By Robby Duncan
Head coaches have many needs as they run their programs, and at the top of the list is a quality assistant coach to help carry out that responsibility. There are a variety of qualities that a head coach looks for in an assistant, but some are more important than others. Through personal experiences, here are some of the more important qualities of a good assistant coach.
1. Know your role
This is important because you have to understand your responsibilities and make sure they are completed as needed. Every coach on the staff should have a set of responsibilities and duties that they carry out in order to be a part of a greater whole. Also, knowing what is asked of you helps to make sure that you don’t overstep your duties and attempt to complete tasks not assigned to you. Completing a task that is not part of your assigned duties can create some dissension within the staff and can create problems down the road. If you aren’t sure what your role is, ask your head coach.
2. Be knowledgeable
An assistant coach must have an understanding of his or her sport, know expectations in working with the athletes and know what he or she is expected to teach in the time frame allotted. Remember, the athletes need to take those skills into competition, so they have to be ready. This is obviously sport-specific and will be different in each sport. But the assistant must have a knowledge of the sport in order to be able to teach the student-athletes.
3. Be a teacher
Working hand in hand with being knowledgeable, an assistant coach must know how to teach athletes the skills they need to know. Teach them, be patient with them, help them learn the things they need to know in order to be successful in competition. Make every day a learning experience and help the athletes become students of their sport.
4. Be open minded and be willing to learn
A good assistant must keep an open mind and be able to adapt his or her coaching style to match that of the head coach. The assistant may work in a program very different from a previous job, so he or she should be prepared to learn new things that help the program run smoothly. The head coach will likely have ideas and skills that the assistant doesn’t know. The assistant can learn from these new ideas and skills.
5. Have a willingness to serve
An assistant coach can be asked to do just about anything. Be prepared for that and be ready to get to work at a moment’s notice. Remember, assistants are there to help the head coach get the job done. The assistant should be willing to do whatever is necessary, even if it sounds like a strange request, because doing so will take the team to a higher level.
6. Be a good communicator
Assistant coaches should be able to communicate the message that needs to get out. Coaches, athletes, parents, boosters, administrators and community members – these are all people with whom assistant coaches must communicate. They must be able to effectively get their points across to those people without confusion or error. Remember, assistant coaches represent their school and team, so these skills can make or break how the program is perceived.
7. Have integrity
Do the right thing each and every day. Discourage cheating and other forms of unethical behavior. Encourage honesty and fair play with teachers and other teams at all times. Coaches need to have high moral standards in order to help lead young athletes along the right path in life. Coaches must lead by example and make sure that the athletes see them doing the right thing all of the time.
8. Have a strong desire
Assistant coaches must have the desire to not only work hard but to help the team be successful. There are many ways this can be accomplished. Obviously, it starts with having a winning attitude and helping to keep the competitive spirit of the team alive and well. If the desire is not there, then the lack of motivation will creep into all facets of coaching. If there is no desire, then simple things like having the energy and excitement needed when teaching a skill just cannot be completed. As motivation lags, the quality of work will drop and the team will suffer.
9. Be enthusiastic
A positive and enthusiastic attitude is infectious. If coaches have a high energy level and a positive attitude, the team will feed off of that energy and have a better performance both in practice and in competition. Having this energy can be the difference between winning and losing, so it is very important to keep yourself at the top of your game. A coach’s greatest strength should be his or her ability to see the glass as half full and see a positive outcome to every situation in competition. Everything, good or bad, can be turned into a positive and used as a learning experience to improve the athlete and the team. It is amazing what something as simple as a smile and a great attitude can do to improve the morale of the team.
10. Be driven and motivated
The assistant coach should be motivated by his or her own goals. A coach should constantly evaluate and determine if the path he or she is moving down is the one that is best for the team. If a coach has lost the desire to win, then the team can sense it and will play down to the level of the coach’s motivation. Once a coach loses the drive to win or be successful, then the performance suffers and the quality of teaching is not at a level high enough to get the job done. A coach can use drive and desire to push and motivate others in a positive way.
11. Enjoy what you do
The assistant coach should enjoy the job. It becomes very difficult if he or she is not having fun? It can be difficult to lead athletes if they can sense that the coach is not happy being there. Coaches enjoy their work because they like the competition and enjoy seeing athletes become successful. If coaches lose that desire, it is time to move on to other endeavors.
12. Work with others
Assistant coaches must be able to work together with the rest of the coaches on the staff. Everyone has a job to complete and only by working together can the team accomplish what it wants to do. Communicate with your fellow coaches and get the job done so you can share the success together.
13. Be professional
Always look and act the part of the coach. Be on time and carry yourself in such a way that people know exactly who you are and who you represent. Make sure you are doing that both on and off the field as well because you just never know when someone might be watching. Walk the walk and talk the talk at all times. Make sure you take every opportunity to create the best public perception regarding yourself that you can.
14. Be loyal
Assistants need to be loyal to the head coach, support the head coach in all decisions and help them fulfill their vision for the team. Be loyal to the team and the school. Coaches should never bad mouth their athletes because that can damage their reputation with the team and show them that you do not believe in what they are doing or trying to accomplish.
15. Complement the personality and the strengths of the head coach
The assistant is an extension of the head coach every day. People will come to the assistant and ask a question regarding the day-to-day operations of the team. Support the head coach and give the appropriate answer in regard to team policies. By supporting the head coach, the assistant shows loyalty to the program.
16. Be a head coach
The assistant needs to be ready to step in and take over at any time. There could be an illness, an ejection or other type of emergency that forces the assistant to step in and act as the head coach. This also places the assistant in a position to become a head coach – if that is his or her long-term desire. Model the personality and desires of the head coach and this becomes much easier.
By following these simple suggestions, one can quickly and easily become a better assistant coach and do a better job in the position. The assistant will garner the respect and admiration of peers as well as that of the athletes and teams.
About the Author: Robby Duncan is an English teacher and cross country/wrestling coach at Bingham High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the head coach at Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Utah, for two years. Duncan was an accomplished athlete at Weber State University, where he competed in the steeplechase and qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships and Olympic trials.