The late Tony Dunkerley, was utilised as a consultant for our young writer conferences in both Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately for us, his expertise was in mentoring as he has been a national and state junior soccer coach all his life as well as holding positions such as President of Football Victoria and as the Commissioner for Junior Football.
The young writer Brain’s Trust after his death recognised his contribution to the program by naming the annual sport writers award after his name, the Tony Dunkerley Sport Award.
Back when he was alive, we sought Tony Dunkerely to engage in our Country Town Tour ministry teams across the nation giving coaching clinics and offering mentor seminars to youth leadership.
Moreover, I valued the advice given to me when I was young. One of my mentors was my hockey coach the late Bill Hellier from Canberra Baptist Church, who has remained a close advisor since then in all my years as the Australian cricket chaplain.
Let’s face it, when it comes to teenagers, a parent's advice usually goes in one ear and out the other. Young adults are more likely to respond positively to guidance from outsiders with non-biased, non-judgemental views.
Parents should not fret if their children aren’t taking on board their advice, but it is important that they have the support of a Christian mentor should a situation arise that they can’t handle alone. The guidance parents give is generally affected by familiarity. From birth parents start giving advice (some call it “nagging”) and by the time the children are young adults their voices start to sound like a broken record.
One of the reasons for this is that parents are giving advice rather than offering conversational solutions. Unfortunately, dictating wisdom doesn’t usually have a positive effect on young people. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Usually later in life when the youngsters have grown up and have a family of their own, the parental advice from childhood will resonate and regain its wealth.
However, during those crucial teenage years advice from mentors or respected family friends is more likely to get through to the teenage psyche, as it did for me. Research shows that in the late teens and early twenties, mentors are some of the most important figures in a person’s life. It is during this time that the teenage brain remoulds itself into a transitional state between childhood and adulthood. This may explain teenage reckless behaviour and a receptiveness to new ideas.
With this background of my hockey coach who had become a life-long mentor, and my involvement with Chaplains in sport, I had a real empathy with childhood coaches of athletes who have become super stars, as this comment in an interview on ABC Radio National that coaches are an integral part of any top athlete's team of mentors and helpers.
These people travel everywhere with the athletes, are up early with them every morning, and sometimes put their own families on 'hold' while the athlete is gaining momentum at his or her sport. Yet they don't get the fame and glory. Why do they do it? They feel they are using their skills to the best advantage by mentoring in the most effective way they know. With this close relationship, it is inevitable that many coaches become mentors to those young athletes for other aspects of their complex lives, as well.
Many local Christian churches have strategies in place, offering mentor figures for young adults. I have already highlighted how this worked in my own life. I saw Bill Hellier quite a few times each week and voiced my anxieties and problems.
I remember having a dispute with my parents and the coach helping me through my issues. He reminded my how lucky I was to have parents that loved me and a stable home when other teenagers had nothing of this.
These days specific mentor programs for both teenage girls and boys are offered by most suburban churches, ensuring there is always someone available to talk to and confide in.
Mentors are extremely valuable figures for teenagers. They teach young people that they can rely on a respected older person who has no motive other than to offer wisdom and advice so that sensible choices are made during these difficult years. A mentor with a casual, conversational nature and great sense of humour is more likely to get through to a teenager than an over-protective, strict or worried parent.
Obviously different personalities will respond in different ways to different people, making it important that a variety of personalities are available to act as mentors at these churches and organisations. What one child might need from a mentor may differ from the next and it is imperative that these teenagers can find a person they build a rapport with and can confide in.
I offer my full support of all mentor programs within Christian communities. A mentor can be much more than ‘just a friend’, they can be a confidant, an inspiration and even a teacher. Mentors are impartial people, there to help young adults through the difficulties and anxieties that come with being a teenager.
But don’t worry parents! As your children grow older, they will begin to respect and value your advice more! Sometimes an alternative perspective can be a bit more engaging. Ultimately people rely on both family ties and the bonds of friendship, some of which have formed from a mentor relationship.
Warning – Dad joke follows
“When I was sixteen, I thought my father knew nothing. I left home at 16 to become a train driver, and when I turned 18, I was surprised how much he had learnt in only two years.”
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html