Go to Archive Index September 1, 2013     Newsletter #19

Dear Coaches, Players, Friends,

Today's Quotes
"A team should be an extension of a coach's personality. My teams are arrogant and obnoxious." - Al McGuire
"A good practice is one where the players talk and the coaches don't have to." - (regarding player communication during drills) Dr. Jim Gels, Coach's Clipboard

Today's theme is the "The Assistant Coach". What makes a good assistant basketball coach?

The first and most important attribute is to be completely loyal to your head coach. You are on the staff because of his/her invitation. This is a privilege and an opportunity given to you. Do everything you can to learn the head coach's system. Help "sell" the program and philosophy to the players, parents and fans. Make the head coach's job easier. We have seen examples of an assistant trying to undermine the head coach in an attempt to advance his/her own coaching career. This usually results in disaster for the current team and players, and is almost always detrimental to the assistant as well. Remember that oftentimes when you are applying for your own head coaching job, it's usually your head coach that can help you get that position, and will recommend you to others.

This is not to say that you should just be a "yes man" and never disagree with your head coach. You should always be looking for new things that might help the team, and discuss these ideas with the head coach. Sometimes the head coach will agree and adopt your idea, and oftentimes he/she will not. Many times I have submitted what I thought might be a pretty good play, only to have it "filed away". You have to be willing to check your ego at the door and accept that he/she is in charge. Discuss your ideas with the coach, but never behind his/her back, or with parents or players. Be humble and don't make the mistake of trying to impress others that you are smarter than your head coach.

Keep an open mind and always be willing to learn
Be a student of the game. Being an assistant is an excellent opportunity to learn about coaching... like an internship. Don't come into the position thinking that you already know everything. If you keep an open mind, you can learn something new almost every day... not only the coach's general system, but how to teach and conduct practices, run drills, motivate, deal with players, parents and administration. It's not all X's and O's by any means. A good assistant coach is one who is willing to listen more than talk, and as a result, becomes more and more knowledgeable each year. Ask questions. Keep a notepad at practice and jot things down.

Understand your role
Just what is your job? What does your head coach want you to do? When I first started as an assistant years ago, that was my first question for my head coach in a summer camp. He answered, "Just learn and teach." Your role is defined by your head coach. Your role may evolve over time as you are entrusted with more and more responsibility. Don't expect to come in on day one and start running practices or calling the shots from the bench. At first, you must be willing to spend most of your time listening and learning the system. Understand your role on the sideline during games. Some head coaches will want your input and advice, especially after you have learned the system. Others may want you to be silent. Help maintain a positive, upbeat attitude with players on the bench. Encourage and teach. Observe the opponent's strengths and weaknesses. You may want to keep track of player fouls, time-outs, etc. Be ready to help with player first aid and injuries. Your head coach doesn't have time to apply bandages, tape, stop nosebleeds, get ice, etc. Understand your role in the locker room, in team meetings, and during time-outs. Don't speak unless your head coach invites you to do so. Keep track of the time at halftime. There is little time in a time-out... have the clipboard and marker ready, and be quiet and let the head coach do the talking.

Positively interact with coaches, players, parents and fans
By far, my greatest reward as an assistant coach are the friendships and relationships that I have enjoyed over the years with the coaches, players, parents and fans. Respect and develop your special relationship with other assistant coaches. It's a lot of fun if you are all on the same page and work together. It's no fun and detrimental to the program if the assistants are at odds with each other.

Get to know your players. Earn their respect. Be a role model. Ask them about their schoolwork and classes, and stress how education is far more important than basketball. Help teach them how to be part of a team. Sometimes players will come to you instead of going directly to the head coach. You can serve as a "buffer", and sometimes you get to be the "good cop". Listen, understand, explain, encourage, teach. Help each player on the team to feel important, even the 15th man. From time to time, I will take aside a player who is not getting much playing time and explain to him/her why I think he/she is important to the team. Help maintain a positive, competitive atmosphere, and have fun with your players.

One advantage of being an assistant coach is not having to directly deal with parents, and their questions about playing time, strategy, etc. Instead, I try to get to know the parents as a friendly liaison, occasionally explaining in a general way why we do certain things the way we do. Mainly, I try to compliment parents on the great kids that we get to work with, and I like to relate amusing or touching anecdotes about their own child. Most parents are good people who are just concerned for their own child, as they should be.

Look and act professional. Be clean and dress neatly. Conduct yourself in a positive, friendly manner. Get along with others. Do not be adversarial with opposing coaches, players and fans. Demonstrate good sportsmanship. Always be on-time for meetings, practices, games, etc. Be cordial to the officials. Once at halftime, a ref came over to me and said, "Doc, you're geting up out of your seat an awful lot for an assistant coach". My answer, "Hemorrhoids...", and we laughed. Well, not very professional I guess, but it eased things.

Being an assistant is a lot of fun... enjoy and appreciate the privilege. Also see "The Assistant Basketball Coach".

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Till next time...
Best wishes,
Dr. Jim Gels, aka "Coach Gels"
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