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The Role of the Assistant Coach

By Steve Jordan

Courtesy of Coach's Notebook at http://www.akcoach.com

The Role of the Assistant Coach

The assistant coach's job is really a fairly flexible one. Some of the factors that will make one assistant coach's role different than the next are:

  • How many assistant coaches the team has
  • The degree that the head coach is willing to delegate
  • The assistant coach's individual talents and experience

Often, once you become part of the staff, you have a chance to mold your role to best help the organization and make the most of your particular strengths. It's like any other job in that sense.

Its seems that the more competitive a team is, the more assistant coaches you see on the bench. Certainly, on top college team and pro teams, each of those assistants has been carefully chosen to fulfill a set of duties defined by the head coach. Those duties usually include areas of esoteric skill or expertise, such as offensive and defensive specialists, video taping, statistical game analysis, medical support and so on. Even on high school and club teams, you may see several assistant coaches. Even though they may be full-time or part time, parents or aspiring head coaches, they all have one thing in common and that is a desire to further the success of their players.

With so much help available, the assistant coaching duties will be split in as many directions. To join such a group, you will need something the staff lacks. It doesn't make any sense to believe that the head coach wants you to sit by his or her side and offer sage advice during the game. It makes a lot more sense to think that the head coach needs you to manage statistics or tape ankles so he or she can concentrate on game. If you can offer a supportive service and be happy with that, then you have potential for being an assistant coach for a competitive minded team. It is important to go over this concept because the assistant coach's role is very service-oriented. During the pre-game, halftime and post-game discussions, your opinion isn't wanted unless it is specifically requested. You have the same thing in practice, standing around and listening until you get to work with a portion of the group. You must be OK with that. Otherwise, your input is viewed as interference. As you continue to prove yourself, the head coach may entrust you with additional responsibilities. If you attempt to impose your own will, you'll be viewed as insubordinate, so be careful.

Generally, teams will have one assistant coach. This is a effective arrangement because it's easier for two people to conform to each other than it is for a group. The primary influence on the assistant coach's role is the degree that the head coach is willing to delegate. Generally, the head coach will recognize the strengths of the assistant and turn those aspects over to the assistant. The assistant may actually run the practices or certain drills while the head coach watches.

There are some advantages to the two person coaching approach. One, the assistant coach will have the maximum opportunity to receive mentoring from the head coach and will be viewed as the most likely successor. If the head coach becomes ill, the assistant will be reasonably prepared to substitute. Two, with a wider range of responsibilities, the single assistant has opportunity to learn a wider spectrum of the coaching job. Three, with a little time, communication between the coaches transcends the formal information exchange required in a group. The coaches learn to support each other intuitively. The assistant can develop an instinct for when the role can be temporarily expanded without fear of upsetting the head coach.

There are many kinds of assistant coaches. One key question is, "what do you have to offer?" A young coach that wants to learn the ropes will need to settle for menial tasks until experience is gained. Some assistant coaches have no desire at all of running their own team. They just want to help in their own special way. If a head coach is really lucky, the assistant coach will have tons of experience and knowledge to offer and share the same philosophies. As long as there isn't competition and strife between the coaches, this is a powerful combination.

Assistant Coach Pitfalls

It is vitally important to quickly define the role of the assistant coach. I have seen a dozen cases where a new face shows up at practice and gets introduced as the new assistant. Then, unsure of what to do or say, the poor rookie coach stands around and watches the practice. Without a message or a needed service to offer, the new coach instantly loses the attention of the players. It's just a matter of time until he or she doesn't show up any more. The answer is for the head coach to clearly declare the expectations. They should go over the season plan and the practice plans and discuss the goals. The toughest role for an assistant coach is to show up and figure out the head coach's intentions on the spot and then spontaneously assist. The odds are high that you'll eventually say something that conflicts with the head coach's direction even though you were just trying to help.

Before taking on the job, the prospective assistant coach should understand and be able to wholly support the head coach's philosophy. If one favors the running game and the other is a control game fanatic, conflicts are inevitable. If both enjoy the same style of play, the teaching will fit. The players will receive a more unified message.

The assistant must be able to win the respect of the players. It isn't always an easy task. Generally, if the players believe you can help them become better, they will readily listen. Don't waste their time, overly criticize or make fun of them. Cultivate their respect. Soon they will understand that if you are talking to them, it is because you ca really help them and it's in their own best interest to take heed. You'll know you have their respect when you speak up in a team meeting and they immediately turn their eyes to you as one. If you can command that kind of attention without depending on the authority of the head coach ordering them to listen, you have done a good job.

Some players have the attitude that they only need to listen to the head coach. This is the player's problem. Many athletes get too cocky after years of people telling them they are special. If a player treats you disrespectfully, it is crucial for you to stand up for yourself. Tell the player that he or she is out of line. If the player doesn't get the message, talk to the head coach. Hopefully, you'll get support. If the offending player is benched for game, you'll find that things go a lot smoother afterwards. If you do nothing, your influence will erode with predictable results.

