The following emailer seeks some advice. I present the text of their note here, with my reply below, in hopes of generating some discussion. I know there are a number of current and/or former collegiate assistant coaches who read the blog. Hopefully, we can get something going based on different kinds of experience.
I recently graduated in December and was offered to be the assistant women’s volleyball coach. I am in an awkward transition from being a student athlete to now coaching my former teammates. I have coached club volleyball for the last 5 or 6 years, but I have never coached at the college level. I am a member of the AVCA and submitted an application to receive a mentor, but they are unable to match me just yet. Do you have any advice by chance? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!
It can definitely be a challenge to have to coach former teammates. I did a bit of it back when I was doing some coaching after high school. Mainly, though, I was a drill facilitator rather than someone providing real coaching. Though I did push to try to develop a quick attack. Unfortunately, the head coach wasn’t really interested in pursuing it (much to my frustration!)
If you’re working with a head coach who has a pretty strong presence with the team then things probably won’t be too difficult for you with respect to your former teammates. They will just see you as being Coach’s helper more than actually being someone who’s telling them what to do. That’s not a bad thing. It makes it really easy for you to take a learning approach.
Either way, though, I think the key for you developing a good working relationship with them is taking a “providing information” angle on your interactions. By that I mean try to avoid coming off as telling them what to do. That could be tough for former teammates to take. Instead, try to think of the sorts of things you wanted to hear from your coaches – scouting information, stats on their play, video of what they’re doing, encouragement, a kick in the butt at the right time, etc.
Potentially the biggest challenge will be developing a professional relationship with your former teammates. You can have a friendly relationship with them, but you can’t be their buddy anymore. You’re their coach now. Yes, assistant coaches tend to be closer to the players in that regard, but there are boundaries which you have to establish and maintain. You need to be able to view them objectively and work with them without personal entanglements which can create all kinds of problems.
Definitely talk with your head coach about this stuff. They should be able to help guide you.
And one last thing. A coaching staff is like a set of parents. It should always present a unified front to the team. That means you do not contradict the head coach or another assistant in front of the team or when speaking with any of the players. And you never do anything which might damage another coach’s standing with the team – or anyone else, for that matter.
Here’s some additional advice on being a good assistant.