If you’ve been involved in Christian school sports (or high school sports in general) for very long then chances are you’ve served as an assistant coach a few times. Being an assistant coach is a very important job. Consequently, the right qualities in an assistant coach are vital. So what qualities make an assistant valuable to a program’s success?
Due to the lack of size of many Christian schools, assistant coaches are often considered a luxury. Lots of Christian school head coaches do not hire their assistants, they are usually “saddled” with them. By this we mean that they are more or less stuck with that person. This can be good or bad. Whether your assistant was assigned to you or hand-picked there are certain things that they should and shouldn’t do in order to help your team function at its best.
The purpose of this article is to identify the qualities of a good assistant coach. Perhaps as an athletic director, you can share the following points with the assistants in your athletic department.
A good assistant coach is loyal.
If you google the phrase “good assistant coach” every article that comes up mentions loyalty in some way, shape, or form.
Being loyal is essential to any form of service. A boss wants loyal employees. A pastor wants loyal deacons. A coach wants loyal players.
The assistant coach needs to be loyal to the head coach in so many ways. He needs to be loyal to the head coach’s vision, philosophy, strategy, and plan.
Another aspect of this loyalty is presenting a unified front to those outside of the program. Often parents will try to get their two cents in. If they find that the coach doesn’t have an ear for their opinions, complaints, and/or suggestions, then they’ll try to recruit the assistant into their camp.
The assistant coach must never talk negatively about the head coach to anyone at anytime.
Loyalty is about trust. The head coach needs to be able to know that the assistant is as equally invested in the process. The assistant wants to accomplish the same things in the same way.
Is it ever ok to not back the head coach? Obviously, if the head coach is asking things of his assistant that are illegal, immoral, or unethical then that assistant is loosed from his responsibility of loyalty.
The assistant coach is a good reader of situations.
As an assistant, you are often standing around and watching. The head coach explains and teaches. The head coach gives correction. The assistant stands off to the side and waits to be called upon.
The assistant coach has a valuable perspective in his situation. He can step back and see the whole picture. The head coach is often clouded by the practice plan, the next play call, or other things. This leaves the assistant coach to pick up on the smaller things like attitudes, responses, and conflicts.
A wise assistant will be able to objectively identify causes and effect. Many times he can more clearly see why a specific play isn’t working. He can more clearly see why a certain player is having an off day.
Reading situations is also key in balancing the atmosphere of a practice or competition. Some days the head coach is in a bad mood. If this is the case, then the assistant needs to play the “good cop” to his “bad cop.” Other times a more critical view is needed from the assistant.
You’re either contributing to an environment, or you’re contaminating it.
Good assistants are able to sit back, assess, and then contribute properly to the team process as needed.
A good assistant coach’s presence is unnoticed but absence is greatly missed.
You should always be present for anything that the team is doing. However, if you were to miss a practice or a game, people should notice.
They talk about the “unseen hand” in economics. That’s what a good assistant coach should be: an unseen hand.
This unseen hand quietly and efficiently does the following things:
- makes sure drills run as smoothly as possible
- offers quick bits of instruction when possible
- provides private encouragement for struggling players
- reminds players of their duties and responsibilities
- takes charge of the little things that the head coach doesn’t have time to do
Once again, a good assistant is there to complete and execute the head coach’s vision, strategy, and plan.
A good assistant coach is honest.
This is similar to loyalty, but it manifests itself in a different way. When we say honest we mean that they give honest opinions of the team and the process.
Nobody wants “yes men.” At least nobody smart does. As an assistant, you need to offer your honest opinion. Hopefully, you’re there because the coach values your input and ideas. Contribute to the plan.
“Being honest” doesn’t give you free license to spout off whenever you feel like it. A good assistant coach is honest with his opinions in two situations:
- when asked for his thoughts
- when he feels that by not speaking the team process is being hindered
Being honest usually means that you disagree with the head coach or would do things differently. This is fine, just make sure that you don’t do this in front of the team. Remember: loyalty, united front.
A good assistant coach is a good suggester.
The term “professional suggester” is used in an article by SBnation.com when talking about good assistant coaches. We’re using the term “suggester” here today because we’ve always felt it is one of the main parts of an assistant coach’s job.
Whether it’s in practice or a game. A good assistant will be in the head coach’s ear making suggestions.
- “Should we run this set?”
- “Try moving her to the back row.”
- “What if we applied more pressure?”
These are examples of quick things that assistants say to head coaches. Basically, you’re lobbing ideas at them. They can choose to swing or not. One NAIA assistant once put it to me this way:
“I sit on the bench and throw anywhere from 50-100 ideas at the head coach during a game. Sometimes he tells me to shut up. Sometimes he listens. If he uses two or three of them, then I’ve done my job for that game. Whatever helps us play best.”
Many of the best moves a head coach makes, are initiated by a suggestion from an assistant.
A good assistant coach remembers the first word in their title.
The most important quality of a good assistant coach is also the simplest.
The word “head” and the word “assistant” have very different meanings. Therefore, the two coaches have very different jobs.
Remember, the assistant isn’t there to do anything that the head coach doesn’t want them to do. Their job is to assist. It doesn’t make him any less important or less responsible. It’s just different. Embrace the role of an assistant coach, and help your team be successful.
Any other qualities of an assistant coach that we may have left out?