“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others is out-weighing your concern for yourself” – Phil Jackson.
Near the end of a recent podcast, I was asked “What are the best ideas you’ve ‘borrowed’ from another coach?” My answer was nuanced, but I hope proved a tribute to the value of quality assistant coaches. I shared that I may be one of the only former Division 1 basketball players in the U.S. that had 3 different head coaches and 11 different assistant coaches in my four years. And since then, in various sports, I have assisted at least 30 head coaches and probably had that many more as my own assistant in some capacity. Assistant coaches are gifts in so many ways. For me – two in particular stand out. Ed Beglane, one of the kindest men I’ve ever known, (who is now a long-time principal at an elementary school in Yonkers, NY) had an incredible way of re-framing what otherwise would have been received as demoralizing criticism from the head coach. “Steve – if he’s not going after you – he’s not caring about you. Only start worrying if he stops paying attention to you.”
And Jim Todd, who has been an assistant with a number of NBA teams (including a short stint as head coach of the L.A. Clippers) taught me that humor – coupled with motivation – can go a long way in bringing a team together. He remains one of the funniest men I’ve met, but it was after getting us to laugh that he could really get us to buy in. In both cases, I subtly learned that the value of the assistant was extremely complex; part skill/concept specialist, part counselor, part mediator and all motivator.
Short version: For those of you who are head coaches, be sure to give clearly defined, PURPOSEFUL roles to your assistants. Assistant coaches – let your head coaches know your strengths and insist that you have a role with your team that is life giving. Help keep practices fun and be sure to interpret the message of your head coach to players that might misunderstand – and conversely, help your head coach be fully aware of the emotional pulse of the team.
Any success I’ve ever had as a head coach was because I had great assistants – and I learned that from the many I’ve been blessed to have as a player – and as a head coach – along the way.
Kids today need more than ever to understand the value of an assist (a truly lost art on many levels). But, I’m hoping that having an unconditionally kind and loyal assistant coach can go a long way in helping them see the athletic parallels to how a sport assist (a good pass) translates to service and generosity in the real world. Looking out for teammates on the field leads to looking out for each other when and where it truly matters. Thank you Coach Beglane, Coach Todd and the countless others who have demonstrated this to me along the way.
Co-Founder/Director 2-4-1 Sports