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Giants Institute Player Mentoring Program:

From the New York Times

NFL training camps begin next week, and with them the ritual of young players unfamiliar with a world where competition converges with unprecedented compensation and celebrity.

For the first time, two N.F.L. teams — the Giants and the Ravens — have instituted player-driven mentorship programs in which rookies are paired with a team of veterans. The idea is that the veterans will shepherd young players through the minefield as if they were younger brothers and even sons. This means sharing triumphs and failures, painful experiences and embarrassments, and generally engaging in a level of discourse that is rare, not simply among athletes, but between men.

“We are clueless as far as what manhood really is,” said Harry Swayne, Baltimore’s director of player development and a former 17-year N.F.L. veteran. Swayne is one of three architects of the Ravens’ mentoring program.

The program, which does not have a formal name, was started last year by the Ravens, who paired rookies with eight selected veterans. The program was the result of a push from veterans who thought that player development needed to go further. The veterans felt players needed to be embraced as they entered the game and that players should engage one another at a more personal level.

The program was so successful in Baltimore that a number of veterans volunteered this year and had to be turned down because there were not enough openings.

“A lot of the veterans got more out of the mentorships than the rookies,” Swayne said.

The mentoring experiment formalizes a longstanding tradition in which a veteran would take a younger player under his wing. The Giants have assembled a team of 10 veterans who will mentor rookies beginning in September. Charles Way, the Giants’ director of player development and a five-year veteran running back for the team, said the idea of the program was to have players get beyond superficial relationships, put teammates in touch with one another and encourage them to share details of their lives and of the paths that carried them to the N.F.L.

For Way, a recent Sports Illustrated article about how many athletes end up broke despite having made millions during their careers convinced him that this type of mentoring was sorely needed.

“As much education as we do about finances, about career transition, they still don’t get it, so there has to be more,” he said. “It has to be more than sitting them down in a room and telling them this is what you should be doing with your money, this is where you should be going to get a job. It has to be more.”

More meant players sharing beliefs and exploring where those beliefs came from.

“It’s not about what players learn now but what road they took over the last two decades that shaped beliefs and behaviors,” Way said.

“We can have Warren Buffett stand in front of them and say, ‘Hey this is what you need to be doing with your money.’ But if we don’t change the values that were instilled in them for the past 21 years, they’re not going to change.”

This is an ambitious plan for professional football teams, whose primary function is winning games. Behavior, as the Giants experienced last season with Plaxico Burress, can have a negative impact on a team’s ability to win. The Giants lost Burress after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub, and his absence is generally cited as helping sink the Giants in the playoffs.

In an ideal world, Burress would have had a good mentor years ago and perhaps been talked through some unresolved issues rather than acting them out.

“A lot of guys don’t know what people are going through,” Way said. “People keep things personal: ‘I don’t want you to know my sister is probably a drug addict, my mom is probably strung out on crack, my brother just stole a couple thousand dollars from me, my dad just beat my mom up.’ I don’t want to know that — that’s too personal.”

Why should players want to engage in this level of intimate disclosure? The player is there to play football and win a job, not confess. “It’s going to keep you in the N.F.L. after you win that job, or it will help you keep the job you already had because now you’re not distracted,” Way said.

Swayne did have a warning for veterans who will mentor rookies: “Young men need to be told what to do, but whoever says something better make sure they’ve been given the green light to say something.”

As another season begins, pro teams, coaches and athletes continue to search for a happy medium in a competitive arena in which there appears to be so much take but very little give.

What a great idea, I am glad to see the Giants step forward and give young players a better chance to succeed in all aspects of the NFL not just on the field.  Here is the link to the article that Charles Way was refering to.

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