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.

Provide information

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.

Professional relationship

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.

Be loyal

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.

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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.

    4 replies to "New assistant coach working with former teammates"

    • Michael

      The biggest issue you are going to have is when one of your previous teammates tells you something that they really don’t want the coach to know in that player to player confidence. You will struggle with the do I tell the Head Coach or do I keep this to myself. If it is something that might impact the team’s performance, you have no choice and must pass the information on to the Head Coach.

      • John Forman

        Michael – I would venture to say that happens with non-teammates as well. I know I’ve certainly been in that position as an assistant coach. It does, though, perhaps happen a bit more in a former teammate circumstance.

    • Kelly Daniels

      I read the comment as male trying to interpret females. Having been in this position with having a former teammate as one of my assistant. What I know now had I known then could have made a major impact on the performance of our team. My assistant was not only a former athlete at the college, but a former athlete who I coach in club. So we had very strong ties. She knew she had to separate coach and former, but was very difficult to do. Female have a strong bond between each other and breaking trust is the hardest thing to overcome with females. My former athlete told me things years later after leaving the program that I thought was in a sense betrayal. Yet, I come to understand that establishing that relationship was paramount between former teammate and now coach. It did workout in the long run, but I think we sacrificed our season to establish. The following season we had a run that was so awesome it seem to pale the previous season turmoils.
      I come let former teammates establish that relationship as females do and males as they do. Their isn’t a specific way that is done. Head Coach should let it happen because in my experience it works out in the long run. We as head coaches must keep our eyes on the big picture and not just one part.

      • Michael

        If your comment is meant to imply that I was talking about either gender, you would be in error. As an assistant in exactly this position, I dealt with just the scenario I outlined. That scenario forced me to understand that I was no longer the player’s close friend and instead a coach who’s loyalty and priority has to be to my “employer,” that would be the head coach, and the team.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.