Brothers Rob and David Soutar share their experiences of being BEK mentors. Rob is an environmental journalist who plays for Sporting Hackney's first team. David is a documentary filmmaker and is currently weighing up an offer to play for the club's veterans.
What motivated you to become BEK mentors?
‘.. to build a sense of community in a club’, says Rob
‘A big motivation for me was thinking back to being 15 or 16…’ says David
Rob: One of my friends at Sporting Hackney has been involved with Behind Every Kick from the beginning and approached me about becoming a mentor. The club's aim is to create a bridge between youth and senior teams, which I think is really important. A young player who is asked to train with the first team won't necessarily know the other players. If he has a bad experience and decides not to come back, the club loses a bit of the talent flow, which is a shame. It's also challenging in London - where people move around a lot - to build a sense of community in a club. Volunteering as a mentor appealed to me as a way of helping the club on both these fronts.
Hackney is a borough that brings people together, it's such a diverse mix. There are experiences that can be shared through mentorship as much from the young person to me, as me to them.
David: Yeah I agree. A big motivation for me was thinking back to being 15 or 16, and realising at that age you haven't got that many adults in your life who you can speak openly to. So if I am able to give a young person another adult they can talk to, someone who has lived a little and can share their experiences, that's something valuable. Just being able to offer a different perspective to young people - for example, who are feeling under pressure about their exams. I can encourage them to keep their options open, do the best they can but not think it's a disaster if they don't do that well.
Rob: You were rubbish at school and you've done all right.
David: Young people are getting asked a lot of big questions all the time, even more than you're asked as an adult, and that's a lot of pressure. I think it's good for them to see people like my brother, like me, who did lots of different jobs and didn't get into the careers we have now until our late twenties and thirties. It's great to show them that you don't have to be one thing in life; that you can try lots of things out and this is how you go about doing it.
What is the importance of sport in the mentoring relationship?
‘I have had so many amazing experiences through sport…,’ says David
‘You definitely learn lessons from sport..,’ agrees Rob
David: Instantly you have something in common. I remember walking over to my mentee when we had first been paired together and asking him some question ... He said don't worry about that, what football team do you support? From the start, you've got something to chat about and then you can build from there to move on to more challenging topics if you need to. I have had so many amazing experiences through sport, so I loved the idea of getting involved in mentoring young people through a sporting context.
Rob: You go through a lot of highs and lows in sport but it can also be a space where you can forget about the other challenges going on in your life. You definitely learn lessons from sport, how to cope with tough situations that sometimes you can apply to other areas of life. My mentee has faced challenges this year, life-changing things, that most adults wouldn't have the skills to cope with. At times it's been hard to maintain communication and a routine with him, in order to create that space where he can open up. He's had to actually get on with living his life rather than just telling me about it. I think, though, having football has helped as I've gone along and trained with him and his team-mates and watched his matches.
David: I think that's right. This works because it's on the young person's terms. They are at a stage of life where they are starting to have to deal with adults in a different way both in sport and life. The mentorship is an amazing way for them to negotiate that change.
Rob: I didn't want my mentee to feel there was any pressure. I wanted to show him that he didn't need to conform to any sort of behaviour when we met or that he should tell me what he thought I wanted to hear. I encouraged him to be honest with me, and that it was ok for him to talk as little or as much as he liked. Either way, it's fine.
David: I really hope my mentee wants to continue meeting up beyond the structured BEK Development sessions for as long as he wants, wherever he decides to go in life.
What have you gained from the experience of being a mentor?
‘You remember things you've forgotten’ …
Rob: Something I wasn't really expecting, the chance to see the world through a 15/16-year-old's eyes again. You remember things you've forgotten. Some of the observations young people make are hilarious and they're often spot on.
David: Exactly. It reinforced something really important for me in my work [filmmaking], which I try to keep at the front of my mind. Don't assume people won't have something to offer because of their age; don't put people in a box. Being a mentor has reinforced that these guys - the young people - have a hell of a lot of talent. Their different experiences and perspectives on the world are as valuable to me as anything I've been able to give them.
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