Light a Fire – In Praise of Teachers, Coaches and Mentors

Anybody that has read my book or blog will know that I am partial to a cup of Earl Grey, and I enjoy nothing more than whiling my time away in a cafe, writing or reading. I tend to keep myself to myself and am not given to striking up conversations with strangers, preferring to lose myself in my own little world of words.

On one of my recent visits to my local Costa I was roused from my musings by a conversation on the table next to me, where a more mature gentleman was bemoaning to his friends the fact that his granddaughter was going to study for a degree in sport science. Cue the somewhat inevitable ‘waste of time’ comments. Well, that was it – out came my soapbox. I – politely – interrupted and explained that, far from being a waste of time, studying sport has enabled me to enjoy a brilliant career and that it could do the same for his granddaughter. I didn’t bore them with the details, but please allow me the indulgence of doing so here.

Through studying sport I have spent the last 10 years working in the sport that I love, boxing. I have met, spoken and worked with with some of my childhood idols, have worked at some of the nation’s premier sporting venues including Old Trafford, Wembley and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and have met multiple Olympic champions and medalists. And I’ve been paid for it. I’m a very lucky boy.

But luck doesn’t tell the whole story. I chose to follow a path based on my passion – sport. I knew that work for me would never be about money, it would be about vocation, and I knew that I needed my career to be spent doing something that I believed in, that meant something to me. I knew that sport was the right direction for me to go in. I couldn’t have done it without the support of people that believed in me, that recognised where my talents lay, and encouraged me to follow where they lead me.

It seems to be that there are too many people that are all too ready to tell us what we can’t do. That our hopes and dreams are unachieveable, unrealistic. Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is for damn sure – nobody is going to achieve their dreams and live a fulfilling, purposeful life without trying to.

This is where teachers, mentors and coaches are so important; individuals that can recognise and nurture our talents, instill belief, and impart their experience. Perhaps most significantly, such individuals can spot latent talents and abilities that we may not even know are there, particularly in our formative years.

This post was prompted by a conversation with a lecturer whose students I have been invited to speak with about my experiences with mental health. During the course of our conversation – between cups of tea and biscuits – I clearly saw the direct influence of three teachers in setting me on my path to where, and who, I am today.

Mr Renshaw – my secondary school form tutor and PE teacher, who spotted my talent for running and continuously encouraged me. He encouraged me to join a running club and would regularly ask about my progress and make me feel good about my achievements and abilities. In a strange coincidence he also ended up being one of my tutors on my Sport Science degree course (and I never could get used to calling him ‘Ian’ – he’ll always be ‘Sir’ to me).

Dr Joanne Hudson – my sport psychology lecturer and dissertation tutor. Jo recognised a talent for speaking and encouraged me to consider lecturing as a career when I didn’t know in which direction to go upon graduating. On her urging, I contacted local colleges and got my foot on the first rung of the ladder of my career in sport. Ultimately my career took a different path, but I frequently deliver workshops and presentations in my job and am also now pursuing speaking opportunities to raise awareness of mental health. Without Jo’s encouragement I certainly wouldn’t have sent my CV to colleges with no prior professional experience in lecturing. Who knows what I might be doing now if it wasn’t for her backing.

Miss Harrison – my primary school headmistress. Writing is a recent passion, and the more I write the more poetry is becoming my favourite form of expression. I love the challenge of finding new ways to express feelings, emotions and thoughts, to view my life and experiences through a different prism, using the rhymes and rhythms of words. Miss Harrison recognised an ability in me at a very tender age, displaying a poem that I wrote about ‘stranger danger’ on the wall outside of her office. Whilst writing isn’t something I pursued until recently, I never forgot how her recognition had made me feel as a young child.

You see, whilst confident in many respects, I have always been prone to self-doubt, and there have been times in my life when I have relied on the belief of other people to propel me forwards. As I look back it becomes ever more apparent just how significant and positive these and other influences have been in my life.

These people saw something in me, they believed in me, before I even believed in myself

They provided a foundation from which I could explore my talents and build my self-belief. And I expect they don’t even realise just how significant their impact has ultimately proven to be in my life.

Regardless of whether we have a formal role as a teacher, coach or mentor, we can all influence others, for good and for bad. We can choose whether we will be the kind of person who will seek to build others up or tear them down. We can encourage others in pursuit of their dreams or we can belittle them. We can choose to kindle the fire of their passions or we can pour water on their smoke. The following interview with Mike Tyson powerfully illustrates the point:

A world in which more of us are applying ourselves to meaningful activities that we are passionate about, will be a better world for all of us. We may never know just how much of a difference we are making in the lives of others – you may be holding someone’s dreams in your hands right now. Handle them with care.

Soundtrack:
Fire – Kasabian

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