5 Questions for Head Coaches to Ask Their Assistants
I often think about the challenges of the Head-Assistant Coach relationship especially in the beginning. The assistant is trying to get a feel for the Head Coach, what makes them tick and how to bring the most value. The Head Coach has a thousand things to do, while looking to provide clarity to get the utmost value and chemistry out of their staff.
As I watched assistant coach of the Hawks Jacob Jackomas get after the referees after a game clock error in their finals clenching win.
Head Coach Brian Goorjian grabbed Jacob as they were up 3 with less than 10 seconds left walking back in and asked "Are we fouling or not here?" An unbelievably poised question for his assistant, with genuine curiosity for his answer, in a tense moment.
My first experience as a Head Coach with a real staff, has debuted with plenty of rookie mistakes. Asking for too much contribution, not enough contribution, lack of clear communication boundaries, having a plan but not conveying it well enough to the staff etc.
We cannot ignore the clear hierarchy between Head and Assistant Coach, yet we would never want that to be a barrier in coming up with the best idea. Wrestling with breaking down those walls is a great challenge.
As appealing as it sounds in theory, people are scared to think like an intellectual boxer in practice. Holding two ideas in opposition and discussing them. Social media has turned so many into public relations professionals who pursue popularity instead of truth. Our human need to be liked and fit in, far often supersedes our need for the best idea - which is found through wading in disagreement.
The list goes on. But here are 5 questions for Head Coaches to consider asking their assistants as they go through the process of building their relationship and chemistry.
1. 'I'm struggling to convey this... can you give me some feedback on this area after practice?'
A little bit of self evaluation first can open up the borders for honest feedback from your assistants.
Being specific on where you'd like feedback opens up valuable discussion, not just a shotgun approach to all things coaching.
This might help your Assistants to ask you the same question in the future.
2. 'I'm thinking we go zone after this timeout, tell me why I shouldn't do that.'
Tell me why I shouldn't is forcing somebody to play the devils advocate - creating a balanced argument and less agreeing for hierarchy's sake.
It encourages disagreement, sometimes it has to be forced to start a discussion.
3. Can you go and find out everything there is to know about 'veer switching?'
Provide a task that they can make their own, like a mini assignment.
Get them to present it to the staff.
Maybe you use it, maybe you don't. Now that coach has an extra tool in their box they never would've had before.
4. What are your aspirations as a coach?
If you never ask, you'll never know. It determines how you might coach and challenge them.
Do they want your job?
Well then give them as much insight as you can about your role and constantly ask them what do you think you would do in this situation?
5. Where do you want to grow and improve?
There might be a particular area, which you know somebody is an expert in that you can direct them in.
If they really want to grow in building relationships, maybe you allow the to sit in on some of your individual meetings with players.
If they really want to grow tactically, maybe you invite them to your next check in with your critical friend who you discuss your offence with.
While you play to their strengths, maybe you also stretch their capabilities within their role on staff to grow their career.
As legendary Kentucky coach John Calipari said we should be our other staff members best PR guys, but the only we can do that is to know them well and where they want to go.
The Search for an Idea Meritocracy
Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, in his book Principles talks about the quest for an idea meritocracy. The best idea wins.
While my experience in coaching a staff has lasted for all of about 5 minutes, I think we all want the best for our staff.
The only way to seek that is to create space for it.
Good luck with your staff and hopefully this stimulates some thought.