Coaching youth soccer requires wearing many hats. The amount of work required to coach a soccer team can a lot for one person to handle. One person managing fifteen or more players at one time is exhausting. Every player has different needs. Enter assistant coaches.
Assistant coaches can be a great solution to balance out the workload. Assistant coaches are useful for every sport. Many great head coaches started as an assistant coach. At the professional team sport level, teams have multiple coaches, even dozens in some sports like American football.
Below I compiled a list of tips for assistant coaches.
All relationships start with good communication. Talk often and early with the head coach to understand the expectations he or she has for you. Consider a few questions to ask if you are stumped!
- What does the head coach expect of me?
- What are my roles and duties?
- What does the head coach dislike doing?
- How do they like information delivered?
- Where do I best serve the team?
Some coaches want real-time information while others want to have a meeting to receive all your thoughts at once. It is best to determine the coaching style of the head coach. I prefer to have the information as it comes, but everyone does things a bit differently.
Ask questions! Speak up! Don’t be afraid to clarify if you don’t understand something. Too many people make assumptions which can lead to bad outcomes. The best way to make sure you are on the same page is to clarify.
Become an Expert
Great assistant coaches go deep into their subject matter to understand the game. This allows them to see the game from a different perspective. There are so many great online and offline resources to become an expert on the fundamentals of the game. True mastery starts the fundamentals.
Bruce Lee once said, I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Between YouTube, blogs like PSC, and US Soccer training guides, you can pave the way to mastery. For starters, here are a few age-specific and drill guides for you to check out. U8, U10, U12, dribbling, finishing, and passing.
Another tip to go deeper into your expertise is to study your opponents and watch film. Some coaches even go as far as watching other sports to pick up new ideas. Use everything within your reach.
Deliver the Same Message
All coaches need to be on the same page. If there are multiple coaches saying a different message, players and parents will be confused. If you ever watch post-game interviews of pro sports, you will notice the coaches of the same team essentially speak the same language. This is no accident! Everyone is in sync. While you likely won’t be doing press conferences, this also applies to how to communicate to players, referees, parents, and the opposing team.
If you are unsure, ask to avoid any miscommunication or ask the person to discuss it with the head coach. For example, a parent comes up to you and ask why their child isn’t getting more playing time. Parents might see you as an easy person to talk to. This might be a better discussion to have with a head coach because they make the ultimate decision. It is way better to not answer than saying something out of line that you have to backtrack on.
Understand Your Role Within the Organization
Just remember you are the assistant coach. Your role is to be a loyal supporter of the head coach. Make the head coach look as good as possible. Regardless of your feelings towards the direction of the program, you are to support the head coach and their vision. This is the head coach’s time to shine. They will get all the praise if you all win the championship and they will get all the blame if the season tanks.
In the simplest terms: support, don’t lead. Direction comes from the head coach even when you feel you might have a better solution.
Traits of Great Assistant Coach – Loyal, Hard-working, Reliable
The head coach should never have to worry about you. You are the most dependable person by showing up to practice and games early and sticking with the plan even through the toughest of times. This allows all coaches to focus on the players and their development. These qualities allow you to ensure you will rise to the next level and take on more responsibility. Just ask yourself what qualities you would like in your coach.
If your aspirations are to be the top dog, the best way to get that is a glowing recommendation from the current position. The best way to get promoted is to do a great job in your current job. If you always look for new ways to help the team get to the next level, you increase your odds of getting what you want. Who doesn’t like a person that is constantly trying to help you get to the next goal?
Show by Example
Players and parents are constantly watching how you conduct yourself on and off the pitch. People subconsciously judge whether they are meaning to or not. Do your best to lead by example. Kids are definitely taking note. It is amazing to see what they can pick up.
For instance, if the referee makes a bad call, keep your cool. I wrote an article on dealing with bad referees that you can find here. Or if you expect the players to be on time, you should do the same. Players want to respect their coaches. Leading by example is the best way to earn it.
