Five Reminders From my first year as a head coach

written by Erica Quam


I still remember my very first day of work at Washington State University. I was a 26 year old first-year head coach. I showed up in my boss's office on July 1st, 2002 at 8am, sharp - my backpack on, coffee in hand, ready to be put through my paces. I was wide-eyed and ready to learn the ropes.

My boss welcomed me into her office. Then, she introduced me to her assistant who gave me keys to my office and a brief checklist - to get my email setup, schedule my faculty orientation, and other 'new person' logistics. 

I walked into my dark new office that had blank walls and an empty desk. I didn't even have a computer yet. So, I sat there for a few minutes and just stared forward. "Well, now what, Quam?," I asked myself. "What have you gotten yourself into?"

Here are 5 reminders I now share with new head coaches to support them through this transition:


You can't be anyone else. You can only be you. Get comfortable being yourself - even in the midst of uncertainty, discomfort, and change.

If you haven't figured out your own values, it's time to do some work. Your values will likely be tested right away...meaning, you'll be tempted to shift who you are to fit the values of other you can fit into your new surroundings. 

It can be a little harder to be yourself and risk standing out. Use your values like a compass to help point you in the direction you know you want to go. 


Charles Feltman defines trust as, "choosing to make something that's important to me, vulnerable to the actions of someone else." Stepping into the arena as a head coach leaves you - and all the many decision you'll make - open to the judgement and criticism of others. You'll have staff, athletes, parents, and administrators questioning what you do. That's a vulnerable position to be in.

Despite all the people you'll be trying to please, the hardest person to trust is yourself.

It's tempting to second guess things during your first year as a head coach. The question I get most often from the new head coaches I work: "Do you think I'm doing this 'right'?"

It's less about doing it "right" and more about doing your own thing. What you're doing every year is simply "R & D" - research and development. It's not about right and wrong. There's more than one way to do things. Everyone will have their own way and their own opinion.

Use your own instincts. Try what you think will work best. Make a decision and then trust yourself. You'll find what works for you. Take imperfect action and stay curious about how you can improve.


Before you can lead anyone else, you have to be able to lead yourself. You've got to be in tune with what you're thinking, feeling, and wanting because you'll be bringing that with you into all of your relationships.

If you know what's going on inside of yourself (your thoughts, feelings, & wants) you'll be better able to maintain calm - even when people disagree and resist your decisions. You'll be more able to keep things in perspective. 

Leading yourself doesn't mean that you go it alone and are independent. It means you stay connected to yourself and to others. Seek input from people you can trust to be honest and have your best interest in mind.


You build belief in yourself through every decision you make and experience you have as a head coach. 

Everything you'll do will be new at the beginning. No matter how much experience you had as an assistant coach, being in charge is different. There will be times when you doubt yourself and your ability to handle the challenges you'll face. 

Think about past situations you’ve been through and you may recognize a common pattern:

  1. You commit to a result.

  2. You have the courage to move forward.

  3. Out of that come the capabilities you need.

  4. Once you achieve your result, you have confidence.

(The 4 C's by Dan Sullivan)

Remember...for most people (if they're being really honest) the confidence doesn't come first. It's the commitment that comes first. Most veteran coaches I know will readily admit they still question themselves and have doubts from time to time. What changes is their ability to take action despite doubt, fear, or uncertainty.

There will be times when you'll simply have to take action and make a decision...even when you don't feel certain and even if you aren't feeling confident. Your team relies on you to be the leader and make the call.

Believe in yourself - knowing that you're doing the best that you can with the information you have - and learning from each experience.


One of the first things I did when I got hired at WSU was to hire a coach to work with me regularly throughout the season.

I felt fortunate because I did have support. I had the opportunity to attend a women's coaching summit as an assistant coach - with an amazing group of coaches. So, I had a built-in group of 13 female coaches who I knew I could call if I needed something. I also knew they were just as busy as me throughout the year.

So, the game-changer for me was having a weekly time blocked out to talk with my coach about what was going on with me and my team. This may sound unnecessary...until you actually experience what steady, consistent support feels like. 

The investment to work with a coach provided me the accountability I needed to step away from my endless 'to-do' list and actually sit down to reflect: what was going well, what wasn't going great, and what specifically could I change to improve?

Some weeks, I didn't think I needed a coaching call. Ironically, those were usually the weeks I got the most out of our time together! By talking through situations with someone else, I got more clear on what I needed to do. Working with a coach was the best thing I did - for myself and for my team.

Remember these five things and you'll be well on your way to making a positive impact as a head coach. It's not as much about the x's and o's. It's the work you do to understand yourself - your own strengths and areas for growth - that will help you better understand and work with your athletes, staff, and administration.

Now, it's your turn. What'd I miss? What reminder would you pass along to other coaches that can help them navigate through a coaching transition? Share in the comments below.