Moving into the role of head coach is an exciting time. You've likely spent a year or two as an assistant yourself and are ready to put your skills to the test as a head coach!
While you've probably spent weekend tournaments pondering what you would do differently if you were head coach, or jotted down a few notes for yourself when your head coach overcame a difficult obstacle, you've likely got a pretty solid game plan when it comes to coaching.
However, it can be hard to coach on your own! Running drills for 12 girls at a time while trying to correct individual form and technique can be a nightmare. Having an assistant coach can be a true lifesaver!
That is, unless you have an assistant who does not mesh well with your style, or worse yet, wants to be a head coach and tries to undermine you. There are a few questions you can ask someone to determine whether or not they will be a great fit with you...
#1. Do you want to be an assistant?
That is, do you NOT want to be a head coach? Some people are control freaks, let's face it (I know because I fall into that category more often than not). If someone has their eyes on being a head coach, but has to go through the formality of being an assistant coach before they can get hired as a head coach, you may be getting yourself into trouble.
This doesn't mean that everyone who wants to be a head coach will be problematic as an assistant, but you will probably have a few instances where you butt heads. This person might also give you great ideas, but blurring the line between head coach and assistant coach should be avoided.
I have found that those who WANT to be assistant coaches have worked really well for me as assistants. People often overlook how important a good assistant is, but they really do make the entire show run smoothly. They understand that tossing balls during practice is important, and are more than happy to help lug around the ball bag and med kit at tournaments.
#2. What is your coaching philosophy?
When you're asking this question, you want to make sure you share the same coaching philosophy as your assistant. This one might be a no brainer, but if it's overlooked you could find yourself in a few awkward confrontations. If you believe that your girls should get equal playing time, and your assistant is pestering you to only play your superstars or to sit out certain players, you're going to have a bad time.
By making sure any potential assistants have the same coaching philosophy as you, you know that you'll have a great sounding board for when you're trying to make difficult decisions. Especially during high stress situations (down 11-13 in the third set), knowing that your assistant thinks the same way as you do, you can ask for help and they will reinforce whatever values you have.
On the other hand, if their philosophy is different, you might kick yourself for listening to them because afterwards you realize it was not what you would have liked to do. This can lead to trust issues and diminish your team's potential.
#3. What positions do you have experience playing?
I can't tell you how thankful I am that my assistants have always been setters. While I understand the mechanics and can teach the skill, I myself am a horrible setter. Players and parents have very little faith in you when you're trying to teach a skill (even when you know what you're talking about!) and cannot, for the life of you, show them how to do it properly.
READ MORE: 3 Reasons to Encourage Failure
Having an assistant with diversified experiences can be a tremendous help, whether you need a front row player, a libero, setter, what have you. By having a thorough understanding of all the positions (not just the ones you've played) you add credibility to your coaching staff, and can provide an even better learning environment for your players. Ask what positions someone has played, and you will know right away whether or not you'll be a good match.
#4. How would you describe your coaching personality?
Note, this is different from coaching philosophy. Coaching personality is one of my favorite topics on volleyball, because I think it makes a huge difference. If you have a coach who is constantly barking orders and making their teams run sprints, you're going to have a different type of team than the coach who plays games all practice and skimps on conditioning.
I'm a firm believer that one is not better than the other, though I could not ever see myself coaching in one of those styles. Staying true to your own personality is what is important, and coming across as authentic will make your reactions more reliable to players and parents. If I ever tried to be a drill sergeant type of coach, there would be way too many inconsistencies in my actions, which would decrease the trust I get from my team.
So after evaluating your coaching personality, determine whether or not your assistant's will compliment yours. This should not be a perfect match! Not everyone will get along with you on your team, so you may have one or two players who flat-out don't like you. That's a tough pill to swallow, but it's true.
By having a coach who is similar to you but maybe a little softer or a little tougher, you can connect with more of your players. My personal opinion is that assistant coaches should be a little softer than you, but if you know you're down that way on the spectrum, consider someone who will keep the girls focused (and maybe even you too).
By asking these four questions, you will have a better idea of whether or not someone will make a good assistant for you. While they don’t have to meet ALL the previously mentioned criteria, if you can get at least three out of the four you should be good to go!
For discussion in the closed Facebook group VOLLEYBALL COACHES CORNER:
(Questions posted April 14th, 2019)
Have you thought about your own coaching philosophy? How would you describe it?
What position(s) did you play? Do you think one position is better than the rest for head coaches to have experience in?
Have you had an experience where you DIDN’T get along with your assistant? No need to name names or share specifics, but what do you think was behind the disagreements?
Are there any other questions you ask when looking for an assistant coach?