Also, even though you might not be the head coach, you can still have a tremendous impact on the people around you. When I played football in high school, I had more interactions with my assistant coaches than my head coach. Because of that, they had a bigger impact on me.
Complement the Coach’s Weaknesses
Find what ways you can bring value to the organization. The easiest way to do so is the thing that everyone dislikes to do. It is the quickest way to be to provide value in ways that others don’t. You will soon become invaluable. In the restaurant business, no one wants to clean the restroom because it is the most degrading work. Luckily, there are no bathrooms in soccer. But, you get the idea.
Having two people that do the same thing well doesn’t help your team or players succeed. Coaches should complement each other’s skillsets.
If you are in need of some inspiration, read the stories of successful sports coaches to see that doing the dirty work is the fastest path to get what you want. People that are willing to do whatever it takes are more likely to get what they want and help their team succeed. Great leaders are the ones who understand all aspects of the job.
You Are a Reflection of the Head Coach
Everything you say and do is a reflection of the head coach and the organization. In particular, be careful about how you speak around the parents. Any negative criticism or offhand comments about the coach can come back to others in a way you didn’t intend. No one wants to be called into the coach’s office! There should be a level of professionalism when speaking with others about the team and the coaching staff. Be a positive sales spokesperson for the team.
Be friendly with players and parents to get to know them on a personal level. This can help bridge the gap. Understand each player’s individual issues and make particular players feel important. Lending a second ear to players and parents allows you and the head coach to get ahead of issues before they arise. Deal with issues before they become unmanageable. This keeps the trust between the assistant and the head coach. Trust is the foundation for any great team.
If you have a disagreement with the head coach. Keep the conversation inhouse. Don’t air your dirty laundry for the public to know. As a family, handle your internal affairs close to your chest.
Be the eyes and ears of the head coach to stay one step ahead. There is a lot on a head coach’s mind. This could include keeping track of the timeouts remaining, playing time of each player, or the amount of time left at halftime, among many other things. The best assistant coaches fix issues before they ever arise. If the water cooler is low, get more water before it runs out. Some other ideas include setting up the next drill so there is no break in practice or assisting an injured player during practice.
Hard Work Beats Talent
Not everyone is a born coach. I remember when I first started coaching, I made a ton of mistakes. I was far from a natural. But, I kept at it and continue to learn to say and instruct in new ways. Few things beat out hard work. A lot of shortcomings are overlooked by those who hustle. If you take care of the work, the work will take care of you. This is the one thing that you can control.
I never get mad at anyone who tries their hardest even if the result isn’t what they expect. The best way to get to the next level is to put in the time and work hard.
Be Detailed Oriented
A head coach has a lot on their mind. An assistant coach is there to focus on the details. When there are so many players on the pitch at one time, it is easy for one person to miss something. A good assistant coach will pick up the pieces.
For instance, one player needs more guidance on how to stop the ball, but the head coach is preoccupied with directing the team to the next drill. Assistant coaches are great for giving individual guidance to players. It helps fills in the gaps and provides a great environment for players to improve. This individual attention gives players the motivation to keep playing. When an assistant gives individual attention to one player, it helps the team as well.
Listen More Than You Speak
Coach receives information from all angles. Parents, players, referees, and the list goes on. One of the job of the assistant coach is to give high-quality information. Here you can filter out the nonsense and deliver the most important information. With better information, the head coach can make better decisions. Better decisions lead to better outcomes. And the cycle continues. The best way to do this is to listen more often than you speak.
Great assistant coaches keep detailed notes of the sessions, games, and conversations. Some people have remarkable memories. I’m not one of those types of people. I have to write down everything. Do what helps you get the clearest information.
Develop a Curiosity for the Game
Be in a growth state of awareness. Coaches should learn just as much as their players. There is usually never one way to do something. Once you understand there is always something to learn, the game never gets boring. It’s the same reason top-level coaches are always making changes; they are adapting to put their team in the best position to win. It is a dangerous mindset to think that you have all the answers. Kids can teach as much about the game as coaches do.
