Julian has been a Behind Every Kick mentor for a couple of years, mentoring two Under 16 footballers in that time.
Why did you become a BEK mentor?
‘Behind Every Kick really appealed to me as working through sport to focus on personal development is a great idea…’
I was looking for opportunities to mentor young people and Behind Every Kick really appealed to me as working through sport to focus on personal development is a great idea. I hadn't been a mentor prior to volunteering with BEK and had never been mentored myself. Actually, thinking about it, when I was training to be a [football] referee there was an older ref who took me under his wing a bit. He showed me the ropes, encouraged me and gave me feedback after games that helped me get better at the job. That showed me the value of having an older person in your life - separate from your parents or teachers - who could give you advice and listen to you.
I see a lot of young people in London who, through no fault of their own, face really big challenges. For me, it boils down to a lack of support, a lack of attention and most of all a lack of opportunity. I see this age range (15/16) as a pivotal moment in young people's lives. It's an age where an ill-informed decision can have big, big consequences. But also, it's a time where a well-informed choice, made with a little bit of support and guidance, can have a massively positive impact. The fact that a shared love of sport creates an immediate rapport between you and your mentee makes it so much easier, as building a relationship with a young person can be a bit challenging at first. You can easily transition from talking about what happened in their game, or one they've watched on TV, to create a space where - if they want to - they can open up about any challenges or worries they have in their wider lives. Sometimes with my mentees, we discuss adversity they've faced on the pitch, how they've tried to overcome it, and then explore ways these same strategies can apply to situations they encounter on the street.
How has the training and support been from Behind Every Kick?
‘..I didn't have any real prior experience of dealing with young people..’
It's been really good, very comprehensive. When I volunteered to become a BEK mentor I didn't have any real prior experience of dealing with young people or knowledge about things like safeguarding, but I've learnt so much through the programme. During the training, it was lovely to come together with people from lots of different places and backgrounds and to see we all had the same intention - helping young people and making a difference. That's a great feeling. The other BEK mentors are a support network and the BEK staff are always on hand if there is something I need to run by them.
Has mentoring with Behind Every Kick helped you in your career?
‘Becoming a BEK mentor has actually changed my career..’
100%. Becoming a BEK mentor has actually changed my career. I was working in the music industry, but at the weekend all I'd talk about was my mentoring. People thought it's what I did for a job and I realised it was something I was passionate about and wanted to do full time. So that's what I do now. I applied to work for a legacy organisation that goes into schools and mentors young people. I remember I wrote loads about Behind Every Kick in my application and spoke about BEK a lot in the job interview. They were probably sick of hearing about it by the end, but I got the job! I know I wouldn't be there now if it wasn't for Behind Every Kick.
What does a successful mentoring relationship look like to you?
‘..you are both learning from each other..’
It's mutually beneficial, where you are both learning from each other. You are different from the other adults in a young person's life - their parents, teacher or even an older gang member they look up to. They will all have their own priorities and expectations of the young person and this can pull them in different directions. Whereas, I see the mentor as not being driven by a particular agenda. This enables the young person to be honest about their mistakes and openly ask for advice about anything without the fear of being judged.
I suppose the main thing I try to encourage is that the young person thinks long-term. Do they have a long-term vision of where they'd like to be? And if so, challenge them to question: are the decisions I'm making now in the short-term helping me move towards that goal or do they take me further away from it? Facilitating that by sharing any experiences I can, that's mentorship for me.
What would you say to someone thinking about becoming a Behind Every Kick mentor?
‘I can't recommend mentoring enough..’
Definitely do it! You might think you need to be cool, young or a professional footballer for a young person to value you as a mentor, but I guarantee you that's not the case. Young people just want to be listened to and respected, for their concerns to be heard and to be taken seriously. You don't need superstar life experiences to be a great mentor. All you need are good intentions, being able to give your time and willing to share whatever experiences you can. Don't underestimate how you can inspire a young person whatever your background or profession is. You never know what a young person will find inspirational or interesting and it's amazing what they can extract out of you that they find useful.
I can't recommend mentoring enough. Behind Every Kick provides the perfect opportunity for mentors to have a real impact on young people's lives.
Final question, are you still refereeing?
‘I know I'll be back out there…’
Ha ha ha, I haven't ref'd the last couple of seasons, but I am not at the stage just yet where I'm ready to take my kit to the charity shop either. I guess that means I know I'll be back out there with my whistle at some point.
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