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
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
- Make sure the floor is clean
- Make sure water bottles are full
- Greet the visiting team and show them their locker area
- Provide basketballs and keep track of them
- Assure that basketball are properly inflated
- Return the basketballs to their storage area after game or practice
- Help collect grade reports
- Collect playing forms, application and monies
- Collect and organize physical examination documentation
- Make sure the first aid kit is available and complete
- Make sure ice is handy for games and practice
- Enter the player names into the score book
- Contact news media with game results
- Complete shot charts and statistical information
- Coordinate volunteers for videotaping
- Understand the head coach's philosophy
- Understand the head coach's playbook
- Understand the head coach's preferred techniques
- In practice, assist with groups of players during breakdown drills
- In full court practice, cover distant areas of the court
- Maintain team discipline when head coach is gone
- Check team bus for litter, forgotten items
- Maintain a team phone tree and help with calls
- Assist with all fund raisers
- Assist with clinics
- Educate yourself by reading, attending clinics, coaching younger
- Be a role model for sportsmanship
- Follow all the team rules, just like a player is expected to follow
- Discuss the game plan with the head coach so you're familiar with
- Advise coach during game as established beforehand
- Tell the coach of all player injuries
- Assist players with minor first aid needs
- Advise coach of player confidences if urgent enough
- Offer observations during the game by looking for the things the
head coach may not notice.
- Scout other teams if appropriate
- Assist with player transportation if appropriate
- Inquire about players' grades and offer help if appropriate
- Make sure the head coach has necessary tools such as clipboards and
- Assist with video review and note-taking
- Maintain comfortable conversational relationships with players'
- Get to know the administrative personnel that support your program
- Dress respectably. At games, dress at the same level as the head
- Again, dress respectably. Look like a professional coach in
- Make sure players dress correctly; tied shoes, no jewelry, etc.
- Keep the players in line concerning language. No profanity.
- When players come out of the game, help them with suggestions
- If players get upset, act as a buffer between them and the head
- Ask players about their grades. Make sure they are keeping up with
- Listen for signs of internal strife among players
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Look for ways to improve program and implement with minimal effort
from coaches. Ideas include helping with transportation, keeping records,
shot charts, etc.