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Athlete Mentor Program

January 25, 2021, Rob Lyons

Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities has partnered with UWantGame to pilot the Athlete Mentor Program (AMP), designed to help student athletes balance the challenges of academics, athletics, and skill development while preparing them for success after high school. Whether they’re competing in sports, exploring higher education opportunities, or finding an ideal career, students thrive with the guidance of a mentor, especially one who has similar interests, experiences, and challenges. As former student-athletes themselves, AMP mentors are uniquely qualified to guide students in juggling the demands of school and sports.


The Athlete Mentor Program provides high school student-athletes with the focus and resources needed to succeed through bi-monthly comprehensive enrichment experiences with adult mentors. The program follows the performance model used for developing well-rounded collegiate and professional athletes, focusing on relationship building, character enhancement, and college and career path exploration.

Virtual delivery of the Athlete Mentor Program began locally on January 26, 2021, with a virtual orientation for students from North (Minneapolis) and Highland Park (St. Paul) High Schools. The national launch kicks off with a dynamic mentor/mentee session on February 10, that includes the other piloting areas in Houston and New York. Student-athletes will participate in bi-monthly virtual workshops through July 2021 that target the following areas:

  • Mentoring – student-athletes are paired with adult mentors, many of whom have traveled the same path from high school to college to career.
  • Life Skills Development – communication, problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, leadership
  • College and Career Exploration – go behind-the-scenes with a local sports industry-related career professional (virtual)
  • Speaker Series – sports industry professionals and/or former collegiate student athletes offer personal testimonies and insight on transitioning from high school to college sports and balancing sports, academics, and social activities.

“I know the effectiveness of mentors in young people’s lives. I’ve been surrounded by great men my entire life— my dad, my brother, my pastor, my high school coach. I didn’t know when I was young that they were, in fact, mentors.”

Joe Branch, UWantGame co-founder and Minnesota Timberwolves Assistant General Manager

Learn more about the Athlete Mentor Program and how you can get involved. Contact Maypahou Ly, Director of Educational & Teen Programs, at 651.789.2412 or

Kick-Off Meeting 1/26/2021

The first Athlete Mentor Program virtual session attracted more than 40 student athletes, coaches, and mentors. Students shared an “action word” to describe one goal they want to achieve in 2021, and learned about the importance of setting goals and dreaming big.

The January session coincided with the first anniversary of NBA star Kobe Bryan’s tragic death. Students were inspired by one of Kobe’s motivational speeches where he promoted the importance of dreaming, goal setting, and pursuing a purpose bigger than yourself. 

John Thomas, Vice President of Basketball Development for the Minnesota Timberwolves & Lynx, shared his personal story about dreams and having a purpose. He also emphasized that “failing” is an important part of growth and learning, and that the word fail is actually just an acronym for Flawed Attempt In Learning. “You don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve tried something and discovered the limits.”

AMP students, mentors, and coaches participate via Zoom in the initial session on January 26, 2021.


February 2021 Updates

During the month of February, the Athlete Mentor Program celebrated the fact that Black history is American History. We paid homage to those Black Americans, both in sport and everyday life,  whose personality and public image left an indelible impression on this country. In our first session, mentees answered the question, “If someone were to view your social media channels, what would the photos and words posted on them say about you? Do they paint a true picture of who you are and what you believe?” This was just one of the thought provoking questions that Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, an online platform that helps athletes share content on social networks, posed to AMP mentees. The session also featured a discussion on the importance of protecting your “personal brand.” Mentees learned that it’s a common practice for colleges and corporations to scan social media platforms to learn more about a young person who may be applying to their school or looking to get a job with their organization. What they find can make a difference between securing a job. AMP mentors and mentees were asked to pitch their personal brand to the rest of group. 

Tyler Johnson

The AMP mentoring session on February 24 recapped personal branding and introduced our life skill lesson on the power of relationships. We explored personal branding a bit deeper by examining the social media channels used by local, Northside hero and recent Super Bowl champion, Tyler Johnson. Tyler is an alum of North High and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. He played football in college and was drafted as a wide receiver by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During our live, personal Zoom interview, Tyler walked us through his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram channels to show how he portrayed his brand of family, community, perseverance, passion, grit, and determination. He and his longtime mentor, North High School Head basketball coach Larry McKenzie, transitioned our Q&A discussion to our AMP life skills segment, which introduced the developmental relationships framework and the power of relationships. Tyler shared how he was influenced by many positive, caring adults in the Northside community. He shared that there were many adults in his network of support that warmly embraced the “it takes a village” approach to guiding young people who aspire to live their best life. The session emphasized the fact that strong developmental relationships are the foundation upon which many dreams are planned and pursued, and Tyler is living proof of this concept.

