What you should know before taking an assistant coach position

An up-and-coming coach (I presume) asked the following question.

What are some things you wish you knew or had asked prior to taking your position?

NCAA Division I assistant coaches were the specific target, though most of the response applies across levels.

Your role

For me, the big question that comes to mind is what the head coach sees as my role. Early in my career I was in a position where I was effectively excluded from the practice planning. It was really annoying! I was trying to learn, and here I can’t take part in what I considered a key part of the job. That’s something I would have liked to know ahead of time. Might have made a different decision whether to take the position.

Head coach style/philosophy

I think you also want to try to get as much of a feel as you can with regards to the head coach’s style and philosophy. This can be hard in an interview type situation, or even in a more casual conversation. Ideally, you get to see the coach in action. That’s not always possible, though.

What you’re trying to do is to make sure you and the head coach are basically on the same page in terms of the way things will be run. You are not always going to agree on things. That’s a given. That’s not the same, though, as having completely different perspectives on how things should work. Such a situation will make you miserable.

Off-court duties

This one is especially important for newer coaches. If you haven’t coached in a similar type of environment, you may have no idea what gets done away from the court. There is basically no such thing as the coach who just handle coaching duties – at least not in a paid position. Even juniors club teams have administrative requirements for their staff. That work load gets bigger as you progress up the ranks.

  • What’s the recruiting workload and travel schedule?
  • How much time will you spend covering athlete study hall and tracking their academic performance?
  • Do you have to help with fund raising efforts?
  • Is there any community service or outreach work to be done?
  • Do you have to drive?
  • Who handle’s recording matches and video exchange?

These represent just a few of the things that could be part of the work you do as an assistant coach.

How much longer?

You should also possibly ask about how long the head coach plans to in their position. For some you can probably guess pretty easily. For others, it’s best to at least ask.

Best to at least have some idea what you’re getting yourself into before signing on!

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

2 comments

  1. KELLY DANIELS says:

    Sometimes you really hit the nail on the head for me!!!
    I wish I had this knowledge 20yrs ago when I signed on as an assistant for a NAIA program. It was my first collegiate experience and assistant position. Having only coached club ball at the time, I was always a head coach. So I was looking to seriously increase my coaching knowledge.
    #1 We definitely had different coaching philosophies. Being military minded, I do as told/asked by those in charge. Yet, it was a challenge to follow through when the philosophy, ‘women can do the same thing as men’ was constantly stated and expected. Wish I had know that prior to taking the job. We were trying to run a ‘swing offense’ because the USA Men’s program was successful in doing so. Our athletes were not fast or athletic enough, nor proficient enough in passing to execute the offense. That was not factor in with the HC decision to stay with the offense despite not being able to execute the system. All discussions leading to ‘the athletes are not as physical as the USA Men’s National team’, resulted in her philosophy of equality and the athletes are not trying hard enough.
    #2 I was not included in planning training at any level. Conditioning, I was just a supervisor. Practice it was do it this way and only this way. No deviation. Recruiting…never mind.
    In the end the athletes lean toward me for leadership vice the head coach. I resigned a couple months after season because I knew my coaching career would suffer if fired for becoming a distraction.
    Full disclosure…A couple years later I happen to be visiting my son while he was in college. He told me that my former program was in a tournament across the street from his school. We went to watch the tournament. I found out from one of the athletes talking to my son, the AD was truly disappointed why I had left the program. The AD was on vacation when I resigned and didn’t know why I had left. She found out through the athletes when they had enough and requested a meeting with the AD and Athlete Welfare Director after I resigned. The athletes were just told I wasn’t happy coaching with the program by the HC.
    I completely agree with this posting. It is imperative that potential assistant coaches know what they are getting into prior to signing on. I was happy to have the opportunity, but it was an opportunity that did not achieve any goals I had set for myself. ‘Had I known then, what I know now,’ comes to mind! 😉

  2. Gary Hutt says:

    This is a really useful insight John, thanks for sharing. I think all of the above applies in every coaching set-up, with a few slight tweaks to the tasks involved, even Strength and Conditioning coaching! When getting into a career it’s important to understand what a week-in-the-life of someone doing the role looks like. Perhaps another idea for an article?
    More great content like this would be very valuable.

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