Inevitably, as an assistant coach, there are times when you don’t agree with the head coach in some way. I’ve been in a number of assistant roles (see my resume), so I speak from experience here.

As a newbie coach, that might be a simple function of lack of understanding, perhaps combined with the hubris that tends to come with ignorance and inexperience (see the Dunning-Kruger effect). In that case, it’s important to ask questions so you can figure out the head coach’s motives and perspective. There could very well be reasons for their decisions you never thought of. Or your basis for a certain thought process might be flawed.

As a more experienced coach, though, you likely have better knowledge and a more realistic basis for presenting ways to do things better. If you have strong feelings about thate, this is where your ability to influence comes into play. There are some important things to keep in mind, though.

It’s the head coach’s final decision

The first thing you must always keep in mind as an assistant coach is that the head coach has final say. If they make a decision, then you must go along with it (unless, of course, there’s a legal or health & safety issue). It’s that simple. Do what is expected of you, then revisit the subject later as appropriate.

Pick your battles

It’s important not to waste time or emotion on things that are not likely to change. Sometimes the head coach will not consider a change, no matter what you say. You don’t want to keep pushing them on that. It will only cause problems with your relationship.

Understand the head coach’s rationale

If you really want to have a chance at winning the head coach over to your position, you should first understand theirs. Ask questions to get an explanation. You’re going to have a harder time convincing them of your position if you don’t understand theirs and how it relates to what you’re proposing. This will give you a sense of the strengths and weaknesses in both your case and theirs.

Have your supporting arguments ready

If there is something you want to get the head coach to change, don’t walk into that conversation with nothing more than your beliefs. Have some supporting justification for it. That’s definitely not a guarantee you’ll get them to change their mind, but at least is shows you put real thought into the matter. It will also better let you address the rationale mentioned above that they are likely to challenge you with. And if you can somehow demonstrate objectively that your approach is an improvement, find a way to do it.

Be patient

Even if you have really good arguments, keep in mind that getting the head coach to change their thinking on something is probably not going to be be like flipping a switch. You may have to bring them around to your perspective gradually. Be prepared for that and keep working them in your direction. Make it a gentle process, though. Hard shoves tend to cause people to stiffen their resistance.

It’s all about persuasion

As coaching legend Julio Velasco has said, coaching is about persuading. The same is true with respect to working with a head coach as an assistant. To that end, it’s definitely worth taking the time to develop your persuasive skills.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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