Mentoring

From Tax to Tracks: Usain Bolt’s Mentor

By Mike BergelsonApril 9, 2014

The journey from a small town in rural Jamaica to being the fastest man on the planet is a spectacular one. It requires not just skill, but also tremendous dedication, hard work and persistence.  Just the things a good mentor can help with.

In this post, we’ll meet the man who mentored Usain Bolt to Olympic stardom, and see what lessons we can learn about successful mentoring.

Usain Bolt’s Mentor

When he was 15, Usain Bolt was under-achieving. His grades were poor, and he wasn’t running well. His school principal called Norman Peart, a local tax auditor who’d attended the school himself and been a promising 800-meter athlete at one time. “There is a special one here who needs a good mentor,” the principal said.

Peart began not with workouts or training drills, but with timetables. He helped Bolt organize his schoolwork and every aspect of his life, creating the discipline and structure that would play a major part in his later success.

It was only later that he realized what an exceptional athlete his protégé could become, and persuaded Bolt’s parents to let him move to the capital, Kingston, to get access to the best facilities.

Bolt and Peart made the move to Kingston together.  “I needed him around because my parents weren’t there,” Bolt wrote in his autobiography. “For a red-blooded teenager who had moved from the country to the city there were a lot of attractions and distractions.”  Peart taught him that he couldn’t go out drinking and clubbing every night if he wanted to be a great athlete, but also allowed him some space to explore.  “Mr. Peart, unlike my dad, let me find out the good and the bad for myself.”

Bolt soon became known in Jamaica as a very promising athlete, and Peart evolved from his mentor into his manager, using his business background to help with arranging sponsorships and organizing his finances.

But injuries made Bolt miss key championships, and at the 2004 Olympics – despite high expectations – he was eliminated in the first round. The criticism became intense, both of Bolt and Peart.

“It was horrible; it was a very difficult time for us, because they were at our throats when, in fact, he was injured,” Peart said. But he worked hard with his protégé, found him a new coach, and improved his training. “I was determined to prove the world wrong, because I knew I had a champion.”

The rest is history.

Lessons from Usain Bolt

Here are a few things we can learn from Usain Bolt’s mentoring experience:

  • Good mentors don’t necessarily have to be the most successful people in their field. Peart had only limited athletics experience, but brought other skills that enabled him to help Bolt succeed.
  • Mentors can take on a wide variety of roles; Peart helped not only with the core skill of running, but also with schoolwork, discipline, and negotiating life in the big city, and later with finances and sponsorship.
  • A good mentor guides the protégé, but doesn’t dictate what to do; Peart was there to support Bolt in Kingston, but also let him discover the ups and downs of city life for himself.Mentoring can sometimes evolve into other types of relationship, as when Peart became Bolt’s formal business manager, a post he still hold today.
  • Even in a seemingly meteoric rise like that of Usain Bolt, there will be some bad times. A good mentor supports you and stays loyal when others are turning against you.

 

Could you be mentoring the next Usain Bolt? Share your wisdom with rising talent today.

Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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