Sylvia Barlag and Kristin Behrens: mentor and mentee learn from each other

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The European Athletics Mentoring Project was created in 2021 as part of its Leadership Programme and is designed to enlarge the participants' networks, exchange ideas and best-practices as well as enable a transfer of knowledge.

The Mentors are well-established athletics leaders, and their Mentees are potential future leaders with their Member Federation or within athletics in general.

In the first of several articles in which mentors and mentees describe their experiences and involvement in the project, mentor Sylvia Barlag (NED) and mentee Kristin Behrens (GER) give their point of view about how the project has worked for them.

Barlag is a 1980 Olympian and, by profession, a physicist. She is a World Athletics Council member and involved in its working groups related to sustainability, auditing and finance, doping, governance, and integrity reforms.

She was also a European Athletics Council member from 2007-2019 and the Mentoring Programme was one of her many initiatives while in the Council.

Behrens is a sport and health professional and formerly the CEO of the Rostock Institute of Exercise Physiology and Public Health. Since 2021, she is now the senior manager for sport development at the German athletics federation.

Describe how you view your current situation in relation to the Mentoring Project?

KRISTIN: There have been a lot of changes in my life during the last eight months and this mentoring programme has a special meaning for me. Now, in Germany, I’m responsible for many projects but the specific project I want to work on is with respect to coaches and the development of human resources. Many of our coaches will retire in the next few years, and this is problematic in a lot of areas for athletics in my country. The federation’s aim is to offer a special educational programme for newly qualified coaches; we want to help them in develop skills like communications, leadership and mental health awareness. The programme started in February and we’re working on it with the coaches so that they are part of it but they can also develop it.

SYLVIA: Kristin is actually quite mature, she has already some senior management roles. She’s very well educated, and she recently became one of the German athletics federation senior managers, and she wanted to gain confidence in that role. She’s doing a professional job in athletics, and she wanted to make some changes in her federation so we’re working on how to make those changes, and to give her confidence in this respect.

Kristin, which skills did you want to improve?

I can’t really say that I wanted to improve specific skills, but I think that athletics reflects diversity like no other sport, so I wanted to become better at managing this diversity. I want to become a better leader, better for my team. Sometimes I have doubts about myself, and this mentoring programme is a boost to my self- confidence. We talked a lot about this situation: you have the proof that you’re doing everything right but often you still lack confidence. Sylvia knows this feeling and she has supported me in my decision-making processes.

Behrens 1

Sylvia, how do you think that the Mentoring Project can help the mentees?

Mentoring is always important, even in business. It’s always good to have a mentor and I asked for a mentor when I came into my last company outside athletics. A mentor should show you the best way to react to situations and help you in creating the right mindset. They work on the mental state of the person that is being mentored.

How many times in a month do you have calls?

SYLVIA: Usually once a month. Often, there’s something coming up and Kristin wants to my thoughts or input on how she should do something. It’s up to Kristin to reach out but I can always find an hour for her. Sometimes we talk for longer. I usually ask about the subject matter so that I can prepare and then she will telling about the issue she wants to discuss.

Do you think that mentors also learn something from mentee?

SYLVIA: Always. Continuing to live is continuing to learn, and I want to be active and be in contact with other people. I always learn something. I know that youth have different skills that I don’t have and I’m happy to learn them.

European Athletics Congress Prague 2019 - Day 2

Kristin, why did you decide to join the mentoring project?

KRISTIN: During the last 10 years, I have decided to combine family, volunteering and a career and for me this was often challenging. My children are now 12 and 15 and I now have more opportunities to dedicate to my professional career and I’m more experienced. During last year, I was often in the role of a mentor in Germany, but I’ve never been a mentee in a structured process and I always wanted to learn something new and how to improve; that’s why it was important for me to apply to be in this mentoring programme and to have a mentor.

I think we are a good match and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I think an external prospective is often the best prospective that you can get, and I really enjoy being the mentee and not the mentor.

What do you think is the importance of the Mentorship Programme?

KRISTIN: It’s a win-win situation for us and for European Athletics. We mentees build a network between us and the mentors and I can respond by applying my new skills in my new role in the federation. I think it’s pretty important to offer programmes like this and at the German athletics federation we want to create a programme like this domestically.


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