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Valuable Assistance

Assistants spend a lot of their time figuring ways to help their players grow and develop both as athletes and as people. But how much time do they spend thinking about how they can be better assistants to their head coaches? A smart assistant will regularly assess their performance and look for ways to better help their programs.

In a big on the Ontario Minor Hockey Association website titled “Six Ways to be an Effective Assistant Coach,” Ray Detwiler offers a short list of ways that assistants can be of greatest value to their coaches and programs. None of them have anything to do with hockey, and Detwiler’s coaching experience comes in high baseball and football. They are suggestions that can help regardless of level or sports being coach.

1. Model effective habits

As the old saying goes, “If you going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.” In other words, you actions should meet or exceed the standards and expectations your program has for the athletes. Young people pick up hypocrites a mile away and if you’re not showing up on time or displaying energy and enthusiasm, they’re likely to feel they don’t have to either.

2. Communicate (and understand) expectations

You must have a clear understanding of what your head coach expects from you. If you have doubts or questions about what the head coach wants, ask them. This includes how they want things done. Some coaches welcome unsolicited feedback from their assistants while others don’t. Some prefer emails and scheduled meeting while others like informal chats better. Know what you head coach’s style and do all you can to support it.

3. Be a champion for your head coach

Nothing will destroy a team faster than dissention from within, especially when it involves an assistant coach. While you don’t have to agree with every decision the head coach makes, you have to support it and stand behind it, unless you feel it crosses moral or ethical lines. Not backing your head coach will hurt their trust in you and could undermine their leadership of the rest of the squad.

4. Build positive relationships with your players

Detwiler quotes Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, saying “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To effectively communicate with your athletes (and this include teaching them) you need to understand where they’re coming from. And even though you may feel you can relate to them because you went the same things as an athlete, each person is different and their experiences are different than yours. Consider how these differences should shape your efforts to help them.

5. Take initiative

While you need to make you’re never undercutting your head coach, you do want to look for any ways to support them and help get things done. This may mean setting up or breaking down equipment for practice or reminding the head coach (at the appropriate time) of an administrative task they might have overlook. If something needs to be done to help the program, don’t expect someone else to do it, do it yourself.

6. Keep learning

Even the most experienced and successful coaches can learn things. There may be new ways to teach a skill or perform a drill that you hadn’t seen or thought of before. There are certainly different aspects of your sport you could explore, such as specific position play or strategies. Whatever it is, take the time to attend clinics, read book and magazines, and connect with other coaches and learn from what others are doing.

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