New research outlines 9 steps in using mentoring to boost physical activity in youth

Smith, L. & Petosa, R. (2016). A structured peer-mentoring method for physical activity behavior change among adolescents. The Journal of the School of Nursing, 32(5), 315-323.

Summarized by Justin Preston

As the winter months roll in, a time typically reserved for hibernating and reduced physical activity more generally, new research has outlined an approach for integrating mentoring into the effort to keep kids active.

In spite of national guidelines that outline the importance of regular physical activity for adolescents, most youths in America are not as physically active as they should be. The effects of these gravitations toward a more sedentary lifestyle may be contributing to the nationwide obesity epidemic as well as the negative comorbidities that come along with a paucity of physical activity. The present research targets schools, which serve more than 60 million youth and often organize sports and other activities, as an ideal location in which to merge mentoring and programs fostering greater physical activity.

Unfortunately, as schools face changing educational priorities and budget constraints, programs promoting physical activity are often in line to be reduced or cut completely. Indeed, according to the Center for Disease Control, as of 2013 only 20% of 12th grade students attended daily physical education classes.

One of the ways in which the authors see this trend possibly being reversed is by utilizing a structured peer-mentoring methodology. Through engagement in a goal-directed, structured mentoring program, mentees receive personalized support for behavior change, guidance, and role modeling from peer mentors.

By conducting a thorough review of the existing literature on structured peer mentoring programs, the authors of the present study outlined nine steps they found to be critical in implementing a school-based structured peer-mentoring program:

  1. Select a (Health) Curriculum or Program
    1. Behavior objectives, skill-building, social support
  2. Plan for Needed Infrastructure and Support
    1. Meeting Space, time of day, supervision, program size
  3. Mentor Selection – Personal Skills
    1. Interpersonal skills, empathy, supportive, flexible, commitment, strong listening skills, good communication, strong problem-solving skills, social
  4. Mentor Selection – Practical Considerations
    1. School attendance, age, gender, competing demands, other interests, teacher or staff recommendations
  5. Implementation
    1. Mentor application, personal outreach to students, outreach at parent and student events, school announcements, brochures, posters
  6. Start Small for Success
    1. 10-15 mentors matched with 1-2 mentees each.
  7. Training and Supervision
    1. Training on curriculum and how to be a supportive mentor, regular debriefing sessions, guidance, and support
  8. Consistency is Key
    1. Structured peer mentoring works best with the same mentor-mentee pairs for all curricular sessions; mentors should participate in program activities with mentees; build in activities for the larger mentoring groups to do together
  9. Make a Transition Plan (End of Program)
    1. Reflect on time spent by mentor-mentee together and provide closure; time to celebrate and recognition for completion

These steps offer a great place to start shaping planning and thinking for those seeking to create a mentoring program in their school. For more details, please review the original research article here. In it, the authors do a solid job of outlining some specifics around what they found in the literature and how those recommendations would play out in implementing a structured school-based peer mentoring program.

The important thing to note from this research is that taking a well-planned, step-wise approach to implementing a new program can set your efforts up for success. While even the best-laid plans may go awry, a thoughtful conceptualization of your prospective program can go a long way to reducing the number of roadblocks you may face in rolling it out and sustaining its success.

Are there steps that you believe are overlooked? What would you add in or take out? We invite you to share your thoughts with our readers in our comments section below!