A characteristic of good basketball programs is that they have great assistant coaches on all levels. Assistants play a vital role in a team’s success, but becoming a successful assistant coach on and off the court doesn’t happen overnight.
It takes time and energy to become the best. First, you need to know what type of assistants head coaches are looking for to complete their staff. Traits such as loyalty, hard-working, reliable and trust-worthy are important to head coaches. Second, you need to know what your role is for the team and what expectations come along with it. Your role and responsibilities may evolve over time after you have proved to be capable of handling more and more duties.
In this article, we’re going to breakdown the position of Assistant Coach. By the time you’re done reading, you will know exactly what head coaches are looking for when it comes to hiring assistants, the job role and responsibilities that come along with the job, and ways assistants can keep growing in order to achieve their coaching goals.
Duke University's Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Assistant Coaches: Nolan Smith, John Scheyer, and Nate James (L to R)
Table of Contents
Job Description for Assistant Coaches
Ultimately, the job of the Assistant Coach is to make your Head Coach look good. The Head Coach is going to get most of the credit if your team is on the winning end of battles, but they’re also going to get all of the blame if your team is on the losing end.
The job of the Head Coach is to have a detailed vision; and the job of the Assistant Coach is to help them execute their vision. And hopefully the execution leads to wins. At the end of the day, it’s the Head Coach’s program, not yours.
To achieve their vision of a successful program, Head Coach are looking to hire certain coaches to complete their staff. They are looking for coaches who are loyal, reliable, and trust-worthy. It’s also important to Head Coaches to hire hard workers who have experience teaching and developing athletes. Finally, they’re also focused on coaches who are hungry to get better and grow professionally.
If you have any of these traits and skills then Head Coaches are going to be ready to hire you quickly. For Assistant Coaches that may not have quite the skill set, keep reading to find out more about what will help make you the best Assistant Coach you can be.
Golden State Warriors Assistant Coach Mike Brown gives instruction during a game to former Warriors player Kevin Durant
Assistant Coach Responsibilities
What is your job? That’s the first question that pops into your head when it comes to being an Assistant Coach. What is it your Head Coach wants you to do?
Your job responsibilities will be defined by your Head Coach. It’s going to be depending upon what level you are coaching, how many other assistant coaches are on staff, and if there’s any support staff such as team managers to help carry the workload as well. But overall, it comes down to what Coach assigned you to do and what are the expectations that come along with it.
Most Head Coaches are experts in three areas - on-court teaching, off-court preparations, and recruiting. Again, depending on level for recruiting but if you think about coaches trying to sway athletes to join their team then recruiting happens at all levels. As an Assistant Coach, you need to develop strong skills in all three areas.
Basketball Knowledge. It’s extremely important for Assistant Coaches to know the game. The more you understand the game, the more effective you are as a teacher. Your goal is to develop athletes and if you aren’t knowledgeable about the game then it’s going to make it harder for you to lead your team to a higher level of success.
Assistant Coaches are generally assigned a specific area of the team (or game) to focus on. For example, Assistant A may be responsible for the guards while Assistant B is in charge of the post players. Or another example would be Assistant A watches the offense while Assistant B watches the defense. Whichever way it is assigned, the Assistant Coach should learn as much as they can about their specific areas. Things they should learn is their players skill set, how to teach fundamentals, research new drills to prepare your position group, and how to attack an opponent’s weaknesses.
Basically, they should become an expert in their area - and know the game inside and out. This may involve a lot of studying of the game, opponents, and other coaches, but Assistant Coaches need to always be looking for ways to grow and learn. Assistant Coaches need substantial knowledge of the game so they are ready when an opportunity presents itself to make a suggestion, take on more responsibility for their current team, or take the next step professionally.
Teaching the System. Assistant Coaches at all levels have to understand that when it comes to offensive and defensive systems, that’s up the Head Coach to decide. It’s not the Assistant Coach’s team; instead they are one part of a whole program.
Your Head Coach should outline what they want taught to their players and it’s your job to execute those orders. Most of the time, as the Assistant, you’ll have a better understanding of what the players can do. And you will have the opportunity to add wrinkles to the overall system, but you will always have to check with your Head Coach first before making any additions or changes.
