As the National Football League prepares for Super Bowl LI and the Patriots and the Falcons head for the final game in front of millions of people, some NFL players are looking ahead to another stage in their career.
“An NFL career average is 3.5 years, so when you’re done playing in the NFL, you are still very young even for the regular work world,” according to James Brewer, NFL Offensive Tackle for the New York Giants.
This conversation began when I teamed up with my good friend, Alan Momeyer, former President of Loews hotels and current Uber Driver, world-traveler and blogger and his mentee, James Brewer, to have a discussion around mentoring. These are some excerpts from that discussion.
The way some NFL players begin to resolve the career shift that lies before them is through a powerful mentorship program established by Charles Way, Graduate of University of Virginia in Civil
Engineering, five-year player with NY Giants and current player development director.
“Due to the time constraints of Football, I didn’t have time for being mentored and so you’re left with, “What now? What’s next?” after football. I missed playing and having someone come alongside me to help me and guide me would’ve been very beneficial, so that’s why I started the mentoring program.”
Great mentor/mentee relationships are most successful when both are getting something equally from that relationship. Some of the most successful ones remain friends long after the player has finished playing for the giants, and the mentor has played a critical role in helping that mentee outside of the initial role they have had, and that’s when it’s a successful relationship.
According to Way, “We don’t force it. It’s difficult to pair two different people who come from two very different walks of life, so don’t force it. Not all relationships work out.” But those that do, prove fruitful for both parties.
So when Momeyer and Brewer were paired up they had a strategic approach to what they were doing. Alan met with James halfway through the season to start preparing him for the next steps he was going to take outside of his professional sports career.
“We got to know the players coming in, learning what their backgrounds were and then we would work with them to learn what they wanted both on and off the field, and then we would pair the mentors/mentees based off experience, relationship and the opportunities offered. Is that particular mentor/mentee able to connect on a social level where they are able to help one another to grow,” says the visionary, Charles Way, of this particular mentoring program.
Not every relationship worked out, but a good example of relationships that do work out and the potential and the possibilities that can come from relationships that do work out are endless, such as Alan and James.
James shares, “My friends who graduated college, but did not go to the NFL, had the advantage of starting their careers. So while I had a financial advantage of playing professional football, I was behind in starting and building my professional career. I just recently retired and now I have to go through the pains of trying to start my second career, while my friends have already had 5-6 years of experience in their careers. The plus of this program is that you get a chance to see what you want to do when you’re done playing. I want to be in law enforcement, so I’ve been going through that process. It’s a lot of testing and very competitive.”
Way’s program design was brilliant because regardless of how long you play; you are still young when you’re finished with your athletic career and there’s a whole other world out there that you need to focus on to be successful outside of the NFL.
Alan met with James halfway through the season to start preparing him for the next steps he was going to take outside of his professional sports career. “There’s another aspect to his program, which is that for most players they are moving from where they grew up and/or went to college, and they are moving to New York, so there is that transition in addition to a new career. So I would take my mentees out to participate in “New-York-specific” things, such as going to a show on Broadway, so they can experience the city and become more comfortable with their new atmosphere.”
“Alan and I always talked about what I wanted to do next,” said James. The more intimate relationship you have with your mentee the more successful the relationship will be, and the same goes for the mentor. Are you, as a mentor, doing this for the right reason? Are you really looking to serve the individual you’re mentoring because some mentors aren’t doing it for the person but for themselves? But that was never the case with these two.
According to Momeyer, “The main piece of advice I would give them is that it’s not about them, it’s about the mentee, and they need to make the commitment to build that relationship…
You have to think of who you know and it’s not someone within your organization, it may be someone outside of the organization, you have to create an internship where people can learn by doing.
All professional athletes know that you learn best by doing, not reading or listening, so the mentor needs to find a meaningful experience that the mentee can experience and practice. It’s got to be tailored to the mentee’s interests, and if you do it right, you and the mentee will get something out of it.”
Mentorship has always proven for some of our strongest leaders to be a great strategy for career development. As we watch the helmets collide this upcoming weekend, we should also consider how bringing along another teammate might not only help them, but might fulfill you as a teacher and mentor as well.