Like the head coach, you must treat all the players fairly. Work with all of them. Talk to all of them. Care about all of them. If you spend your time with just a few, you're not doing your full job.

You always need to take the head coach's side if an issue arises, either with players or their parents. The assistant can play an invaluable role as a listener. People will confide things to the assistant that they may never say to the head coach. Just listen. Often, if the message is heard, complainers are placated. So listen without agreeing or arguing. Players may be upset about conditioning or disciplining and spout off to the assistant coach. Just listen. They'll feel better knowing that someone on the staff understands. They don't really expect you to do anything, anyway. A parent may approach you and unload about playing time policies. Just listen and understand. In some cases, you may feel compelled to pass the information to the head coach. But, mostly, the assistant is not the head nor heart of the team, but the kidneys. Filter out the bad stuff so everyone else can move on. If you side with players and parents, the head coach will see you as disloyal because you are promoting dissension.

Assistant Coach Responsibilities

This article will list several responsibilities common to assistant coaches. You may pick the items from the list that suit your situation, or add duties that have been omitted. If there is a team manager or other assistant coaches, then these tasks can be shared. The head coach may prefer to handle some of these activities.

  1. Make sure the floor is clean
  2. Make sure water bottles are full
  3. Greet the visiting team and show them their locker area
  4. Provide basketballs and keep track of them
  5. Assure that basketball are properly inflated
  6. Return the basketballs to their storage area after game or practice
  7. Help collect grade reports
  8. Collect playing forms, application and monies
  9. Collect and organize physical examination documentation
  10. Make sure the first aid kit is available and complete
  11. Make sure ice is handy for games and practice
  12. Enter the player names into the score book
  13. Contact news media with game results
  14. Complete shot charts and statistical information
  15. Coordinate volunteers for videotaping
  16. Understand the head coach's philosophy
  17. Understand the head coach's playbook
  18. Understand the head coach's preferred techniques
  19. In practice, assist with groups of players during breakdown drills
  20. In full court practice, cover distant areas of the court
  21. Maintain team discipline when head coach is gone
  22. Check team bus for litter, forgotten items
  23. Maintain a team phone tree and help with calls
  24. Assist with all fund raisers
  25. Assist with clinics
  26. Educate yourself by reading, attending clinics, coaching younger teams
  27. Be a role model for sportsmanship
  28. Follow all the team rules, just like a player is expected to follow them
  29. Discuss the game plan with the head coach so you're familiar with it
  30. Advise coach during game as established beforehand
  31. Tell the coach of all player injuries
  32. Assist players with minor first aid needs
  33. Advise coach of player confidences if urgent enough
  34. Offer observations during the game by looking for the things the head coach may not notice.
  35. Scout other teams if appropriate
  36. Assist with player transportation if appropriate
  37. Inquire about players' grades and offer help if appropriate
  38. Make sure the head coach has necessary tools such as clipboards and markers
  39. Assist with video review and note-taking
  40. Maintain comfortable conversational relationships with players' parent
  41. Get to know the administrative personnel that support your program
  42. Dress respectably. At games, dress at the same level as the head coach.
  43. Again, dress respectably. Look like a professional coach in practice.
  44. Make sure players dress correctly; tied shoes, no jewelry, etc.
  45. Keep the players in line concerning language. No profanity.
  46. When players come out of the game, help them with suggestions
  47. If players get upset, act as a buffer between them and the head coach
  48. Ask players about their grades. Make sure they are keeping up with their studies.
  49. Listen for signs of internal strife among players
  50. Enjoy yourself. Cherish every minute of your coaching privilege.
Prerequisites for Becoming an Assistant Coach

Here are some of the things you can do - or must do - to be accepted as a volunteer coach. Some organizations are desperate for help and will make the path as easy as possible for you. In other programs, becoming a volunteer assistant may be a competition in itself. One thing is for sure, you will need the trust of the professional coaches and the Activities Director to participate.

  • Permission of head coach is needed. Arrange for one of the professional coaching staff to be a sponsor/mentor.
  • Demonstrate ability to help through active service. Coach local players in alternative leagues, help raise money, volunteer to help with activities.
  • Obtain and complete necessary paperwork provided by school administration. Documentation will include criminal history check, Tetanus shot, and First Aid certification - all at your expense.
  • Mandatory coaching classes may be necessary. Such classes are designed for the safety and well-being of the students.
  • Organizing time from or around work to attend practices and games
  • Establish credibility with the players without sanctioning of official, paid coach status.
  • Maintain conduct that reflects well upon the school and the program
  • Support the plans and goals of the head coach. No room for personal agenda.
  • Look for ways to improve program and implement with minimal effort from coaches. Ideas include helping with transportation, keeping records, shot charts, etc.

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