As an Assistant, keep an open mind to what you’re learning because it will ways to add to your “knowledge of the game”. You may find yourself working with different teams, therefore learning different systems which should be an asset to your coaching skill set and professional future. There are a lot of different ways to play the game and it’s not what you run as much as how well you run it and teach it that determines success.
Developing Players. Here is where Head Coaches surrender some control over to their assistants because they can’t watch every angle whether it’s drills, teaching offense and defense, scrimmaging, or a game. Because of this, the Head Coach will call upon the Assistants to help in the development of the team.
One of the most satisfying things for a coach is to see players improve on their skills. Their development is a sign that you are developing them in the right manner - through regular and repetitive fundamental breakdown drills for both offensive and defensive improvement.
The Assistant Coaches will feel some pressure to make sure the players they are responsible for are prepared and perform well when it comes to game time. But if you feel pressure then that’s not a bad thing. It means you are taking it very seriously and your Head Coach will get the results they are wanting.
Developing players is an area where Assistant Coaches can play a major role. And an area where you can see your hardwork and effort pays off because you can see the results. As you see your players improve it should fill you with great pride because you know the role you played in the process.
Preparing for Games. Assistant Coaches help the Head Coach and team prepare for games by watching their opponent’s game film and creating a scouting report for the best game strategy approach for success.
Head Coaches will still watch and prepare for every game, but Assistant Coaches may have a more in-depth report to provide the Head Coach to review. It’s up to the Head Coach how game preparation is divided up - sometimes Assistant Coaches rotate who is putting together the scouting report in its entirety and others may simply put together the offense or defense report. Assistant coaches help the head coach prepare for games and may even develop a specialty, such as player analysis, defense and offense.
And depending on how many Assistant Coaches or support staff are on your team then you may do all of the game preparation yourself. But like all aspects of the team, it’s up to the Assistant Coach to break down the approach and present to your Head Coach, but ultimately the final decision on what to use is up to the Head Coach to decide for the team.
Reviewing Games and Moves. Assistant Coaches are always looking for ways to teach their athletes. One way that has been extremely useful is to review game film where you can see a player making certain mistakes over the course of a game. You can use this game film as your teaching tool so the player can see exactly what you’re talking about and you can use it to teach them how to improve for future games.
Practices are another way to review player’s performances; though they aren’t usually taped to use as a resource, but you can make notes outlining what you’re seeing and what they need to improve on for the next practice.
At most levels of basketball, recruiting is the most important function of any Assistant Coach or Head Coach. Yes, every coach is responsible for training and developing players so their on-court performances improves and excels during the season, but finding good players to join the team is a huge key to succeeding. Regardless of level, coaches are always looking for the best players to put on their team. It may not be as necessary at lower levels, but it’s just as important for all coaches to look for players that will take their team to the next level.
When Assistant Coaches find the next player to bring to the team, it’s up to them to build a relationship with the athlete that will show the player how they can fit into the team’s culture, system, and overall program. Often times, Assistant Coaches dedicate more time and effort to recruiting and maintaining these relationships than Head Coaches. Assistant Coaches are considered the starters of the relationship and potential of joining the team, while Head Coaches come in to close the deal and hopefully sign the player.
Specific Tasks of an Assistant Coach
Here are some specific tasks an Assistant Coach might be responsible for during the season. These tasks will vary depending on level and the number of assistant coaches and other members of the staff, but overall this list should give you a great idea of what may be asked of you.
- Gear and Accessories
- Communication with Scorer's Table
- Pre-Game Player Match-Ups
- Pre-Game Drills
- Keeping Statistics During Practice/Game
- Clipboard and Markers
- Chairs for Bench and Time-Outs
- Medical First-Aid Kit
- Player Forms and Money
- Help with Clinics
- Filming Practice and Games
- Breaking Down Game Film
- Run Practices
- Monitor Athlete's Academic Progress
- Organizing Team Building Activities
- Coordinating Community Service Activities
- Organizing Team Building Activities
- Coordinating Community Service Activities
- Running Strength and Conditioning Program
- Helping with Athlete's Rehab from Injury
- Creating and Maintaining a Playbook
Lets review some of these tasks in more detail so we can better understand what might be asked of Assistant Coaches.
