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Quality Assistant Coaches:
Humility and More

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

—Ephesians 4:1–3, esv


We cannot allow the rare, willing, and able volunteer to have a bad experience due to lack of knowledge.The list of qualifications for a really great assistant coach is long. Humility is woven into each category. Praise God for blessing many Lutheran school athletic departments with humble servants to fill these spots. Typically, these are volunteer positions, filled by people with a passion for youth sports, but no coaching experience. We cannot allow the rare, willing, and able volunteer to have a bad experience due to lack of knowledge. With a little guidance from head coaches and athletic directors, often these people can be one of those rare coaches who stick around even after their children have graduated from our schools.

When we find these golden nuggets, what can we do to help them be as successful and feel as welcomed as possible? A little proactive communication and gentle guidance might go a long way to serve those who are serving your student athletes and athletic program.

Ask the assistant coach to share what their strengths are and where they think they might be able to help. Ask the head coach to share what they need from their assistant.Some volunteer coaches will not realize the importance of communication. Just because your head coach and your assistant coach are both adults, they won’t necessarily feel comfortable or even consider there to be a need for good communication between them. Ideally, every head coach could hand pick their assistant. However, in the Lutheran world of athletics—especially in middle school settings—you might not find assistant coaches until the season is just beginning and they may be unfamiliar to your head coach. I’ve had assistant coaches turn up after our pre-season coaches’ meetings and, unfortunately, they began their new role with only practice and game schedules, the athletic and coaches’ handbooks, and the cell number of the head coach. I guarantee that if you follow this practice, unless your two coaches are exemplary, you will end up with a coaching drama within a month. Suddenly, you must put out fires that shouldn’t have started to begin with. The answer? No matter how confident you are in either coach, have a sit down with both of them. Ask the assistant coach to share what their strengths are and where they think they might be able to help. Ask the head coach to share what they need from their assistant. This will provide a strong foundation for working together.

Sometimes your head coach may not be able to vocalize what they need from their assistant. It can be very valuable to start each season with an email or note to your assistant coaches with a short list of traits that make them effective in their positions. You can create this list by asking your head coaches what they think. The following suggestions contribute to effective assistant coaches.

Know your role

Helpful assistant coaches are content being a background supporter. They know the right time to make suggestions and at the same time support the final decisions of their head coach. These coaches listen more than they talk, and they ask questions. They also learn to use the same terminology their head coaches use.

Balance out your head coach

Assistants who are able to complement the coaching style of the head coach become valuable, not only to the head coach but also to the players and parents. It is a fine line to walk. The goal is not to become the “favorite coach” but to offer balance to the team as a whole.

Be dependable

Head coaches need an assistant who will take care of the little things. Besides being present for everything, the assistant is willing to meet the needs for a successful season, whether it means pumping up the balls or running part of a practice.

Be a second set of eyes and ears for the head coach

Notice minor issues of players and handle them. Treat these players with the compassion that you would want in return. Bring to the attention of the head coach the minor issues that could become big issues.

Great assistant coaches have a humility that can only come from Christ. They are individuals who appreciate having the ability to provide support and to work in the background. Their love for youth sports is what pushes them to continue in their role. The humility of an assistant coach is so rich you recognize it the second you see it, and you know it is a gift from above.

Jill Schmitzer is a co-athletic director and preschool teacher, at Trinity Lutheran in Davenport, Iowa. She’s been blessed to work under amazing head coaches, and even more blessed with very humble assistant coaches.

Photos © iStock/Chadster