Advice Needed: the head coach is super negative, loudly shames players during a game, makes players cry, and doesn’t give much positive feedback if any. As the assistant coach what can I do? I don’t want to over step but his behavior is bringing down the team and preventing the players from performing to their best or getting in a positive headspace.

I came across this in a volleyball coaching group. It’s a definite challenge being in that situation. The responses from the group fell into three main categories:

  • Confront the head coach
  • Talk to their boss/HR
  • Quit

I’ve written before about the assistant coach relationship with the head coach. The Influencing the head coach and Managing the head coach posts both speak to this topic. If you’ve read those you’ll probably anticipate that my suggested first step is to have a 1-on-1 with the head coach. I’m not saying it’s an easy conversation to have. But part of your role as an assistant is to help the head coach be their best.

It’s important to keep in mind there could be any number of reasons why the coach is acting they way they are. They might not realize the effect it’s having. They could be going through some personal stuff that’s playing out in their behavior. Perhaps they just don’t understand there’s potentially a better way to go because that’s how they themselves were coached. You won’t know until you talk to them. Doing so just might change things for the better.

What about the reporting up the chain and/or to HR option? Certainly, if you judge the coach to be abusive you are obligated to report that. If that’s not the case, though, going over someone head is rarely a good idea – especially if they don’t know it’s going to happen. That’s a good way to make things worse instead of better.

If you don’t think you can help make the situation better – either via conversation or by doing things which offset the negativity without crossing loyalty lines – then leaving is the probably the way you need to go. Being in that environment is likely a source of unhealthy stress, and you don’t want to have your reputation stained.

What do you think?

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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