Building a strong high school basketball program is not a one man job. Whether it be a business venture, a non-profit organization, or a sports program, having a supportive staff is critical to the leadership of the program. Although limited financial resources in a school system can make this difficult, there are people out there who are passionate about sports who would love to help out in an athletic program.
Granted, when first beginning, there may be very few choices as to possible staff members. You may be resigned to using whoever is available and willing. However, a good starting point is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Are you a well-organized and detailed worker? Are you more of a big picture thinker who comes up with great ideas but struggles with implementing the details? Do you bring a very positive” glass half full” approach or are you a more down to earth thinker who will see the possible problems with a given decision? Whatever your strengths are as a leader, finding a top assistant who can fill in some of your gaps will build an efficient and well working staff.
I personally tend to be strong in the details, quite positive in my thinking, and very independent. I don’t think I would have been a very good long term assistant coach simply because I want to be responsible for making the decisions. I have worked best with assistants who are global thinkers and will continually throw ideas my way, without fear of rejection. I like assistants who might think a little out of the box and are not afraid to share their ideas. The other quality I really cherish in an assistant is loyalty. It is comforting to know your assistants have your back in all situations. Regardless of what your strengths are, loyalty is a must for an assistant coach. Although I really enjoy teaching in a team setting and excel at team practices, I do not enjoy coaching individual workouts. I can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a player and design a program of workouts for him, but would prefer not to be the one carrying out the drills with him. I learned early on that I needed an assistant who enjoyed that kind of player development.
Although it would be nice to have an assistant who was a terrific player himself or who had a great amount of experience as a coach, I don’t feel those are the most important traits in an assistant. As mentioned above, the ability to fill in the gaps of the head coach and loyalty to the program are qualities that I put above experience as a player or coach. The other quality I would really like in an assistant is for him to have a strong work ethic. I am a very hard worker myself, and having a staff that will outwork other staffs will lead to wins down the road.
Once assistants are selected, the head coach needs to do a great job of articulating responsibilities and expectations. Don’t expect an assistant will learn what to do through osmosis. Be clear in what you need from each assistant. Once an assistant is clear with what needs to be done, the head coach should to allow him to work. Over the years I feel I was too much of a micromanager. It was difficult for me to let go and allow the assistants to coach. The problem with that is the assistants will not have as much opportunity to grow and develop as a coach. Building a quality staff requires a head coach to let go at times and give his assistants opportunities to teach.
The final step to developing an effective staff is to teach and make corrections when necessary. Assistant coaches should never be discouraged for suggesting ideas, even if those ideas seem to be off base. Listen carefully to each idea and then use the ones that make sense. Encourage assistants to keep throwing thoughts your way. At times an assistant might be teaching something in a way different than what the head coach wants. In that case the assistant should be retaught, but be careful never to correct an assistant in front of players. After each practice the coaching staff should meet briefly and during that time the head coach can make the corrections. I believe there are two reasons why a head coach should remove an assistant from the staff. The first is for lack of loyalty and the second is for repeated poor work ethic. These two shortcomings are deal breakers and should result in dismissal.
Building a quality staff is a critical step to building a strong basketball program. A little extra effort in this area up front will save a lot of time and effort down the road.