For most countries, the success of the Olympic Games is measured in medals. Last year, the U.S. sent 244 athletes to the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang and came away with 23 medals, ranking fourth overall as a country. But for Team USA, success isn’t only measured in what athletes do during the games but what they do after the games, as well.
To help athletes find success off the field, Team USA has been using a new tool to help give their athletes an edge on the competition, and it’s called mentoring.
Team USA obviously prepares athletes to compete athletically but what you may not know is that they also have a department dedicated to helping athletes create long-term success, known as the ACE Program. We sat down with ACE Director, Leslie Klein and ACE Career Coach, Dani Manning to better understand how mentoring is helping olympians find success on the field and in the workplace.
Q: How and why did the ACE Mentor Network first get started?
Leslie Klein: The Athlete Career and Education (ACE) Program provides current and retired Team USA athletes with career, education and life skills resources. The goal is to support athletic performance goals, facilitate successful transition to post-elite competition careers, and inspire long-term positive engagement with the Olympic and Paralympic movements. ACE found that many stakeholders wanted to help Team USA athletes succeed on and off the playing field and the ACE Mentor Network was the best resource to facilitate those connections between athletes and professionals.
Q: What was the driver behind making it an online mentoring program?
Leslie Klein: ACE founded the ACE Mentor Network in 2015 to help athletes with preparation for the Olympic Games, career coaching, and improve overall organizational excellence.
The USOC worked with Instaviser to create a customized private ACE Mentor Network, and connect athletes seeking mentorship directly with mentors. These mentors include retired Olympians and Paralympians as well as business professionals in various industries. Athletes and mentors can mutually choose to view these sessions as the initiation of a mentor relationship or as informational interviews.”
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about these “sessions”?
Leslie Klein: The sessions take place online via audio or video call and the online platform help athletes reach mentors from anywhere in the country, at any time. This on-demand mentoring style has helped the ACE mentor network connect athletes with more than 60 mentors in the last year.
Q: How do these sessions and the ACE Mentor Network contribute to helping athletes transition out of their athletic careers?
Dani Manning: When the athletes connect with a mentor, they see for themselves the team they have to support them. Athletes are pleasantly surprised by how valuable a 30-minute conversation with a mentor can be. When you look at the review from the mentor or mentee afterwards, you can almost always see that one of them connected the other with someone else and I don’t think an athlete expects that.
This is one of my favorite aspects of the network because when you just say networking, it can seem very overwhelming at first. It always sounds so formal but once mentees book their first session, second session, and third session [on the platform], I love seeing the evolution of how easy the process becomes for the mentees. It makes something like relationship-building seem not so scary anymore.”
Q: Do you have any tips you give mentees before they talk to a mentor to help them feel less overwhelmed?
Dani Manning: Many athletes can feel like their first call with a mentor is similar to going on a blind date. When I’m working with a athlete one-on-one, I have a few tips on how to be professional, no matter if it’s your first or tenth mentor call:
- Look beyond the mentor’s profile on the platform. There’s a lot you can learn from a quick Google search and it’ll make a good impression on the mentor.
- Have five questions prepared for your mentor. These can be about their career path, industry, or their life in general. Don’t feel that you have to stick to the original questions you had when you first booked the session.
- Take on ownership of the conversation. Unless it’s clear that the mentor is going to lead it, you can take charge of the conversation because the mentor is there to answer your questions. The mentor will end up talking for most of the call but you are the one bringing the questions and leading the conversation.
Q: Can you tell us about “First Call” mentors and why it’s been beneficial
Dani Manning: We have a list of mentors that we know are very engaging and will be able to give the mentee a positive first call, no matter what they’re looking for. These mentors help the athletes overcome their fear of sounding awkward and help them learn how to introduce themselves and interact with a mentor. They’ve found that the “First Call” mentors help athletes have a positive first experience on the network and those athletes are more likely to return for future mentoring sessions.
Q: If you had to highlight the biggest advantage the ACE mentor Network provides, what would it be?
Dani Manning: “For Team USA, we talk so much about being the team behind the team. While athletes are aware about some of the people behind that team, we are able to show them that support on the mentor network. They can really see the entire team behind them and know that it’s a group of people who are there to support them and cheer them on. Regardless of wherever your sports career took you, you have people who are there to walk with you on your professional journey after sports.”
Q: What advice would you give other organizations looking to launch their own online mentoring network?
Dani Manning: For other organizations looking to launch their own online mentor network, Manning suggests, “It’s really important to use word of mouth to tell people about your network, especially when first getting started. When I’m working with an athlete and we talk about a potential mentor connect, I will send them the direct link to the mentor’s profile on the network so they can book a session. This is really impactful especially when you’re first getting started and acts as a warm introduction for the athlete, instead of making them search the platform on their own. Try to make it as easy as possible for your audience to navigate your network.”