When the idea of a Mentor Program began a few years ago, the focus was purely on helping Houston Dynamo Academy players understand their academic requirements to become NCAA eligible. Dynamo legend Eddie Robinson was the liaison for the program and looked to implement an additional level of support for academy players. "We went to James (Academy Director) Clarkson to establish an education aspect and we went to the Dynamo Fan Advisory Council to find some mentor volunteers." said Robinson "We wanted to instill an added element of accountability to the already-high standards of the academy. The first year was tough to organize but the parents frequently told me they wanted this added element."
When Robinson left the program Academy Head Goalkeeper Coach Nathan Thackery took over and looked to add more structure and more committed mentors. He believed all players should be required to participate in the program and soon, went to Clarkson who made the program mandatory. With a larger group, the need to develop actual mentoring practices for the players quickly materialized. As academy participants, young players are asked to take on adult responsibilities and sometimes need guidance throughout the season to keep them on track with school grades and personal issues. Today the program has more direction and had better organization thanks to volunteers like Dynamo Member Rosemary Bouse, Lead Mentor for the U15s and the program's Internal Coordinator. "Having more structure to the program has allowed for an increase in personalization of relationships between the mentors and the players. Success for players hinges on both on and off the field skills. So while the academy prepares them for the pitch, the mentor program gives them an edge in life," said Bouse about the program.
U14 Mentor and Dynamo Member Janie Blitch agrees the new direction is clear: "We have grown as a group to include mentors with different backgrounds and experiences. We also now have bilingual mentors." Blitch hopes the mentor program continues to evolve, "We hope to establish a tutor aspect to the program and will need to reach out to the community for that level of assistance." There is also a plan in place to measure the success of current players getting accepted into college on soccer scholarships.
The program now has ten volunteer mentors (many are Houston Dynamo Members) with a "player first" understanding, better structure and communication, and a new liaison in the Academy's Head of Performance Analysis and Recruiter, Daniel Roberts. He added: "Lead by Brandon Campbell and Rosemary Bouse, the Mentoring Program has taken on new responsibilities this year. We are very thankful to have two individuals that are so committed to the program, and who offer such invaluable advice and guidance to our players. They, along with the rest of the mentoring team, do a tremendous job and we can't thank them enough. We have restructured the program slightly to enable players more time with their mentor. We felt that after researching similar programs, the benefit of having one mentor throughout their time at the Academy would greatly help their growth and development. The ongoing audit of our Academy allows us to evaluate our current progress. It is important that we create greater synergy between the different departments within the Academy and I believe we are making great strides in doing so."
The mentors are encouraged to communicate frequently with their players by text and social media and attend some of their academy games at Houston Sports Park. In addition, the mentors and players meet once per month to go over school grades, upcoming events, and their responsibilities as the season moves on. But as the mentor program continues to develop, one item remains the same: The players are first priority.
Follow the Dynamo Academy on Twitter and see Academy match results and stats on wwwussoccerda.com.
Brandon Campbell is the Dynamo Academy Mentor Director, Lead Mentor for the U18 players, a Dynamo Member, and contributor to Dynamo Theory.