Let the “Madness” Begin! (March 2021)

It’s NCAA basketball tourney time again and we all know what that means… filling out your March Madness tournament brackets. As a fun icebreaker activity, we asked AMP mentors and mentees to talk about the upcoming national tournament and who they felt had the grit to grind it out all the way to the Final Four. This created some fun conversations between the adults and youth that allowed everyone the chance to get to learn a bit more about each other. We then surprised them with an opportunity to participate in our own “AMP Challenge” using ESPN’s online Final Four Tournament bracket application. Everyone who wanted to participate was asked to download the app and fill out up to two brackets on “Selection Sunday” when all of the teams making it to the big dance would be announced. So let the smack-talk begin! Who’s gonna’ be this year’s Cinderella story?

Earning a full-ride athletic scholarship is just one way that a young person can financially pursue a college education and avoid the potential “madness” of applying for grants, writing letters to apply for academic scholarships, or saving hard earned money to pay for everything. But being offered a full-ride scholarship doesn’t make a young person exempt from learning how to make good financial decisions and controlling the flow of money. The importance of managing personal finances was the AMP Life Skill lesson for this session. Mentors and mentees discussed building assets, limiting liabilities, and how those elements contribute to your net worth. We heard from former NBA All-star and member of the University of Michigan Wolverines’ “FAB 5” basketball squad, Jalen Rose, about his own personal financial journey and the lessons it taught him from a young age up through his current adult life. Mentees learned why, as a high school student, it’s important to make smart decisions regarding making, spending, and saving money. We also discussed why it’s important to create a budget, save for a rainy day, put your money to work through investing, and understand your options for attaining other types of financial assistance available through FAFSA, grants, and private academic scholarships.  Both mentors and mentees participated in a financial exercise that walked them through establishing and managing a budget as a first year college student. Good personal financial habits and decisions made now can lead to a great financial and credit position in the future!

Turning Passion Into Purpose (3/25/2021)

If you had the chance to turn what you love or what you love to do into a career would you do it? What if what you loved to do served an even greater purpose that also aligned with your values, goals, and dreams, would that make it even more appealing?

These were some of the questions that our student-athletes pondered at our March 25 mentoring session. We asked the question, “Who here has plans to get a higher education after high school?”  Many of them raised their hand. We then asked, “Who plans to use their passion for athletics to possible earn scholarship funding to pay for their higher education?” Again, more than half of the students raised their hand. We then asked our final two introductory questions, “Why would you be doing it and what is driving you to go through with it?” Those last two questions stumped a lot of the student-athletes. They answered generically that getting a higher education could mean landing a good paying job.  But many didn’t really know what was driving them to go and get a degree. We then asked the question that we shared at the beginning of this blog post. The hand of every student-athlete in the session went up with an enthusiastic affirmation that said. “YES, I would turn what I love, or love to do, into a career if it met certain conditions.”


What you love, and what you love to do, are what we call “SPARKS”. Sparks are the hidden flames within you that get you excited. They tap into your true passions and bring purpose to some of the things you achieve in life. Those intersections between what you love, the things you are good at doing, the things for which you could be paid, and those things for which the world needs, can be used to help guide your choices and your path as a student in high school. The spot where they collide with passion, mission, profession, and vocation often equates to a realization of potential purpose. When student-athletes have purpose guiding their choices,  the answers to questions like the ones we asked during the session, seem to come easier and with more certainty. The ability of a student-athlete to link their sparks, values, life skills, and decision-making, to their college aspirations is holistically a great way to begin their journey toward living their best life.


AMP Golf Event (7/21/2021)









Students and mentors got together in person for the first time this year at the AMP Golf Event, Intro to Golf: Networking Through Sport, on July 21, 2021, at Brookview in Golden Valley. Our golf hosts did an excellent job of presenting the game they love as a sport they believe everyone can play. Each host shared anecdotes on what the game means to them and ideas for introducing more people of color to the sport. One common theme was that you don’t know about something until you know about something – meaning you don’t know if you like the game until you’ve tried it. Each of them talked about how the game has allowed them to meet new people and expand their network, leading to other opportunities in their life.

The student athletes reported having a lot of fun. They asked thoughtful questions, weren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone, and showed a competitive spirit. The engagement between the golf hosts, mentors, and student athletes was inspiring. A special thanks to our volunteer golf hosts, mentors, and partners for making this celebration a tremendous success!