Gear and Accessories - As the Assistant Coach, you might be assigned to managing the gear you hand out to the game such as uniforms, practice uniforms, warm ups, shoes, ankle braces, and so much more. You will be in charge of making sure all the practice uniforms are washed and ready to go for every practice. If your team doesn't have practice uniforms then that's one less thing for you to keep up with in between games. Because you will be in charge of washing uniforms after games; on top of making sure all the uniforms and critical gear and accessories are packed for road games.
Pre-Game Player Match-Ups - While your Head Coach is chatting with the opposing Head Coach and officials, you could be tasked with finding out the opposing team's starters. Once you get this information, watch those players warm-up (unless you are already familiar with the player and/or team), and then create your defensive match-ups to review with your Head Coach.
Pre-Game Drills - Some teams need their Assistant Coach out there to lead them through the pre-game drills whether it's instructing what drill to do, passing, rebounding, or having pre-game talks about game strategy. Other teams, simply need an Assistant Coach to make sure they're doing what they should be to get prepared for them game. Regardless, Assistant Coaches have a big presence when it comes to pre-game drills.
Keep Statistics During Practice/Game - You may be responsible for keeping up with stats during practice or games: shots, rebounds, assists, turnovers, fouls, time-outs, etc. You'll be keeping up with a scorebook on the bench to make sure it matches the official scorebook during the game. If you're on a staff with plenty of help then you might have volunteers or support staff (managers) willing and capable of keeping the stats. If this is the case then you can manage this stat team to make sure you have up-to-date numbers and every number is being recorded correctly.
Water - If you're coaching on a level without a support staff then it's up to you to make sure every player has appropriate ways to stay hydrated over the course of practice or a game. Your Head Coach may make it the player's responsibility to provide their own water or your team may have assigned water bottles for team use which means you need to make sure those filled before every event - and stay full throughout the duration. If your providing water and a player wants a more specific drink then they can provide their own.
Player Forms and Money - Depending on what tournaments your team play in will dictate whether or not this is an assigned task. Most tournaments require teams to register which means filling out player forms and paying a fee in order to participate in their tournament. Some Head Coaches will handle this task, but others will assign to an Assistant Coach. You will need to get every player's necessary information to complete the forms and make sure you have enough money to cover the fee. Some Assistant Coaches will get all of this information at the beginning of the year, but some may not be able to - it depends on your Head Coach and if they have decided what tournaments your team will participate in.
Scouting - Your Head Coach may ask you to scout other teams in order to come up with a game strategy. You may be able to scout in many different ways: watching game film, going to an actual game, or speaking with other coaches who may have played against your opponent. Take your scouting assignment seriously and make notes to bring back to your Head Coach. You may be able to provide key observations your Head Coach missed that could be the key to winning the game.
Help with Clinics - At higher levels, all Head Coaches have basketball clinics and camps in the summer. This is a great way for the Head Coach and players to be involved in the community and to influence younger basketball players - not to mention raise funds for the basketball program. With running clinics and camps, comes a lot of logistics that require time and energy; both of which may not be something the Head Coach has time for with all their other responsibilities. Therefore, they could assign clinics and camps to you. With this responsibility comes a lot of smaller details: camper registrations, camp costs, facilities, concessions, housing (if it's an overnight event), equipment, coaches, etc.
Breaking Down Game Film - This could be breaking down game film on opponent's which could be used for scouting reports, but you could also break down film for your team to be used as a teaching tool. A great way for player's to learn is to have visuals where they can physically see themselves make decisions or moves that need to be improved.
Run Practices - Head Coaches have so many more responsibilities and required appearances that it might affect their practice attendance. There might be some days where you are asked to step in and run practice. Be ready to step up and have a well-organized practice ready. Teach what your Head Coach expects you to teach (and most likely outlined for you). If another Assistant Coach is asked to run practice, be supportive and treat their practice just like you would if it was the Head Coach running it. You would not want the Head Coach to find out that you were disrespectful to your colleague by not helping with practice.
Monitor Athlete's Academic Progress - For most athletes, if they don't make the academic grades then they can't play. As the Assistant Coach, you might be assigned an Academic Team of players you need to monitor, you might oversee your position group, or you may only watch at-risk players. It really depends on the Head Coach and what sort of academic performances your players make in the classroom. For a team with strong academics (high grades and grade point average), you may not need as much academic monitoring. However, for a team with poor academics (low grades and grade point average), you will need to monitor closely. You will do class checks to make sure athletes are attending, meet with athletes to know upcoming assignments, projects, and tests, and follow up with athletes to know how they did on those assignments, projects, and tests.
