Licence, visiting such places as Les Miserables, British Cycling, Sale Sharks, British Taekwondo and HMP Walton, the big message was "simplify everything".

Graham KeeleyHow easy it is to fall into the trap of making things sound and often appear more complicated than they need to be. Could mentoring be summed up as being about ‘helping people to help themselves’?

Professor Robyn Jones once said to me that he calls it ‘FOFOY’ – enabling people to ‘ go away and find out for themselves’, or words to that effect. The road to get to that point needs careful consideration and that has occupied the minds of many over the years. Hope Powell led a Women’s Mentoring programme that achieved great success over a number of years, while Dr Andy Cale, Roger Davies, Dr Wayne Allison, Julie Chipchase, Donna McIvor, Professor Paul Potrac, Les Howie Mark Fenton and Professor Robyn Jones all played a part at some stage in the thinking behind the development of the FA mentor and the FA mentor programme; while the rollout couldn’t have been achieved without the work of Mick Baikee and Dermott Collins and the support of Tom Nickels and Kirsty Cox, Graeme Carrick, Darran Bowles, Andy Somers, Steve Pritchard, Ceri Bowley, Anthony Ferguson, Steve Smithies and Darren Moss.

A vast array of talent, but one person in particular has been involved since the inception of the more formalised thinking around mentoring within the FA, that being Steve Tones.

I first met Steve in the late 1980s and he helped the Cheshire Football Development Scheme to enhance its support to coaches within the county. A number of years later, and by now a member of staff at the University of Chester, he developed his work in supporting the FA in its thinking around mentoring. Donna Mc Ivor had set up a National Faculty for Education, which Steve sat on,  and  some in depth discussions took place around what mentoring was, and wasn’t, and how it might play a part in supporting coaches and teachers. Steve had developed a mentoring programme for teachers as part of his role at the university and I had the opportunity to see the programme in action. To see this programme from outside football was something we thought could be beneficial. In an article we wrote with Julie Chipchase the point was made that people who work in the same industry tend to end up thinking the same. If you genuinely want new ideas don’t forget to consult people from outside your industry. 

The article also talked about mentoring being similar to the use of scaffolding in the building of a house, where it supports the process as the house is gradually constructed and then taken down again when it has been fully constructed. Steve would be able to interpret the academic analogy, in this case Bruner (cited in Pollard 2004) and simplify it so that it made sense to all who read his writing.

He was also involved with some collaborative work with the Scottish Football Association. Steve, Les Howie, Julie Chipchase and myself travelled up to Hampden Park to share ideas and develop a pilot programme. Interestingly, this initially came about as part of a need to show how the Home Nations  were working collaboratively to support the idea of the entry of both women’s and men’s teams in the 2012 Olympic Games. This was one example of the work being done. The pilot programme took place at Warwick University.

Steve’s involvement  over a number of years started to focus our thinking of what a FA mentor might be and what a programme might look like. Mentoring, in various guises, had taken place for many years but now we were focusing more clearly on what we wanted it to be. Empowering the learner, better reflection skills, the notion that mentoring was about doing something ‘with’ someone as opposed  ‘to’ someone, noticing skills, working collaboratively and  becoming effective learners.

For mentors it was important to develop key skills such as active listening, questioning, target setting, reflection,  being open to new ideas, valuing difference and demanding inclusion for all. 

Steve played a key role in developing relevant courses for mentors, along with Roger Davies, Alistair Smith and myself. He played a key role as an advisor in the rollout of the programme and has supported the development of the programme throughout.

It was important work in trying to formalise somewhat, things that had been going on for years in a haphazard way. My own experience was a good example of that. What was mentoring and what was being influenced by others. There was no real distinction and no one claimed to be mentoring. My parents, brothers, sisters and friends all contributed in my support early on while one of my teachers, Pete Maloney started to work with me when he realised I wanted to train as a teacher. One of my lecturers was Bill Beswick , who we all found inspirational and a great support and our paths would continue to cross in future years. Hillary Guckian, Harry Richardson and Graham Williams all played a role in helping me to develop within teaching, and it was during my time in the second school I worked in that I was provided with a ’mentor’. Alan Rice would come and observe and we would discuss and action plan. My first experience of working with somebody called a ’mentor’. In football terms it was first seeing Dick Bate that inspired me and our paths would cross in the future, he helped me to gain my A Licence and I was later lucky enough to work with him at The Football Association. Someone else who helped me at that time was Alex Gibson, and he continued to work with me and to this day is someone I can call for help and advice. Robin Russell, John Mc Dermott, Kelly Simmons and Ros Potts were all influences and mentors during my time at The FA, while people like John Allpress, Pete Trivivian, Steve Rutter, Pete Sturgess and Craig Simmons were all influences that shaped my thinking. A vast array of people, some mentors and others influencers, all working in different ways to provide support. Steves work helped towards trying to rationalise some of this work.

Steve has recently retired from his position at the University of Chester but he has still been seen at a number of events and meetings both within and outside of football. He will no doubt be an important sounding board. His contribution has been immense and his impact has been felt since those days in the late 80s.

Mentoring has played an important part in coach development. The aim was and continues to be ‘to help people to help themselves’.