Mentoring 365 Project: “It’s All About Believing”

April 6, 2015

DarrellAs a former running back for the Green Bay Packers and the all-time leader in career rushing yards for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Darrell Thompson has already set himself apart as a standout athlete. Now Darrell is the Executive Director for Bolder Options, an organization that engages youth and mentors through physical activity, tutoring, community involvement and goal setting to build confidence and encourage healthy life skills. Darrell has proven himself a dedicated mentor and supporter of youth success through his involvement in supporting academically at-risk youth and those who may be heading towards the path of delinquent and unhealthy behaviors.

Darrell’s decision to become involved in mentoring comes as no surprise; he grew up with many mentors. His parents, coaches and other members of his community provided the guidance necessary to foster his growth. The same life skills he learned growing up are echoed through his work with Bolder Options, emphasizing the importance of physical activity as a promoter of healthy growth and youth success. Darrell’s mentors played essential roles in helping him grow into a standout football player as well as a caring mentor. He has made sure to thank them whenever possible for being there for him and as a testament to the impact his mentors had, Darrell has been able to do the same for many others.

“Those opportunities [to mentor], you have to seize them and welcome them and not be like, well this is what it’s going to be. You have to be able to change course a little bit to realize that person needs somebody at that point, even if it’s not structured.”

– Darrell Thompson

Darrell has taken the opportunity to mentor whenever he sees a chance and he continues to work on connecting youth with quality mentors. These developmental relationships have a profound impact on the chances of succeeding for the youth involved.  Sometimes, these relationships are formed and fostered through an organization such as Bolder Options, but there are also mentoring relationships that grow organically. It is important to acknowledge that we all are responsible for providing a healthy environment for our youth to grow up in.

“You don’t know the amount of impact that you’re going to have on a young person until you see it come full circle.”

– Darrell Thompson

Some of the experiences that have been particularly enlightening for Darrell as a mentor are the everyday relationships that evolved into mentoring relationships. As he mentioned, sometimes you won’t know about the impact you have on an individual until they come back and let you know. Darrell also highlighted one mentoring relationship that ended up resulting in taking on two mentees. While sometimes we try to emphasize the structure of mentoring relationships, there are times opportunities to mentor just appear, and just as one would with any formal mentoring relationship, we should embrace these chances to have an impact on a child’s life.

“A lot of times you want to have it be planned out, and a lot of times it cannot be planned out. It’s got to be organic like any relationship.”

– Darrell Thompson

In order to reach a broader audience Darrell recommends we embrace the organic nature of some mentoring relationships; we cannot plan and coordinate every aspect of the relationship. While adapting to changing circumstances and overcoming challenges or obstacles we tend to notice the most growth within ourselves and others. This is true in athletics, it is also true in mentoring and Darrell has found a way to highlight both through his work, and the work of his mentors and program staff at Bolder Options.

Darrell provided some advice for both mentees and mentors in how they can both work to foster a meaningful and healthy mentoring relationship:

For mentees Darrell gave the following advice:

“Be willing. A lot of times mentees don’t realize that they need a mentor. Be willing to listen, be open to new ideas, because you might learn something that’s valuable, it might change your life, and you might get an opportunity that typically you might not get otherwise.”

For mentors he offered this bit of advice:

“Open up your heart, open up your mind, and be ready for that opportunity, and even if you’re not ready, take advantage of it, because it’s an opportunity that can change your life and that young person’s life.”

The most important factor for pushing the youth to succeed according to Darrell is the importance of belief. The benefit of having a mentor believe in you can be seen in Darrell’s achievements and the achievements of many individuals who have had mentors. They likely all attest to the importance of having someone believe in you, and how that will eventually translate to believing in yourself.

Darrell and Andrew UofM Jug







Here is a picture of Darrell and me, after speaking on the radio about the Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge on the Twin Cities Community Show with Lee Valsvik.