Surfing through life as a Mentor?!

Surfing through life as a Mentor?!

“How can I help you?”

That’s probably the question I ask more than any other when someone approaches me for a chat. It leads to great discussions which are followed by a look at prioritizing which inevitably takes us to goal setting. And, if this involves mentoring an adolescent, I am quick to share the three key points to move them towards a balanced and healthy lifestyle:

“How many hours sleep a night are you having?” (Should be 9 hours every night)

“How many hours of exercise each week are you having?” (Should be a minimum of 2.5 to 3 hours)

“Are you eating a healthy breakfast?” (If not, early academic time will be a waste of energy, as the brain will not be functioning at full throttle!)

These are well researched facts now and, while there will always be exceptions to the rule, when mentees are able to tick these three boxes, they will automatically notice the difference in their lives.

I was thinking a short while ago, while I was writing my Mentoring Minutes 2 minutes a day Podcasts, of the conversation I had with Rachel (not her real name) when she asked if she could have a chat with me.

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“I want you to mentor me. I need help with my planning and organization. Last year I lived on five hours sleep a night, I pushed myself so hard to achieve my academic goals and make my parents happy. I achieved them all but I don’t want to live like this anymore. In fact, I’m not going to live like this anymore and that’s why I need your help.”

And so began the mentoring journey, as Rachel gradually became self-empowered, took charge of her life and, instead of striving to please her parents, she learnt the importance of becoming the best she can be. Her mindset changed and, after a few months she actually mentioned to me that she could not remember when last she felt so happy and she was about to enter her final exam period!

Showing empathy towards our mentees is a critical mentoring quality in the early days of the relationship and, as I looked at a photo of my son surfing the other day, I realised that in that surfing experience are so many opportunities to sow the mentoring seeds. While I have always loved body surfing, I have never tried surfing with a board and don’t think that I am about to do so now at my age!

If I was to go surfing I need to be properly equipped for the conditions and a key part of a mentoring journey is equipping my mentee with the characteristics and skills to be able to handle all life throws at him or her.

So, let’s use our imagination and see the links between surfing and the life journey, working from the assumption that the surfer has done the early training and knows how to surf.

For the sake of this Blog, our surfer will be a male, Ken, though the same principles would apply if the surfer was female.

Ken, who has had a bit of a roller-coaster day at school and is feeling a little frustrated, hops on his board and paddles out to find a wave. In some strange way, which Ken doesn’t fully understand, surfing is like a healing therapy for him when he has had a difficult time.  He can focus on the surfing and do something he really enjoys and place other issues on the side for a while.

Ken knows what the state of play is with regard to the tide and he has been checking the current to ensure that it will be okay out there today. He is familiar with this surfing spot and knows that he has to be aware of the backwash. There are other surfers surfing and Ken tends to follow his own rule that he won’t surf alone, as he knows there are sharks in these waters, though there hasn’t been a shark attack in this area for over 20 years.

In a way, like the mentee in a mentoring relationship, Ken is heading out into the unknown. he doesn’t know what’s under the water where he will be catching his waves and hopes he will not be attacked by a shark, as Mick Fanning, professional surfer, experienced in South Africa a year or two ago.

Indeed, he has a love of dolphins and very occasionally has had dolphins joining him when he has been surfing. Having a dolphin or two surfing with him would be absolutely magical.

Ken’s goal is to catch a few waves, enjoy some idle chat with fellow surfers and, if the confidence is there, try a couple of new tricks or moves when he catches the waves in. By doing so, he will be moving out of his comfort zone, but he has weighed up the consequences, knows the water, is confident he would not be badly injured if something went wrong and cannot foresee any other obstacles, although a drifting board that has been lost by a surfer would always be one of those unknown factors he would have to contend with. His friend, Mike, had his nose broken when hit by a board that had lost its owner and hit him as he was ploughing through a wave heading out to surf a month or so ago.

Ken has a great hour or so of surfing. He catches a few waves to warm up and then tries a few moves. He fails spectacularly a couple of times and falls off the board, much to the amusement of some mates who had joined him after he had started surfing today. However, one of his mates, Jess, is a better surfer and he actually encourages Ken and demonstrates the move Ken is trying to pull off.

Ken does not quit. He has set a specific goal for today and heads back out to catch a new wave each time he has failed in his bid to pull off the new move. He won’t admit it to anyone, but deep down he is also keen to prove to his mates that he can pull this off.

On about the eighth attempt, Ken succeeds, punches the air in jubilation and is also given a high five by Jess when he returns to look for a new wave.

As he heads home, he is feeling a little weary, yet still happy because he has achieved a surfing goal he had set some weeks before. The frustrations have gone and, as brain research suggests, within 30 minutes of heading out of the water, Ken’s brain releases chemicals known as Endorphins, which, for unknown reasons, will cause mild euphoria. When he settles down to his studies after dinner, he’ll be in a much better mood.

Ken’s mentor would be able to link Ken’s experiences surfing with the life journey if they sat down and unpacked Ken’s experiences today. Ken had trained over time to become a better and better surfer, he had a positive attitude to the sport and had set some realistic goals to achieve. He had a sensible approach and was not going to take any unnecessary risks. However, in learning how to pull off his latest move, he would fail a few times, but each time he would return to catch a new wave. This persistent and persevering approach would contribute to the development of Ken’s self-confidence and his resiliency. ken’s mentor can link these feelings to how Ken would feel when had had achieved any goal he himself had set.

Ken’s mentor could share some of the positives of Ken’s outdoor lifestyle which is emerging more consistently from neuroscience research. Exercise makes muscles and bones stronger and improves strength and balance. It helps regulate the appetite, is said to reduce a dozen types of cancer, improves the immune system and, according to developmental molecular biologist, research consultant and well known brain expert, John Medina, changes the blood lipid profile and buffers against the toxic effects of stress. “When combined with the intellectual benefits exercise appears to offer, we have in our hands as close to a magic bullet for improving health as exists in modern medicine.” (John Medina)

According to another brain expert, John Arden, physical exercise and learning work together to stimulate neurogenesis. “The best exercise … combines a cardiovascular boost and learning a new skill.” (John Arden)

Therefore, as far as brain development is concerned, Ken has had a great day.

As mentors, we should seize every opportunity available to us, to keep affirming our mentees and encouraging them to live healthy and balanced lives. While I have shared some lessons one could weave into a mentoring conversation from surfing, the same could be shared if the activity was dance, music, skateboarding etc. etc.

What makes the mentoring experience that much more special, is when the mentee knows more about an activity than their mentor. So, if for example, Ken’s mentor is not a surfer, he could have Ken describe everything about the sport. This boosts Ken’s self-efficacy and strengthens the connection he will have with his mentor who is seen to be genuinely interested in Ken’s knowledge of surfing and is doing his best to share character and skill development using a medium that Ken loves to help Ken chase his goals and dreams.

Have you had a mentor sharing thoughts with you along these lines, especially during your adolescent journey? If so you have a ready-made life experience to share with your mentee at an appropriate time.

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. He is currently developing a free app to inspire teenagers each day, as well as Mentoring Minutes Podcasts, 2 minute podcasts guiding mentors to encourage their mentees to become the best they can be. He hopes to have these ready by the end of 2017. Please contact him if you want updated progress reports. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook or on Instagram or contact him through his YES! website