By Mike Woitalla
In Part 3 of our series on assistant coaches, we asked for advice for assistant coaches on how to approach their role.
Rusty Scarborough (CASL, Director of Soccer):
“Be very flexible and understanding. Be a team player and willing to do all the little things that make a team succeed.”
Bob Montgomery (New York Red Bulls, Director of Youth Programs):
“The head coach should consult you -- talk to you about, for example, who should start at right back. You can disagree, and at the end the head coach will decide which way it will be, and then you give the full support. If players ask why they didn’t get the start, you don’t say, 'Don’t ask me, I thought you’ve been great.' That’s undermining. That doesn’t work. You can disagree, and at the end the head coach will decide which way it will be, and then you give full support. Loyalty is important.”
Sam Snow (U.S. Youth Soccer, Coaching Director):
“Be ready and willing to help at training sessions with the practical aspects of moving cones, goals, etc., as well as coaching the players. Happily take on administrative duties to help the team on and off the field.
“Listen to the head coach's ideas on training activities, match tactics, player evaluations and so on, but do offer your own thoughts, even if they are contrary to the head coach. No good head coach wants an assistant who only goes along. However, when you have a different point of view from the head coach have that discussion in private. In front of the team present a unified approach.
“Be the ear to the team for the players and back to the head coach. Be first to volunteer to assist with team management, which could be washing the uniforms, paying the referees, distributing the agenda for a meeting with parents, etc.
“Be the primary first-aid giver, unless there is someone more medically qualified than you to take on that duty. Always, always, always keep an open mind to learning more about the sport, the craft of coaching, personnel management, sport administration and much more.”
Ian Barker (NSCAA, Director of Coaching of Education):
“To respect the position of the head coach and be more than willing to support them is critical for the effective assistant. As an assistant one has to appreciate that sometimes, often in adversity, one may be overlooked or asked to do something less “important” than direct players and coach the game. If the assistants can appreciate that and trust that the head coach is not abusing the privilege of their support then they are performing a critical role well. ...
"The effective assistant coach should be ready to collect cones, bag balls etc., and have enough confidence and technical, tactical knowledge to support the players and head coach in performance."
Gerry McKeown (PDA, Boys Director of Coaching):
“Learn about the person and program you are working with to make sure you can use your skill set to benefit the players. It will be important to have an open mind and learn as much as you can as no one has all the answers.
“You should have a strategy that allows you to support the type of personality you will be working with, even if it means temporarily adapting. Being an assistant can be a challenging proposition, particularly when working with someone that you are incompatible with. Many young assistants take jobs to gain entry into the industry and are working with programs or systems that do not match their vision of the game.
“In these cases it is important to remain positive and find private moments to have constructive dialogue for the betterment of the team. If these attempts are unsuccessful it is critical that you remain publicly supportive but keep a ledger of things that you would not condone when you become a head coach. As my grandmother once said "No man is useless, he can always serve as a bad example."
Tim Schulz (Rush Soccer, President & CEO):
“The player can view the assistant as a substitute teacher, meaning, "Ah, what he says is not as important." This is difficult to overcome. You must let the player know you have as much authority as the head coach. Especially on the boys side, you must command a presence … at the right time!"
Read Part 1 of our assistant coach series HERE and Part 2 HERE.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)