Five ‘Musts’ Assistants Need From Their Head Coaches

Five ‘Musts’ Assistants Need From Their Head Coaches

By Bert DeSalvo

College and professional coaches are part of a crazy profession. Where else do 18-22 year old adolescents make or break the careers of the people they are associated with due to their athletic performance and everyday decision-making abilities?

As a result, college coaches are always on the move and universities are frequently looking for their next head coach. Sometimes head coaches make the move to another institution while other instances assistants may get their opportunity to lead a program.

No matter what direction the institution prefers to go, I have always felt that head coaches owe it to their assistants to find out what their career ambitions are and prepare them as best they can. This way, when the right situation presents itself their assistants will be ready to take the next step in their own careers.

With assistant experience at the division I men’s level, then as a division III women’s head coach, and most recently as a division II women’s assistant coach, I have some unique experiences because I coached both men and women at a variety of levels and in different capacities.

I wanted to share my experiences as an assistant and articulate what I expected from my head coaches in order to prepare me for future head coaching opportunities. Having been a head coach in between assistant positions has only further heightened my expectations.

Here are some important aspects of the coaching profession that I believe to be important:

1. GET AN EDUCATION – Head coaches should be sharing their basketball knowledge base (and vice versa) with their assistants. Not only with their entire philosophy/system but also with other x’s and o’s they have learned along the way that they may or may not implement in their program. Offensive and defensive systems, team drills, player development, scouting techniques, etc. are just some of the knowledge that should be transferred from the head coach to his/her assistants.

2. EXPAND YOUR NETWORK – Head coaches should be introducing their assistants to key players in their coaching and recruiting networks. This will help their assistants to forge new relationships and meet an entirely new cohort of individuals. Furthermore, when assistants are ready or forced to find another coaching position, these newly forged coaching contacts may be what lands them their next coaching spot. From a recruiting standpoint, programs will only be as good as the student-athletes that are in the program and expanding recruiting contacts will most definitely strengthen and/or expand current recruiting territories.

3. BE CHALLENGED – Head coaches should constantly challenge their assistants from a responsibility and pressure standpoint. Great assistants must readily embrace time management dilemmas and also prove their worth in recruiting, which the head coach must constantly push to the max. Another aspect that is important for the head coach to allow the assistant to grow is in the realm of decision-making. Allowing his/her assistants the freedom and confidence to quickly problem solve, improvise and perform while under pressure/adversity is an essential skill for assistants to obtain.

4. LEARN HOW TO BUILD A PROGRAM – In order for assistants to be prepared to run their own program someday, assistants must learn what that entails. Running a student-centered, holistic program is how I shaped my basketball program, which included but was not limited to the following: education/graduation, basketball (preseason, season, postseason), team building/communication, recruiting, media relations, social media, community relations, alumni/boosters, fundraising/camps, etc. Each of these categories has multiple sub-categories that need to have a plan in order to effectively execute them. Mapping out a weekly, monthly and yearly calendar is essential when building a program. Remember that, “a goal without a plan is just a dream.”

5. BE UNDERSTANDING – Head coaches need to show the necessary compassion and empathy for their assistants as people, not just as workers and staff members. Truly caring about their assistants’ family and time is something that is very important to keep assistants working hard and building an open and honest rapport where genuine feedback and thoughts can be shared without fear. In addition, a simple “thank you” or “I appreciate you” from head coaches can go a long way in showing how much they understand the sacrifices their staff members make throughout the year.

Head coaches must understand that assistants make or break their program. Mixed messages from the coaching staff on the court or during the recruiting process can be disastrous. I was lucky enough to have some great assistants who worked for me and because of that we had a tremendous amount of success during my time as a head coach. I prided myself on doing my very best to cater to my assistants needs and helping them reach their personal and professional goals, while still adhering to my expectations and needs.

As an assistant, I learned some great skills (organization, practice organization, x’s and o’s, etc.) from my previous head coaches and I also learned what I would do differently (communication, recruiting, player relations, etc.) from some of them as well. However, whatever education you may not be getting from your head coach that should not be an excuse for not learning it. Be resourceful; get what you lack from coaching colleagues, instructional videos, reading books, and conventions/professional organizations to name a few.

Hopefully head coaches will reflect upon these five “musts” and assess whether or not they are providing their assistants with each of them in order to fulfill their obligation as a head coach. It should be the goal of each head coach to develop a strong lineage (i.e. coaching tree).

A head coach is a leader. Leaders must take into the consideration the needs of each individual while having the best intentions of the program in mind. In this case, helping dedicated assistants and ensuring that when they become head coaches their programs will be run effectively are both positive outcomes and will help grow the game.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

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