University of Arkansas Head Women’s Coach Mike Neighbors was a long-time and very productive D1 assistant coach after being a successful high school coach.
He has seen from many vantage points what it takes for an assistant to contribute to a program. Scroll below to read some of his thoughts:
This is the second part of the article. If you missed the first part, here is the Link: Trust, Talent, Time Part 1
TRUST, TALENT, TIME Part 2
HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF EVERY ASPECT OF PROGRAM… while you want to be Head Coach of your main areas of responsibility it is also crucial to have a grasp of all aspects of the program. You don’t have to have the depth of knowledge in these areas, but is important to know they exist and are valuable to the head coach. This can be done without stepping on toes of those in charge of those areas. The best of best do this.
WANT IT RIGHT NO MATTER WHO HAS THE IDEA… Being an assistant coach is very competitive even within staffs at times. But the very best staffs embrace this idea. You can’t worry about who had the idea or who gets the credit. If you do worry about that, you will either drive yourself crazy on your current staff or burn yourself out of the game completely.
GROW THE GAME… the very best assistants find time to mentor younger, less experienced staff members. Although it is certainly not a must, the very best do. The most confident do. As with the above paragraph, some assistants are afraid to help others grow because they worry it will reflect poorly on them. That should never be the case for a good assistant. They should be confident enough to share their experiences. Has this back fired on people? Sure, but in the long run it is best to be out of those situations anyway.
Talent is ever changing and ongoing. Just like with our players, we want to constantly be striving to improve on our weak areas while continually growing stronger in areas we already excel. The very moment that a good assistant becomes content and feel like they’ll know it all; somewhere, someone else is surpassing their efforts.
Who could have predicted in 2000 that the ability to build a FACEBOOK or MYSPACE page would be a valuable asset? Who could have predicted that we could build Apps on our phone to help organize our daily routines?
Stay on the cutting edge of technology. Maintain contact with a core group of peers who you can readily share ideas and thoughts with. Read the latest books on leadership, management, and psychology. These are all ways to ensure you are not left behind or stuck with a dead idea.
Once a head coach believes they can TRUST you and you have proven to have the necessary TALENT to accomplish the duties assigned, they want to be sure you have the TIME do make it happen effectively. You have to present a clear picture to your head coach that you have your life balanced in all aspects so you can meet the time demands that are often placed upon an assistant coach. You can be a single person with a fish or a married person with six children and do this equally as well… and every situation in between those two extremes.
Each presents unique challenges, but the head coach must know you can manage the TIME aspect of this profession.
We have all seen unsupportive partners cost people jobs. We have seen single assistants with time consuming hobbies lose their jobs as a result. We have seen coaches young and old unable to find TIME to do the job.
There is no ideal profile. But one thing the best assistants have is TIME.
It just seems like they have more than the 24 hours everyone else does.
So, how do you go about proving you have created a lifestyle for yourself (and/or family) to your head coach?
WORK SMARTER… We are all afforded 24 hours in day, 168 hours a week, 8750 hours a year. It’s what we do in those hours that separate us. You must find ways to maximize the hours you have to perform your duties while still maintaining your life away from the team. Lean too far one way on your job suffers. Lean too far the other and you risk burnout or losing your life outside the game. The very, very best have this balance. It’s easy to spot the assistants who don’t have this. They are workaholics and when they are on the job they don’t even appear to be having fun!! As is true with all other areas of basketball, you must determine what works for you, have a plan of attack, and the discipline to execute it. Again, gather the best organizational ideas and make them your own.
GET THINGS DONE IN A TIMELY FASHION… when assigned a task, get it done. Don’t stress over perfection because it never will be perfect. Do it to the best of your ability and let your head coach know you are ready for the next task. This gives your head coach confidence that you can function independently and do not require constant follow up or monitoring. We have assigned tasks to people who ask so many questions and for so much input that in the end, we feel like we did the project and could have saved the time just doing it ourself. When your head coach sees that you can complete tasks in a timely manner they sense you have balance.
TAKE THINGS OFF THE DESK OF THE HEAD COACH… You can accomplish this a couple of ways. The best way is take them a completed task that wasn’t even assigned. For example, I am a nut for stats. I used to memorize the backs of baseball cards and have my uncles quiz me on batting averages and RBI’s. As a result, I am fascinated by stats and trends. A couple of years ago, I began tracking our line-up efficiencies… the points scored minus the points allowed for each line up we used in a game. Over the course of a single game it didn’t yield much usable information. But after five games and then ten games, I saw specific trends that helped us better manage our substitution patterns and in turn win extra games because we played our most efficient line-ups accordingly. The second way, is simply to ask your head coach if there is something on their desk or during their day that they simply hate to do. It might be paperwork or it might be their radio show. But by asking and showing desire to help, you might find yourself voting on the Top 25 or sitting in on a post game interview.