Organizing Team Building Activities - Not every team is going to get along, be best friends, and never have problems; but you do need your team to get along on the court. Your Head Coach might assign you to find ways to build the team together which means finding situations that force them to work together. A few great team building activities are a scavenger hunt, outdoor ropes course, or an escape room.
Coordinating Community Service Activities - The team going to community service events is extremely important, but the Head Coach may not have enough time to coordinate this with their schedule. It could be a task for an Assistant Coach which means they have to decide what community events will be good publicity for the team along with what events will coordinate with the team's already busy schedule. You will have to coordinate with practice, games, classes, etc.
Running Strength and Conditioning Program - Not every team will have a Strength and Conditioning Coach; it may be an Assistant Coach having to run this part of a program. If that's the case and you are the Assistant Coach assigned to do it then be sure to use all available resources as you are putting together your program. If you are training younger athletes then be sure to research what sort of strength and conditioning exercises are best for that age group because your athletes could still be growing.
Helping with Athlete's Rehab from Injury - Another area that may be assigned to an Assistant Coach is helping with athletes who are in rehab from an injury. This could be as simple as watching an athlete to make sure they are doing their rehab exercises while the Athletic Trainer is attending to other players on the team. However, this will depend on the level of athletic training experience of the Assistant Coach.
Creating and Maintaining a Playbook - Every team has plays the call during the game. Some teams have a few plays Coach likes to call while another team may have 50 plays Coach likes to call. Either way, players have to learn all the plays so they can be ready. In order to learn the plays, they need a playbook to study. This will include diagrams and a step by step break down of all the set plays and out of bounds plays for the team. It will be the Assistant Coach's job to put this playbook together and to keep it updated during the year. If Coach makes a change to the play then the Assistant Coach has to update that play in the book for the players.
Communication - One way Assistant Coaches help with communication is by being the eyes and ears for the Head Coach. If there's something going on with the team then it's up to you to bring it to the Head Coach. But learn the difference between what can be handled without the Head Coach and what has to be handled by the Head Coach. Another way Assistant Coaches help with communication is by having the contact information of all the players and support staff. For example, if there's inclement weather and Coach decides to push practice back to a different time then the Assistant Coach must contact everyone with that information.
Moving Up as an Assistant Coach
Remember: most head coaches began their careers as assistant coaches and work their way up until they've gained the knowledge and experience necessary to lead a team.
Picture on the Right: See 2 great examples to your right: Duke's Coach K and UNC's Roy Williams. Both started as Assistant Coaches gaining basketball knowledge from Head Coaches that would prepare them to one day become Head Coaches in the ACC Conference.
The best way to move up from where you are today into a new position? Be the best at your current position! This means Assistant Coaches should treat their role and current job as their dream job, and work like it’s where you’ve always dreamed to be.
Basically, if you aspire to be a Head Coach at some point then view your Assistant position as an apprenticeship.
You may not get the job you want, but you better want the job you've got. There are a lot of assistant coaches out there just waiting to take your place!
Depending on what level you are coaching, your player development and off-field responsibilities such as team academics need to be your top priority. Do not get distracted by the fluff that goes along with the job.
Focus on what you are being tasked to do: develop players, win games, and represent the Head Coach. If you feel like you can handle it, ask to take on additional responsibilities or create a new job responsibility that falls into one of those categories that will ultimately help your team win.
Assistant coaches on your staff or an opponent's staff can be in a position to hire you one day so you are building your coaching reputation with not just your Head Coach, but assistant coaches and opponents. With this in mind, Assistant Coaches should keep it professional and courteous.
Stay focused on your current job and team. It's not a good look if you are spending your time eyeing a future job possibility instead of keeping your focus on your team and developing your players. When the season is over, you can see what professional opportunities may be available for your growth.
A top Assistant Coach in a successful program is attractive to schools that are looking for a Head Coach. Quality Assistant Coaches should have the opportunities to apply for a Head Coaching job so be prepared, build your resume, and make sure to understand all the responsibilities that go into being a Head Coach.
Duke's Coach K started his coaching career under Head Coach Bob Knight
UNC's Roy Williams learned from legendary Head Coach Dean Smith.
