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Strategies for Assisting New, Inexperienced Coaches

By Matt Johnson, CAA, and Pat Butler on October 09, 2019 hst Print

Coaching can and should be one of the most rewarding experiences for anyone who makes the commitment to work with young athletes. A significant factor in this effort stems from the support, mentorship and training that inexperienced coaches receive when they are initially hired.

Inexperienced coaches come in all forms. They can be found in the following categories, but not limited to:

  • Rookie head coach
  • Rookie assistant coach
  • Coach with experience, but new to the building
  • Coach with experience, but new to the sport
  • Coach with experience, but changed gender of the sport

Regardless of the category, all new or inexperienced coaches deserve additional support in order to become the best coaches possible. The following are some strategies for athletic directors that can be helpful in developing these individuals.

Building Strong Relationship With Your Coach

From the beginning, it is important to build a connection that revolves around trust, accountability and open lines of communication. This can only happen by being intentional about visiting practices, attending competitions and meeting with the coach on a regular basis. Simple gestures like texting the coach after a tough game or sending a hand-written note go a long way toward building a strong working relationship.

Assign a Mentor from the Existing Coaching Staff

Every time new coaches are hired, pair them with another head coach in the building who is a good leader and can be a great resource. This step will give these individuals an opportunity to build a strong relationship with someone who can help guide them through all the nuances of being in this unfamiliar environment.

Public Relations and Introducing the Coach to the Community

For each new hire, have a plan for presenting the coach to the community as well as the local media. A professional press release including the coach’s history, quotes from the principal and athletic director, as well as a few words from the coach are a good start. A “Meet the Coach Night” for current and prospective athletes and families should follow. Walk the coach through expectations for the meeting since you only get one chance at first impressions.

Weekly Face-to-Face Meeting with your Coach

Make a concerted effort to meet face to face with your new coach each week. These interactions do not have to be formal. They can occur in the hallway, in the office or in the coach’s classroom. These sessions can happen at any time or location, and can last for anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour. Regardless of the setting, the coach is reassured that you are fully invested in his or her success.

Peer Coach Presentations at Monthly Coach Meetings

Have one coach give a presentation at each monthly staff meeting. This will go a long way toward creating ownership and building a culture of collaboration in which coaches can learn from one another. Over time, coaches will begin to know and trust each other as members of a team who put the student- athletes first and share a common vision for the athletic program.

Walk Through Observations in Multiple Settings

During the season, it is important that the athletic director observe the new coach in action. This should occur in multiple settings, including practice sessions, team meetings, games and competitions, parent or booster meetings, or any area where the coach’s skills and talents are on display. This type of visibility provides both the athletic director and the individual an opportunity to communicate later on the overall quality of the program.

Increased Oversight Early with Complex Tasks

Identify areas of being a head coach that can be the most challenging for someone lacking experience such as budgeting, fundraising, scheduling and parent meetings. With these responsibilities, do not assume a new individual is totally ready. This is where you have to step in and assist. Over time and with experience, the athletic director can hopefully reduce this oversight.

Run Through Various Scenarios with the Coach

Before the start of his first season, sit down with the coach and discuss the unique situations and developments that could play out. How will your new coach handle them? Using this type of activity will allow your new coach to more completely prepare and to experience the problem-solving process when the need arises. It also gives you, as the athletic director, a forum to communicate what your expectations are with regard to handling conflict.

Encourage and Facilitate Participation in Local and State Coaching Associations

Make involvement in coaching associations an expectation for new head coaches. These affiliations can provide support and opportunities for additional mentors outside of your building. Also, involvement in coaching associations will benefit programs in areas such as post-season recognitions, scholarships and all-star games.

Help with the Culture of the Community League and Feeder Programs

Building a strong athletic program cannot happen without building strong relationships with your feeder schools and youth athletes. Introduce your inexperienced coach to the programs and schools that send young people to your high school. Explain to your newbies how to get connected and to start developing youth initiatives for the off-season to excite the younger athletes in your area about their future in your program.

Connect with the Athletic Director Secretary

Facilitate a good working-relationship between new coaches and the athletic secretary. Coaches should understand the role of the athletic director’s secretary and what their expectations are in this specific relationship. Being intentional about building a strong rapport with the administrative assistant is vital to having success with all of the nuts and bolts of being a head coach.

As an athletic director, you will hire a lot of coaches during your tenure. The more attention and support that you provide them during the first couple of years will go a long way to increasing the likelihood that they will be successful.