Teach, Mentor, & Learn more about yourself

written by Erica Quam

Qualities Head Coaches often look for when hiring assistant coaches:

  • Someone who is loyal, honest, & trustworthy
  • Someone who has good people skills & follows through in recruiting
  • Someone who is organized & shows initiative
  • Someone who works hard, is dependable, and is willing to do any task
  • Someone who is professional and ethical

Additional qualities you may not have thought much about:

  • Someone with a strong desire to learn and gain experience - in all areas of coaching
  • Someone who brings strengths to compliment your "areas for growth”
  • Someone YOU can also learn from
  • Someone to offer you a different perspective...if you ask
  • Someone to give you valuable feedback...if you are open
  • Someone with a much needed sense of humor

The assistant

A lot of young assistant coaches are like sponges. Many got into coaching because they are passionate about the sport and want to help develop athletes - like the coaches who helped them. Now, as they transition from the role of an athlete to a coach, they want to learn what happens behind the scenes and above the surface of the water. As a swimmer, they made up all kinds of stories in their heads as to what their coaches actually did on a daily basis. Now they actually get to find out and experience it all for themselves. They watch and learn from everything you do as the Head Coach. 

You are a model to them each day as you make decisions, write workouts, plan the budget, and handle the array of unexpected challenges that you face each day. It’s easy to skip over formal conversations, evaluations, or meetings because you are around each other so much; however, you both will benefit from having more frequent meetings and exchanging specific & direct feedback with one other.

Two big questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you taking the time to prepare your assistant(s) so that you can fully utilize their skills, knowledge, and talent within your program?
  2. Are you helping to teach them skills in the areas that they need to grow and preparing them for "that next step"?...even if the next step is to be an even better coach on your team.

With all of the other things that you have on your plate as a coach, and all the many things you have to deal with, it can be a real challenge to make sure that you are placing them high enough on your priority list.

If you happen to have a coach who is low-maintenance and takes a lot of initiative, this may not even be on your radar. You may see them as doing their job, keeping busy, and figuring it all out on their own. However, there is still room for growth...even with the most efficient assistants out there. And, when you take the time to teach them and give them opportunities to grow, you may just find you learn a few important things yourself. 

A mistake many head coaches make is to assume if their assistant coaches aren't asking for help or support, then they just don't need it. They do! Everyone needs it! They may not ask you because you haven't offered...or they just think you are too busy.

The reality is, people need to be seen, heard, and valued - even coaches. All it takes - for a lot of growth - is a simple plan, a little time, and your ability to follow through. They are worth it and you are worth it - and ultimately this is a win for you both.

Develop a game plan

If you've never done anything formal or structured with your assistants before, don't worry. Utilize this list of tips and ideas and add to it as you think of other areas that are important to you. Don't get too overwhelmed or try to implement it all at once. Think of this as something you can spread out over a season or even a couple years.

To keep things fresh for you as a head coach, there may be times where you want to give up some control in your role as the head coach to give them more experience. Then, consider what you can take off their plate so that they may focus and excel in these new areas.

Talk about roles, goals, & expectations

What’s your role as the head coach and what is their role as the assistant? What are you in charge of and what are they in charge of? Take the time to define those roles and then clearly communicate that to them. This simple step can be a game changer for your staff - as many assistants will take their many roles and run with it. Instead of sitting around waiting for your next direction, they can take that initiative and get started. 

Before you begin the season, have a conversation about their goals. Find out the areas they want to gain experience in to develop their confidence as a coach. Obviously you have a list of things that you need for them to do in their role as an assistant. However, as you have this conversation, you may just find where their passion truly lies and discover areas where they could contribute to the success of your program at a deeper level.

Finally, have you clearly defined your expectations of them? What exactly do they expect of you? Having this conversation up front may eliminate all kinds of confusion and assumptions right out of the gate. It’s not that you have to live up to all of their expectations. However, it is important to find out what they are thinking so that you can clarify what is realistic and unrealistic - as the head coach.

Ideas: A Checklist for Assistant Coaches

To come up with your checklist, it may be helpful to imagine writing them a letter of recommendation for their next job. Consider the skills that they need to learn, grow, and evolve as a coach within the framework of your program.

X’s & O’s

  • Plan a Practice/Write a Workout
  • Write the lineup for a meet

Even if you look over the workout and change it or give them feedback, this is a valuable skill that every assistant needs to practice to gain confidence in their abilities.


  • Develop a team plan or ideas to improve academic support


  • Have them help plan the budget 

Even giving them research to do for part of your budget can be a valuable experience to add to their resume.


  • Go to a fundraising event for the athletic department
  • Talk to them about what is important to know to speak with the donors at your institution

Community Service

  • Plan and/or oversee the athletes at an event during the season!


  • Develop a recruiting plan for your team
  • Talk about what is important to communicate when they begin to make recruiting calls
  • Go with you to do a home visit 
  • Talk about scholarship (if applicable)

Leadership & Personal Development

  • Develop their own coaching philosophy
  • Develop their signature style as a leader
  • Learn to better communicate across an array of communication styles

What other things will you add to your list? 

To wrap up, when you put in the time to mentor and teach your assistant coaches, the word will spread! The next time you have to hire an assistant, you’ll have a plan and a better pool of candidates as a result. What better legacy to leave than an assistant coach who goes on to carry out the things that you taught them?

You make a huge difference to them!! 

Has this article inspired you?  Please pass it along!  Do you have any insight or ah-ha's that you got from reading it?  Share 'em below!