Do's and Don'ts of Assistant Coaches
- DO work hard. It’s very easy for players to tell which Assistant Coaches love their job because they bring enthusiasm every day to practice and games. When players can see how hard a Coach is working then they appreciate it and respond in a positive way.
- DO be professional. Look and act professional. Be clean and dress neatly. Always be on time to meetings, practices, games, community events, and any other place you’re supposed to be representing the team. Conduct yourself in a positive, friendly manner. Get along with others such as other Assistant Coaches, opponent’s Coaches and players, support staff, and administration. Be cordial to the referees and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Remember: you are representing more than just yourself and you need to act like it.
- DO network. Coaching is a family - build your network. Outside of your head-to-head competitions, consider other coaches as your co-workers instead of enemies. You will rely on them heavily throughout your career. Build your network and use it to your advantage when you’re trying to make a professional decision or someone is trying to make a professional decision about hiring you.
- DO be a role model. Get to know your players and earn their respect. Be a role model by demonstrating good values and principles. If your players see you doing the right thing then they are more likely to do the right thing too because they will mirror you. You want them to do right and pay attention to detail then you must be the leader and show them the way. Do what you say will do and are asking of them - and follow through!
- DO remember what you represent. The bottom line is this: you have one job as the Assistant Coach - and that is to make the Head Coach look good and their job easier. You are ALWAYS representing your boss and team. If you follow these DOs then you should be representing in the proper way!
- DON'T jeopardize the success of the team. Not everyone on the staff will get along and be best friend - there will always be jealousy, personal differences, age differences, etc but in order to win you must be able to put those feelings aside and work together for the success of the tam. Respect and develop your relationship with other assistant coaches - it can be a lot of fun if you’re all on the same page and work together as a unit. It’s most definitely not fun if the assistant are at odds with each other. In fact, it’s detrimental to the program so that should give you enough reason to try your best to work together with everyone.
- DON'T bring a negative attitude to work. Even on down days, always bring a great attitude to work. Keep your personal issues to yourself. The team would never accomplish anything if every coach and player brought their personal issues with them to practice and games. Manage your personal life, address any personal problems, and get counseling if you aren’t able to do those things.
- DON'T avoid communicating about tough issues. Sometimes players or parents will come to you instead of going directly to the Head Coach. You can serve as a "buffer", and sometimes you get to be the "good cop". You should listen, work to understand, explain anything you might have more information about than what meets their eye, and encourage them in a positive way. But if the issue is bigger than you then make sure to encourage the player or parent to address the Head Coach and let them work together for a resolution.
- DON'T go against the Head Coach. It’s important for an Assistant Coach to have the Head Coach’s back. Behind closed doors, do not be afraid to give your opinion if asked, but once you leave the room you are unified as a staff. It’s not a bad thing to have a disagreement and have good dialogue because it’s important to have an open mind; but ultimately, the final decision belongs to the Head Coach and it’s crucial every person is on board.
Top 10 Tips for Assistant Coaches
If you practice these 10 tips to being a great Assistant Coach, you will be taking the right steps to being a positive, effective and valuable person to both the team and your Head Coach.
1. Be trustworthy and loyal. First is always trust and loyalty. Everything starts with trust. Head Coaches want to know their Assistant Coaches always have their back. They do not want to worry about Assistant Coaches meeting with players or talking to administration because they are all on the same page. I know my assistant coaches ALWAYS have my back. I never worry about them meeting with players or talking with administrators, because we are all on the same page.
2. Find some way to bring value to the program. Take lead of something that needs to be done without the Head Coach having to delegate it. Figure out what is something that needs to be done and that you can do. For example, do you like statistics? Then take charge of the statistics and manage anyone who helps with taking stats during practice or games. Without having to ask your Head Coach permission take over that aspect of your team. This is a great way to add your value to the team and solve a problem.
3. Do the little things that need to be done. There are so many things that need to happen in every basketball program. Just one practice alone holds a list of tasks: water, setting up the practice plan, bringing all the necessary equipment, etc. Who is in charge of all of this? The Head Coach. How does it all happen? The Assistant Coaches. Take some of these things off the plate of your Head Coach and take ownership of getting them done. Be the Assistant Coach who will work hard and get every little thing done because no job is too small.
