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Peak Performance Update
April 2003

Jeff Janssen helps coaches and athletes develop the team chemistry, mental toughness, and leadership skills necessary to win championships.

The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Assistant Coaches
Thank you to the hundreds of you who responded to my recent Coaches Survey on Assistant Coaches. I appreciate you taking the time to share your insights, opinions, and experiences with me and your fellow coaches who receive this newsletter. Because of your strong response, I wanted to give you some more immediate feedback and report the results in this month's newsletter instead of waiting until May.
    How important are assistant coaches? Although their pay may not always reflect it, effective assistant coaches are vital to a program's success. Hall of Fame N.C. State women's basketball coach Kay Yow says, "When a person becomes a head coach, there is nothing more critical than the staff that you hire to work with you. If you're going to take the time and make sure about something, do as great a job there as you possibly can because it will definitely impact your career as a head coach."
In ascending order, here are the 12 most frequently mentioned qualities that head coaches want to see in their assistant coaches. If you are a head coach, see how the final list compares to the qualities you listed. If you are an assistant coach, I encourage you to rate or grade yourself on each of these 12 qualities to evaluate your particular strengths and areas for improvement.

12. Compatible Philosophy
Head coaches want assistant coaches whose overall philosophies are compatible with theirs. While the assistants don't have to agree with everything the head coach does, it is important to have similar thinking on core principles.

11. Willingness to Learn
Head coaches want assistants who are inquisitive and have a great desire to learn. They understand that assistants may not have the knowledge base and experience in some areas, but they do want people who have a yearning to grow, develop , and improve.

10. Ethical and Professional
Head coaches want assistants who act with integrity and are focused on doing the right things in the right way. They want ethical assistants who represent themselves and their program in a professional manner.

9. Honesty
Head coaches expressed a desire to have assistants who were willing to tell them the truth, even if their assistant's views disagreed with their opinion. Most head coaches indicate that they do not want a bunch of "yes" people around them who only tell them what they want to hear.

8. Great Teacher
Head coaches want their assistants to be excellent teachers of the game. It isn't enough to know the game or have played it at a high level, but head coaches want assistants who can effectively teach and transfer their knowledge and insights to the athletes.

7. Initiative
Head coaches really want their assistants to take the initiative to do what needs to be done. Instead of waiting for the head coach to tell them what to do, they want assistants who think a step ahead and take care of things on their own without much oversight or prodding.
6. Organized and Dependable
Head coaches want to be able to depend on their assistant coaches. They like assistants who are well-organized and reliable with the information and things they need, when they need them.

5. Enthusiastic Positive Attitude
Head coaches want assistants who bring their passion, excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to the program. They want positive people who have a real passion for coaching and people.

4. Hard Worker
Head coaches want assistants who willingly put in the hard work necessary to build and maintain a successful program. They want assistants who are as committed and dedicated as they are.

3. People Skills/Communicator
Head coaches want assistants who have great people skills. Assistants often have the tough job of being a link between the head coach and the athletes. It is vital to have great listening and communication skills to handle this role effectively. Plus, good people skills are absolutely vital in the recruiting process.

2. Knowledge of Game
Head coaches want assistants who have a solid knowledge of their sport. They want coaches who have the competence to teach skills and help them create effective game plans. Many coaches also expressed an interest in having an assistant with specialized knowledge of a certain area of the game - especially areas that they head coach may not be as well versed in.

1. Loyalty
Not surprisingly, the number one quality that head coaches want from their assistants is loyalty. Head coaches want assistants who are loyal to them and the program. Because head coaches are often on the defensive when it comes to fans, media, administrators, and sometimes their own athletes, they need to have an inner circle of confidants who they can trust completely.

So there you have it assistant coaches - the 12 most important qualities necessary to be a respected and valued assistant coach as identified by head coaches. Understand them, develop them, and execute them.
If you are a head coach, I encourage you to use this list when you are looking to fill an open position on your staff. Or you can use this as a tool to thoroughly evaluate the performance of your current assistant coaches.

Best Rewards About Being an Assistant
4. Opportunity to Learn
Many assistants value the opportunity to learn from experienced head coaches who serve as mentors. The assistants get to see how head coaches handle game preparation, athlete motivation, team building, and a variety of other situations. Assistants say they learn a lot about what to do - and sometimes what not to do as well.

3. Can Get Closer to Athletes
Assistant coaches appreciate the chance to develop close relationships with their athletes. Because many assistants play the "good cop" role and don't have to deal as much with playing time and discipline issues, most athletes are more willing to open up to them than the head coach.

2. Pure Coaching vs. Administration and Paperwork
Assistants love the luxury of focusing primarily on coaching. - without having all of the other responsibilities (or hassles) that are often put on the head coach. Head coaches often have obligations outside of coaching that require a lot of time and attention including things like speaking at community events, fund raising, budgeting, equipment ordering, dealing with parents, and tedious paperwork.

1. Less Pressure and Responsibility
Assistant coaches readily acknowledge that they have a lot less pressure on them than the head coach. The assistant coaches remain relatively obscure while the head coach is the person who takes the heat from administrators, parents, and fans when things go wrong. As Utah men's basketball coach Rick Majerus says about the difference between being a head and assistant coach, "There is a big difference between making suggestions and making decisions."

Biggest Challenges About Being an Assistant
5. Doing the Grunt Work
Assistant coaches don't enjoy having to do the grunt work like equipment setup, running camp, and all of the other necessary yet not fun jobs of being part of a team.

4. Go Between for Coach - Athlete Issues
Assistants found it very difficult to handle disagreements between the head coach and the athletes. Athletes often want the assistants to side with them while the head coach expects the assistant to remain loyal. It is virtually impossible to please both sides.

3. Less Respect
Like Rodney Dangerfield, assistant coaches often feel like they get no respect. The reason why assistant coaches believe that they are taken less seriously because the athletes know that the head coach has the ultimate authority.

2. No Final Say
Assistant coaches realize that they can only give recommendations and suggestions, but they don't have the final say.

1. Disagree with Head Coach
The top frustration for assistant coaches is when they disagree with the head coach. While personally they might disagree with a strategy or way a the head coach has handled a situation, they have to force themselves to publicly support the coach's decisions to the athletes and others.

Whether you are a head coach or an assistant coach, my hope is that this newsletter will serve as an important reminder about what it takes to be a valued assistant, the benefits of the role, as well as the challenges that are inherent in the position. I encourage you to invest some time to sit down as a coaching staff to discuss your thoughts on this article. It will be time well spent. Thanks again for sharing your insights on such an important topic!

(For a more in-depth discussion of the role of assistant coaches, call 1-888-721-TEAM to subscribe to The Performance Zone newsletter.)