Coaches Corner

August 12, 2011

Mentoring Program

By Tony DeMatteo

By Tony DeMatteo


I feel the most important thing I do as a football coach is try to develop young men to become good people as adults.


Too many of us think the American dream is coaching a player or to get a college scholarship.  I believe the true worth of playing the sport of football is teaching our children to be motivated their entire lives and to become good citizens of this country.


Football or any sport should be educational not an area to develop Pro or scholarship players.  Only about 1% of all the kids who play any sport in this country get a tryout to play professional sports.  The percentage of kids getting a college scholarship is not much higher and unbelievably only 4% of all the kids playing a sport in this country make a college team.  So what are we doing to help the other 96% who play for us?


One of the most successful things I've ever done over the years to develop my players to become better people is the mentoring program I run with my football program.


I assign every senior and some juniors to look after incoming freshmen.  They help them with football practice, their schedules, where their classes are, help them get their lockers open and just make the first two weeks of school more pleasant than it normally is for freshmen.   


We start this mentoring program at summer football camp and it continues during pre-season triples.  This program encourages more freshmen to attend football camp and make it through triple sessions.  We carry it right through the season.


Any senior or junior mentor who won't follow the program is not allowed to play for me.  If you want a mentoring program to work you must enforce it.  What the program does is make the younger kids more comfortable about coming out for football and it teaches the older kids responsibility.  We are so concerned with rights and privileges these days sometimes we forget about teaching responsibility.


Emerson defined success as, "knowing one life has breathed easier because you have lived."  Isn't that why we coach?  Teach your players that once they learn it - it will have a miraculous effect on them.


In terms of developing a mentoring program at your school, there are two problems you must deal with in terms of hazing:


1.  From a kid's perspective it's simple - this is what was done to me so now it's my turn to do it to someone else.                 


2. The positive component of self-discipline through hazing.

I guess it works out at places like West Point.


I don't feel any 14-year-old kid gets anything out of the added pressure of hazing when their life is turned upside down going from junior high school to high school.  A big component of not having hazing at your school is teaching all your upperclassmen responsibility.  Being an upper classmen in a good program may mean more attention in the newspapers for them and your team but it also involves more responsibility.  You will never see a great team where leaders and best players are not the best workers.  They must show the freshmen by example.


If you've had hazing at your school and want to start a mentoring program your biggest problem will be that you've probably had three classes who have been hazed.  As the head coach you must make the mentoring program as important as winning if you want it to work.  When I first came to Somers High School in 2000 because of the hazing in the school as well as the football team, my stand was you don't buy into the mentoring program you can't play for me.  It never mattered to me how talented a kid might be.



1. Day before your first practice, pair up every freshman out for triples with a senior or junior.  Put their lockers side by side.  The senior must eat with the freshman during triples.  The senior will help the freshman get through triples and just generally watch out for them.  The seniors report problems to the captains and the captains report to you.


2. Intra-Squad Scrimmage (After the scrimmage, have a cook out.)                                                             

   A) Invite any new freshmen to come to the cook out who are coming out for football the first day of school.  Pair them up.

   B) Parents of seniors and freshmen meet each other; try to develop friendships.


3.  First day of school - any other freshmen who comes out for football, pair them up.  Any freshmen who went out for triples is allowed to suit up on Friday nights with the varsity, but play on the freshman team. They love it!!


4.  During the school day, the seniors are responsible to help the freshmen in school with whatever problem they might have.


I started this program in 1993 when I coached at Roosevelt High School, an inner-city school in Yonkers, New York.  A great player quit that year because of hazing.  That player's name is Jimmy Kennedy and today he plays for the NFL (Minnesota Vikings).

With the success of the football mentoring program, a Peer Leadership program was started in our high school by the Director of Physical Education, Jean Schult.  It is my opinion that this program is the most important educational tool we can give our students. 


