Mentorship: Beyond Just Teaching

Just the word “mentorship” often means different things to different people. What exactly is mentorship and what do we expect to receive from it?

It may convey the idea of teaching someone all the knowledge you possess.

It may be taking someone under your wing and investing in their personal and professional growth.

It may be sharing your past mistakes and shortcomings in hopes of avoiding those same errors for someone else.

It may be influencing someone’s beliefs and thought patterns to more closely resemble your own.

One thing is for certain, mentorship has become a very hot buzzword in the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning circles recently. Around every corner there are opportunities to either be a mentor or to be mentored.

The question I seek to answer is this: what are the characteristics and duties of a great mentor?

While mentorship certainly has its basis in the art of teaching and sharing past experience and knowledge, doing exclusively these things does not guarantee a beneficial experience for the mentee. Simply knowing exactly what another person has done is no guarantee of success for the future.

The goal of any mentor is to provide the necessary tools, conceptual framework, and thought processes such that their mentee will be best prepared to outdo their own work in the future (surprise, I stole that from a mentor of mine!).

The beauty is that when supplied with the right tools and an appropriate style of thinking, any problem that may be faced in the future can be addressed to some at least some degree!

To achieve this, the mentor must consistently encourage self-exploration by presenting tough, but solvable challenges. The degree of challenge and complexity will increase and the assistance will decrease as the mentee gains understanding.

As we have all experienced, being spoon-fed information and answers does not lead to improved critical thinking and problem solving.

The difficulty in this style of teaching is in posing the right difficulty– not too easy to the point that nothing is learned and not too hard to prevent frustration and unproductive efforts.

Let’s use teaching a squat as an example:

If you are working with an intern and helping them to improve their coaching for a squat, you would likely want to start by establishing some basic expectations of what the movement looks like, what joints and muscles are heavily involved, common errors, and some common cues.

Once this baseline is established, you can then begin layering on additional information such as altering stances, changing loading parameters and implements, and altering tempos and range of motion. A liberal amount of “how could you change this” or “why might you do this instead of this” questions will encourage the intern to problem solve and to better grasp how this one exercise falls into the grand scheme of training.

Lastly, you can then begin to delve into the details of how you might program and periodize squatting from a macro-perspective. This will require a higher level of thinking as it asks the intern to consider how this particular squat can help the individual achieve a desirable goal or adaptation.

Mentorship is just another style of communication. The early phases rely heavily on the exchange of information and knowledge. Once an adequate knowledge and base of expectations has been laid, the mentor can then utilize safe-to-fail experiments (ex. “today let’s have you teach this new client how to do a goblet squat!”), provide adequate intellectual challenges (“where might a good starting squat variation for this individual be?”), and giving a variety of opportunities for individual exploration (“how might you progress this activity if you goal is to improve vertical jump height?”).

  • Mike Reinhardt, DPT, PT


Article: “Young Athletes Who Return to Sport Before 9 Months After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction Have a Rate of New Injury 7 Times That of Those Who Delay Return” Beischer, Susanne, et al.

The title of this article speaks for itself! The findings of this article can be utilized for both athlete and parent education as well as with future training and return to sport planning. From this perspective, passing return to sport testing may not be a sufficient qualification if the athlete is less than 9 months post-op.

Listen: Resilient Podcast #38 Keeping It Real with Zach Baker

Speaking of the Pacey Performance Podcast, this recent episode is an excellent Our very own Dr. Zach Baker was brought on this podcast and gives him a chance to share his story, his roles within Rehab 2 Perform, and Zach’s current thoughts on ACLR rehabilitation and return to sport testing. Zach does an excellent job discussing what variables help to dictate necessary testing and criteria related to return to activity and return to sport.

Book: Force: The Biomechanics of Training – David Cleather

Hands down, this has been one of the most influential reads of the last year. David Cleather does a great job of illustrating and breaking down how the principles of physics directly apply to training. In doing so, he also discusses many misconceptions related to force vs. velocity, power, specificity of training, and which training variables are most relevant and measurable.

Follow:  Joey Scambia @joeyscambia.dpt

Dr. Joey Scambia is a DPT and is currently completing his Sports Physical Therapy Residency at John Hopkins. He posts some tremendous training and rehab content!

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