BE OVERPREPARED… Maintain a list of ideas beside your computer for when you head coach seeks input on any aspect of the program. Think ahead of the game and “outside the box”. Being over prepared will demonstrate that not only do you have time to complete your assigned duties but you also have time to perform more. If you consistently offer no new input, it appears that you are bogged down in the things you are assigned. This is not possible unless your main duties are covered but this is a sure way to show you are ready and capable of more. At the very least, it builds your head coach’s confidence that you are capable.
HAVE A “TO DON’T” LIST… must of us make a TO DO list to help organize our day. A good piece of advice I also implemented was a TO DON’T list. For example, it might say, DO NOT open my email until I have been at my desk and written three personal notes to recruits. DO NOT open Facebook until I have returned all the day’s emails. DO NOT return any phone calls an hour before practice. DO NOT leave for the day until I have communicated with three current players and checked on them for the day.
BE CONSISTENT… in other words, don’t be MOODY. Don’t be high as kite one day and down in the depths the next. Sure you are going to have good days and bad ones. But you can’t be a rollercoaster of emotion. This gives off the signal that you are not balanced. A consistent demeanor displays that you can handle the crisis mode days that often arise in this profession. It displays that no matter what happens, you have a response in mind and a plan to execute it.
GATHER INFORMATION… have a wealth of information readily available. Many times it won’t be used or asked for by your head coach. But having it in the times that they do makes a big impression. This is something that comes from observation. Have stats ready to back up a statement about offensive or defensive production. Have film clips ready to show if you want to implement a new inbounds series. Have access to more if more is needed. Don’t present an idea without evidence to support.
OVER PREPARE THE HEAD COACH… If they are going on a road trip, program the various directions into their GPS as well as hand them a file with printed off directions and confirmation codes. If they are married or have a partner, send a copy to them as well. They will appreciate this (might want to ask early on in your career as they might NOT want them to have it… haha) If they are off to do an interview on an opponent they have yet to watch film, hand them a very preliminary scouting report so they can speak intelligently about them. One of the best techniques I have used, is placing a card on the head coaches chair or computer after they leave for the day with something we have the following day. This is there in case they beat me into the office and start their day.
FIRST ONE IN OR LAST ONE TO LEAVE… I see too many inexperienced coaches worry about being the first one in AND the last one to leave. While I think that is certainly admirable, I don’t feel it reflects directly toward their ability to manage time. Sure it shows dedication, but I have learned the very best head coaches want assistants who work until they are done. Very rarely if ever do I now set a time on what time I am going in the office or what time I am planning on leaving on days without set meetings or events. I have for the last ten seasons followed this one however… If one day the head coach beats me to the office, I stay until they leave that afternoon. If I beat the head coach to the office that day, then I work until I am done and check in with them to see if there is anything else they need for me for the day.
ANSWER YOUR PHONE… or reply to a text/email. Technology allows us to stay linked more closely than ever. That can sometimes be a challenge. But never be that assistant who ignores a call or delays a return call to your head coach. I see it happen every single year on the road recruiting and I just shake my head. What kind of relationship do you have that you don’t take their calls??? Are there going to be times you wish you hadn’t, surely. But by answering it when it rings or replying quickly, again you are showing that you have enough balance in your life to effectively function away from your desk. This also builds TRUST that we spoke of initially.
CHECK IN WHEN YOU ARE AWAY… Take a vacation. Get away from the gym. Do something totally non job related. But before you leave, make sure your head coach knows where you are and when you will be returning. While you are gone, check in with them just to see what’s up. Upon return, hit the office and get back on task. Taking the time away will insure your head coach that you DO HAVE A LIFE. It will display to them that you can balance your life and are not nearing burn-out. This will reassure them that you are handling the responsibilities they have give you and may be ready for more.
Jacob Lew. Bruce Reed. Ronald Klain. David Addinton.
Any of those names ring a bell? Yeah, not to me either. Those are the last four White House Chiefs of Staff. They are the real live Leo McGarry’s. These are the people who are closer to the President than even the secret service. These are the people who are behind the scenes making sure the most powerful man on the face of the earth is on time, prepared, and looking Presidential.
If you are reading this piece there is a chance you have chosen to be an Assistant Coach. A profession that much like the White House Chief of Staff goes unnoticed unless you screw something up. It’s a career that is often under paid and over worked. It’s a career that has about the same life expectancy of an NFL running back. Yet you still choose it.
So to survive in it, you better be one of the best.
Hope this piece helps you in your efforts. Again, I don’t claim it should be the only resource you consult. Gather all the good ideas then make them into your own. Read a couple of new books. Google articles on the Internet. Speak to other assistant coaches. Observe good and bad. Take your own notes.
Then go to your local Best Buy or used DVD store and watch season 1 of the West Wing. If you can’t see yourself as a Leo McGarry or C.J. Crane or Josh Lyman or Donna Moss or Toby Ziegler, then you might want to rethink your career choice. If you can, then get to work being the best Assistant Coach you can be.