     Somers High SchoolPeer Leadership Program 

The Peer Leadership Program in Somers High School is dedicated to helping students make a successful transition from middle school by creating a sense of community and fostering deeper relationships between students, their peers, and the adults in their school lives.  Personalizing the learning environment addresses the challenges students face and offers them an ongoing opportunity to ask questions and get helpful, positive responses from students and staff who are trained to anticipate and respond to the unique developmental needs of these students.


The Peer Leadership program provides a welcoming and informative freshman orientation day in late August.  During this event, freshmen meet their upper-class peer leaders, are placed in mentoring groups of approximately 10 students, and begin a year-long relationship that will hopefully benefit both mentor and mentored alike.  Once every six days, throughout the entire year, the junior and senior peer leaders meet with their freshman mentoring groups and facilitate a planned activity with them.  The leaders are also enrolled in a credit-bearing course in Peer Leadership.  That class meets an additional three days in the six day cycle.  It is graded just as any other academic course and the students receive one credit for the year.


Junior and Senior students that wish to serve as Peer Leaders and be enrolled in the Peer Leadership course, must apply and be accepted by a committee of teachers, staff and students.  They must have a history of academic success, demonstrated traditional and non-traditional leadership abilities, and an interest in pursuing a challenge that will further develop their interpersonal skills.  Some of the essential qualities we look for in candidates are the following:


·    Strong Communication skills

·    Willingness to work with and lead others

·    Responsible and self-disciplined

·    Positive role model

·    A demonstrated respect for diverse ideas and personalities

·    Enthusiasm and sense of humor

·    Dedication and commitment


Successful candidates must make a commitment to the mandatory training and program events listed below:


Preparation for the opening of school and freshmen orientation day


An introductory training event off campus


Class meets every other day for a full year.


Leaders meet with their mentoring group once every six days throughout the school year.  They must prepare for and attend each of their scheduled mentoring sessions.


Scheduled on and off campus throughout the year.


Initiated, planned and implemented by leaders

 Topics of Study and Practice

·    Habits of Mind

·    Facilitation skills

·    Strategies, skills and practices of exemplary leaders; guest speakers, case studies

·    Self-assessment/peer assessment of leadership skills

·    Working in learning teams; peer observations, sharing feedback, planning group goals and/or assignments

·    Experimental learning cycle

·    Stages of development

·    Inspiring a shared vision; community service

·    Enabling others to act; developing respect and trust, recognizing the power of teamwork, problem-solving, conflict resolution

·    Modeling the way; self reflection, leadership practice; values clarification

·    Encouraging the heart; motivation, honor etc

 Roles and responsibilities of Peer Leaders include:

1)      Peer Mentoring: Helping freshmen students make the transition into Somers High School.

2)      Peer Tutors: Helping students meet the academic and social challenges of high school life.

3)      Orientation Guides: Participating in the planning and implementation of a dynamic and welcoming orientation day event.

4)      Role Models: Provide leadership and a personal example for appropriate and productive behavior

5)      Outreach Workers:  Reaching out or acting as a door opener for those that are troubled or lonely.

6)      Referral Agents: Helping students get connected to appropriate resources and assistance

7)      Discussion Leaders and Facilitators:  Planning and implementing activities and discussion on topics of concern

8)      Service Participants: Coordinating and assisting with service projects that benefit others in the school and community.

9)      Conflict Mediators: Assisting others to resolve disputes, keep the peace and access the appropriate resources for resolution.

10)  Critical Friends: Educating and enlightening others in the mission to create a more understanding, tolerant and supportive community.


It is my hope that this article can help you in some small way to develop your players to truly become great citizens of our country.


The opinions of the writers do not necessarily represent the opinion of the NFL.


  • Fred Medina

    This is beautiful and I will be working with an all Boys High School in the fall and will adopt some of these ideas. This is a charter school and we are beginning with 7th and 8th graders.

  • Demonta Townsend

    I would like a mentor its sounds cool

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