Here’s an interesting question from a Facebook group for head coaches working with new assistants.
For those of you who get an assistant coach who maybe understands how to play volleyball, but doesn’t understand the intricacies of how to coach it, what do you do to help THEM learn how to coach. How do you utilize them?
The poster went on to add, “He doesn’t know the lingo, the specific drills we run, etc.” to provide further context. So clearly it isn’t someone who played for this particular coach. That means there’s a lot to learn in terms of specifics on top of more general concepts. Let me share how I’d approach things.
This goes for all assistants, not just those without a coaching background. Start by laying out the expectations and how you do things. Be very straightforward about this. Answer any and all questions you can. You won’t cover every possible thing that could come up, of course, but make sure you hit all all the big stuff. Think of it as a reference point for the “Remember when I said…” conversations that might have to happen down the line.
Explain your plan before practice
A great way to get someone trained up as an assistant is to walk them through the plan for your practice. This is where they can learn terminology, the drills you use, etc. Explain why you’re doing things and their role in each activity. Don’t expect them to retain it all right away, though. Just like with the players, it can take a new assistant going through a drill or a game to really understand how it works and what they’re supposed to do.
Keep their focus narrow
Over time you’ll figure out the best ways to make use of an assistant based on their strengths, interests, etc. In the early stages as they are learning, though, make sure you focus them fairly narrowly. That gives them the opportunity to get stuff right while also taking in the bigger picture.
Make it a rule that if there’s any doubt at all, they should ask you. The last thing you want is to have to stop them doing something because they didn’t understand and are doing it incorrectly. That means you have to be open to questions. Obviously, there are times when questions are a distraction you don’t want. Make sure they know when those times are, but otherwise be open to them.
Lots of feedback
Just like you want to give your players feedback as part of their development, make sure you do that with your new assistant. This is probably not something you want to do in front of the team (definitely not if it’s negative!), so do it away from them. Tell them the things you want them to keep doing, and tell them the stuff you want them not to do anymore. In the latter case, make sure to tell them what you want instead.
A great time to give feedback and to answer questions is in a debrief session after practice or a match. Having seen how things went, they’re in a better position to understand and know what questions to ask. You can also use the time to talk about what you see for the next session. That way they can get a better sense of your thinking and your perspective on things.
Give them resources
If there’s anything specific you want them to learn, point them toward resources so they can do some homework. There are loads of articles, books, and videos you can share. You might even already have stuff you give to the team covering things like serve receive patterns by rotation, defensive systems, and set calls to get them going on those subjects.
The last thing I would say is to be patient in their learning process. You can’t expect them to get everything right away. And you definitely can’t expect them to know what you’re thinking or how you want things done if you don’t explain it. They are there to help you, and by extension your team. Keep them motivated to continue learning. Play to their strengths, and as they demonstrate competency, expand their role.
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