Mentoring in Indoor Cycling, and in Life

Want to gain the value of experience in indoor cycling?

Get a mentor.

Want to gain the satisfaction of sharing what you have learned?

Become a mentor.

Indoor cycling is a promising venue for mentoring just as it is a great metaphor for life’s experience. Mentees get the caring benefit of experience. Mentors get the chance to extend and expand the meaning of their lives. All this can be done in the context of indoor cycling.

Many of us are indoor cycling instructors because of the opportunity it provides us to make a difference in people’s lives. Being a mentor is a way to multiply that impact, not just more broadly among students but also across time to future generations. Finding a mentor is a way to become a better instructor and perhaps even form a lifelong relationship.

As a mentor, I have specifically helped newer instructors with problems such as:

  • How to deal with perceived disrespect from some students.
  • What to do when someone repeatedly performs a contraindication in their class.
  • How to talk with management about problems or new ideas.
  • How to handle the first class and survive.
  • How to deal with criticism from a student or from management.

Just like life, indoor cycling has its challenges, difficulties, and rewards. Experiencing those moments in cycling class helps us see the possibility of handling them in our larger lives. Indoor cycling enriches more than our physical health; it helps us thrive in our daily lives.

Seen in this way, indoor cycling is as good a place as any to practice the art of mentorship. It can take the form of instructor to instructor, instructor to student, or even student to instructor. 

And it’s so easy. You don’t need to join anything, pay any dues, or really even make any commitments. If you want a mentor, all you need to do is ask. If you want to find a mentee, all you need to do is offer.  

(Although mentoring is not usually a financial arrangement, sometimes gyms or other institutions will pair people up in a paid consulting kind of relationship that could also be described as mentoring.)

The benefits to both mentor and mentee are significant.  

Mentees get:

  • The benefit of their mentors’ own direct personal experience.
  • The access to subtle but important skills that are mostly learned over time, such as the ability to better understand other people and their motives.
  • The possible access to useful professional or other contacts developed over time.
  • The presence of another caring and nonjudgmental person in their life.
  • The access to someone who may, especially if retired, have more time to devote to them.

Mentors get:

  • The emotional satisfaction that comes from sharing your knowledge and judgment to help someone else. The reinforcement and clarification of your knowledge, as you sometimes have to reframe it or think of it in another context.
  • The satisfaction of passing your knowledge along to strengthen your sport and your studio, knowing that you have made a contribution of lasting impact.  
  • Sometimes, although not always, mentors are retired from their career and mentoring is a productive way to use newfound time in retirement.  
  • Mentoring also gives the retired mentor the benefit of social engagement, which is crucial to the health and well-being of people as they grow older.

Mentoring has been strongly linked to happiness for both retired and middle-aged persons.  Psychiatrist Dr. George Vaillant, a professor at Harvard Medical School, reports in his book Aging Well that middle-aged and older people who invested in the well-being of the next generation were three times as likely to be happy as those who didn’t make such an effort. Research also found they also lived longer.

How do you find a mentor? Mostly, you just ask. No two situations are alike but here is one common type of scenario to help you visualize the act of asking.

  • Think of someone you know and admire. Someone from whom you think you could learn.
  • Ask for some time to talk with them. A short coffee meeting is often a good place to start.
  • Bring some questions to the table. Ask them to tell you about their career or other experience.
  • Show your respect by listening and asking questions.
  • Allow the meeting to end at the agreed-upon time. Thank the person for their time and insight. And, if you sense interest, ask if you might meet again.
  • Follow up with a thank-you email and state your desire to meet again.
  • Let nature take its course. No two mentorships look alike. Indeed, you don’t ever even have to call the relationship a mentorship. (I have never called my mentor of 55 years a mentor and he has never called me a mentee.)

How do you become a mentor? Again, mostly you just ask.

Anyone can be either a mentor or a mentee. Despite some of the examples I have used, you don’t need to be young to be a mentee. And you don’t need to be older or retired to be a mentor.  Indeed, you could even be both a mentor in one part of your life and a mentee in another.

In my own indoor cycling practice, YMCA group exercise managers link me up with new instructors to help them learn the ropes. Usually these are brief sessions where I encourage the new instructor to (a) avoid contraindications and (b) teach using YMCA values of respect and inclusion. Sometimes, however, this meeting has led to long-term friendships or mentorships that include other parts of life.

A friend of mine, John Reese, mentors through his participation in something called “The Dream Team.” There, youth are matched with adults and placed into a training program leading up to participation in Iowa’s famous cross-state ride, RAGBRAI.

Outside of cycling, there are tons of organizations seeking responsible adults to work with youth. Examples would include your YMCA, scouting organizations, or Girls on the Run.

What do you do as a mentor? Remember that mentorship has no rules, per se. You don’t even have to call it mentorship. You don’t have to commit to a certain amount of time. You don’t need any specially defined skills.

Marc Freedman, author of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, says that mentorship consists of “showing up and shutting up: being consistent and listening.”

He goes on to say, “You don’t have to be a charismatic superhero. You don’t need an advanced degree. It’s more about the relationship than imparting sage advice. The key is not being interesting. The real key is being interested—being present and paying attention.”

What Mentoring Has Meant to Me

For much of my life, I have been on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship. Both perspectives have given me innumerable rewards and immense satisfaction.  

The primary mentor in my life has occupied that position for 55 years. I have thought of him often while writing this article. I met Dick Clark when he came to my junior high school to present a flag on behalf of our congressman. Ten years later I helped him become elected to the United States Senate and then worked on his staff. He has been my mentor and friend for 55 years. My relationship with Dick has filled me with lessons and examples about living a life based on values and pursuing them with integrity.

I have tried to pay that blessing forward by being a mentor to several remarkable young people.  I consider it part of my legacy.

The mentee who first comes to mind as a write this is Mary Uran. I hired Mary as a summer intern while I worked in the Iowa attorney general’s office. It has been a joy for me to help Mary through her education and career. I am proud that she has founded the Minneapolis–St. Paul chapter of Girls on the Run and, in a few short years, turned it into a thriving contributor to her community. Interestingly, the model for Girls on the Run involves pairing girls with an adult coach or mentor.  

I believe that lives lived productively leave ripples of good that radiate out over generations and improve the lives of others, some of whom we cannot ever see. I feel enormously proud of lessons I have learned Dick Clark and people like him, and of being able to pass them along to people like Mary Uran and others like her.  

Mentoring is just a word we use to describe those relationships.



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