4. Be a good communicator. We can all be better communicators. Don’t be afraid to talk to your Head Coach about what sort of expectations they have for you. Ask them for a list of rules that will communicate everything possible - from office hours to dress code to how to have honest conversations with a player. Ask them if it’s possible to have weekly meetings to be sure everyone knows what is happening that week and what may be upcoming. Ask them for end-of-year meetings to learn your strengths and weaknesses so you can know what you need to improve on.
5. Become an expert. Another way to say this is to be a professional. Never stop learning. Become the best coach you can be. If your Head Coach assigned you to coach the post players then be the best post player coach in your conference. You may not be the best when you first start out, but you can become an expert in your job. The more experts there are on your team, the better the program will be.
6. Know your role. Remember, you are an Assistant Coach. Not the Head Coach, but the Assistant Coach. Be careful not to overstep your role. You may totally disagree with a part of the program, the direction of the program, the way practice is run, and many other things. But none of that matters because it’s not your program to make those decisions. Know your role, accept your role, and be GREAT at your role.
7. Don’t just be a “yes person”. Head Coaches aren’t looking for Assistant Coaches who will sit around and say yes to every single thought that comes out of their mouth. They want what is best for the program and want to continue seeing improvements. To do those things, they may not always have the answers and that is where you come in. When the Head Coach asks for your opinion, give it to them. If you disagree or have an idea to make something better, share it when you’re asked. But be careful how you phrase your suggestions. For example, “Get Player A out they’re killing us!”instead say “Let’s try Player B and see if they look better.”. When you phrase your suggestions as questions rather than statements, it is less argumentative.
8. Be dependable. The last thing a Head Coach needs is to babysit their own assistants. If you say that you are going to do something for the program, then do it. Make it happen, period. There’s nothing more frustrating for a Head Coach when an Assistant Coach takes something off their plate and then either fails to do it, or does a bad job at it. Be on time, be prepared, and leave no doubt that you will get it done.
9. Be hungry. Take ownership of everything your Head Coach assigns to you - the position you coach, community events, gear and merchandise, traveling, fans, etc. Be proactive to make the program better by having a hunger for success. Show your Head Coach that you want what is best for the team by taking initiative on all your responsibilities.
10. Act like a Head Coach. It may not be your team to run right now, but all your hard work is to prepare you for your next coaching gig - and that just may be as a Head Coach. Until then, you should work like you are the Head Coach. Ultimately, it comes down to acting like you are a Head Coach because one day you want to be a Head Coach. A top Assistant Coach in a successful program is attractive to schools that are looking for a Head Coach. Quality Assistant Coaches should have the opportunities to apply for a Head Coaching job so be prepared, build your resume, and make sure to understand all the responsibilities that go into being a Head Coach.
Recommended Training Videos for Assistant Coaches
There are a number of great videos on our website to help you become a better Coach. Depending on what your responsibilities are assigned to you will dictate what videos are best geared toward your needs and growth, but here a few to get you started in the right direction.
If your Head Coach has to miss practice for any reason and calls on you to take to the lead then you have to be ready! Check out Bruce Weber's DVD Designing an Effective Practice Plan. It provides a detailed overview of how coaches can make their practices as productive as possible in a time-efficient manner.
All of the big coaching issues will be handled by your Head Coach, but it's better to be prepared on how to handle issues that will come up. Jerry Faulkner's Managing the Coaching Issues You Face will help you be equipped if you're asked for how you would handle a situation. You might just have the right solution to the issue.
Coaching is a stressful, demanding job. The season is long and it's hard to keep a positive attitude at all times. All of these conditions can take a toll on coaches and lead them to burning out professionally. Chris Stankovich's DVD is here to help by giving coaches the necessary tools to minimize the chance of burnout.
This Complete Guide to Being the Best Assistant Coach should cover everything you might experience as an assistant coach, but there's always room to grow. To learn more start browsing through our vast selection of DVDs right now.
Using basketball training videos as a coach can change your entire coaching style. Our basketball training videos feature the best of the best. From the top coaches in high school, college, & the Pros to the best basketball trainers who teach Pro players we have them all. We have DVDs for rent by mail, downloads available for purchase, and 48 hour rental.
You can watch them over and over, take notes, and then rent another DVD over the same topic and very quickly your knowledge of a specific topic will reach mastery level.