There are 32 teams in the National Football League and each is filled with highly paid, skilled, and motivated players.  With the money invested and a large fan-base, there is low tolerance for failure.  Success is the job description for an NFL coach.

Consequently, it begs the question: where do NFL coaches learn the requisite skills and knowledge to be successful in their craft?  A recent study helped identify one critical learning resource: mentors (McCullick, Elliot, & Schempp, 2016). Using employment histories, win/loss records, championships, and Pro Football Hall of Fame status, the study analyzed the mentoring of 41 NFL coaches and found several distinct patterns. These findings can apply to anyone.  Here is what successful NFL coaches can teach you about mentoring.

1. You need mentors to be successful, but fewer is better

The study found that coaches with 2 or fewer mentors were more successful than coaches with 3 or more mentors.  Of all coaches in the NFL, those with the highest winning percentages and the most championships had only one coach they considered their mentor.

2.  Success Breeds Success

Apprenticeships are best served under established, successful professionals.   From these individuals, you can learn the tactical, professional, and managerial knowledge and appropriate skills needed for success.  Choose a mentor whose achievements and accomplishments you wish to emulate.

3.  Quality is Far More Important than Quantity

Mentors with an abundant production of protégés did not produce the most successful protégés.  With too many protégés to serve, a mentor is unable to meet the needs of all.  Better to be mentored by one with few protégés and subsequently more time, energy and commitment to devote to your professional and personal success.


McCullick, B. A., Elliott, J., & Schempp, P. G. (2016). An analysis of National Football League coaching trees and the network they comprise. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 11(1), 4-15.