I’ve learned that open-minded coaches learn the most. Coaches learn something new every day if they keep their eyes peeled.
One way to do this is to ask questions! It is the best way to learn. Ask the players if they enjoyed the practice or understand the lesson. Ask parents if they understand the plan for the season. Ask the head coach what the purpose of a session is. ABC – Always be curious. Here is a list of a few questions.
- Is there a different way to teach the same skill?
- How does this player best learn?
- What does the team need most at this time?
Small Actions Need to be Done
There are so many small actions each team needs to take. Teams are a collection of small decisions done correctly. As an assistant, you can do the small actions that support the large ones to best help the team. Here are a list of things to consider: hydration, setting up the field, cleaning up the field, supervising the locker room, locking up, putting together the practice schedule, communicating with teachers about grades, and bringing extra equipment for practice.
As I mentioned above, if you pair this with being proactive, you have a winning recipe for a great assistant coach.
Learn to Disagree
Good coaches don’t want you to be a yes man. Master the art of saying no or providing a different perspective. Head coaches don’t have all the answers. They will rely on you for an honest opinion. This is a bit tricky because delivery is important. People’s egos are involved. Ask what is the best way to deliver a different opinion. Don’t be afraid to express your views. At the end of the day, your opinion might not be the ultimate decision, but it is important to speak up.
The forum of where to disagree is equally important. Having an argument in front of parents or players might not be the best time or place to do so. Create time and place to talk through disagreements to avoid confusion amongst the team or supporting teammates. I’ve found it is best to have an honest conversation at a venue where other people can’t overhear you.
Make Your Intentions Know
If your goal is to be a head coach one day, express your interest. Once you tell the world, you are more likely to make this happen. When we tell people publicly what we want to do, we are more likely to follow through because we fear embarrassing ourselves in front of others. Being an assistant coach is a great path to a head coach. Experience is a powerful teacher, and it can help others help you. Once people know of your intentions, they can look for opportunities to help.
Good head coaches should want to help you get to the next stage.
This goes hand in hand with being a cheerleader for the team. Positivity is infectious. Have you ever been around an extremely positive person? They are just fun to be around. I love being around people that shine a bright light on the world. In youth sports, positive leaders help children reach their potential.
Positivity is most important when nothing seems to click and the team loses a ton of games. It is when it most difficult as well. Players and parents lose motivation. In the darkest of days, be the light and execute on the head coach’s vision. These are the moments you will learn the most.
Coaching is taking in new information and shifting strategy to develop players into their highest potential. Often a plan goes off track and does not go according to plan. For instance, the team you are playing has faster forwards than your defenders. The opposing team is getting many shots on goal. How do you respond?
If you are a student of the game, you will have alternative plans to compete. Head coaches will switch on a dime and you must be there to support. Eager, positive people are the best to work with especially when things are going south.
Leave the Ego at Home
As an assistant, many of your ideas might fall on flat ears. This is part of the learning process. You might be right, but the head coach decides to go in a different direction. In these moments, it is important to stay calm and supportive. Emotions can get the best of us at times.
Furthermore, the head coach might raise his or her voice at you. This isn’t a personal attack even though it might feel like one. In the heat of the game, a coach might yell because they are frustrated about something happening. Criticism isn’t an attack on your character, it is an effort to make you a more effective coach. Don’t take it personally.
Players and parents can get under your skin as well. It is our job to take their critics in stride. Understand and listen and find solutions to the problems. If you leave the ego at home, most of these tips will come to you much easier.
I often fall into the trap of being too serious. It is important to have fun. Enjoy the game and development of the players and the experience. The amount of kids that drop out of youth sports is staggering. I think part of it is because they don’t enjoy it anymore. Coaches are a big reason for this especially if they take over the game and it loses the fun factor. As one of my coaches told, fun first!
No one gets out of this alive. It’s best to laugh and enjoy it. Winning isn’t everything. It is common for adults to wrap their sense of identity up in their child’s sports league. Have a laugh, smile, and work hard. That’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.