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Prepping to be a Head Coach

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

Many assistant coaches see their job as a stepping stone. The main reason they serve as an assistant is that they are hoping and preparing to one day become a head coach, and there is nothing wrong with this approach. However, there is more to being an assistant coach than simply signing on and putting in time while waiting for an opportunity to move up. There are steps to take and things to learn. If you are an assistant coach, the following ideas should help you on your journey.

Be open to learning. When you are starting out as an assistant coach, set aside your assumptions about the game and don’t assume you already know everything. While you may have played, there are many different styles and philosophies in every sport. Always remain receptive to new ideas and methods. Serving as an assistant represents a hands-on opportunity to learn every detail of one approach—the one which is being used by your head coach. But to benefit from that opportunity, you must start by being receptive. After all, don’t coaches look for coachable players? Try to be a coachable assistant.

Soak up knowledge. Take every opportunity to ask questions. You are trying to learn as much as possible, not only about skill instruction, the offensive and defensive systems which are being used, and the moves and adjustments made in games, but about everything connected to coaching. This includes what to look for in athletes, how to communicate with parents, and how to issue and inventory uniforms and equipment. You need to be a sponge.

Learn from opposing programs. Use scouting assignments as an opportunity to not only perform the responsibility of recording the offensive and defensive systems of an upcoming opponent and the tendencies of their athletes, but also to add to your knowledge base of the game. Yes, turn in your written scouting report to your head coach, but also make notes for yourself pertaining to the different, interesting, and unusual things that you see.

Know your role. Offer advice to your head coach when asked and try to refrain from offering it when you aren’t asked. It is vitally important to remember that, as an assistant, you make suggestions and the head coach makes decisions. There may be times when the head coach doesn’t want your input and it is important to understand your role.

Show public support. When you are speaking publicly, always be supportive of the decisions made by your head coach. While you can disagree and debate in private, in front of athletes, parents, and the broader community, you need to be supportive. Loyalty, reliability, and dependability are qualities that are valued and expected of good assistant coaches.

Be reference-worthy. Remember that you will want your head coach’s help when you are ready to make the next step. Even if you don’t include your head coach on your list of references, the person or committee evaluating your application will usually contact him. Therefore, your working relationship does become an important factor in your future. What will he say? Were you loyal? Hard working?

Choose the next step carefully. Honestly and realistically evaluate vacant head coaching positions before applying. This requires more than simply determining whether you could win games at a prospective school. It is important to determine whether a position offers a situation where you will be happy, grow, and have an impact. You have to do your homework—ask questions, find out what friends and colleagues know about the program, and try to learn everything you can before applying. There may some openings that you should pass over. Wait for one that will be a great fit.

Show appreciation. When your time to move up does come, don’t forget to thank the person you served under as an assistant for their help and guidance and for the opportunity. Often, they have invested time and effort into your growth and development. It is important in life, and for your future, to acknowledge and express gratitude for their help. Always remember these people and your roots. 

 

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach.  In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the Nastional Association for Sport and Physical Education.  He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year.  Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country.

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