The Importance of Head Coaches Being Mentors to Their Assistants

Head Coaches have many responsibilities in their profession. On most levels they are expected to win games to bring in revenue and interest to their team. They need to monitor their roster and develop young players on and off the court as well as many other duties. One detail that sometimes slips by is the development of their staff.


For every John Calipari or Doc Rivers there are thousands of assistant coaches working for a chance to move up the ladder to get chance to be a head coach. Most will never get the opportunity to be a head coach as there are only so many head jobs available in any level of basketball. Most assistant coaches make average to below average salaries coaching high school and at the college level. Not every job is as glamorous as being an assistant for the University of Kentucky or Duke University. For most assistant coaches, they are making the ultimate sacrifice to give to the game that they love.


A head coach only is as good as their staff is. If they choose the wrong people to work for them it could have a devastating impact to their program and career. Most assistant coaches work countless hours trying to put their head coach in position to be successful. Usually it is the lower assistants on the staff that put in the longest hours making sure this is possible. They aren’t in it for the money at the administrative assistant or director of basketball operations positions. They are making this sacrifice to put themselves in positions to maybe someday move on to better jobs that are bumps up in stature and pay.


Any great boss empowers their staffs to make them better. There is nothing worse than a head coach that micromanages their program where their assistant coaches have no freedom to teach. There is an understanding that the head coach sets the parameters as far as how the programs are going to run, but there should be trust given to assistant coaches to have the ability to add their own ideas to what is being taught. There should be a certain sense of happiness out of a head coach to develop their assistant coaches to the point where when they leave their program to go on to another job that they will be prepared for. The only way one can be prepared is to have had the proper teaching from their prior job. An assistant coach will never learn if their head coach has them on a short leash, only being able to see things as his head coach sees them.


I’ve never been a head coach, but have been in plenty of positions where I would have to mentor young coaches that were trying to move on to better positions in basketball. My job was not only to workout NBA and top college players for ATTACK Athletics, but also to mentor and develop my player development interns that I would have all summer. The first thing that I made them understand is that they must follow whatever instructions  were given to them and that they were always on time. I have no time for interns that were, “out of the box”. What is to be, “out of the box”? Out of the box means to not be on the same page as your boss and to do whatever you wanted to do when you feel fit. Interns were always treated like senior staff in the sense that we had staff meetings, they were given assignments, and were given a voice. In player development workouts, the interns with the least experience would rebound while the more experienced interns would pass and play defense on our players during drills. During breaks I would always bring the interns together and talk about the drills that we would do and why we did certain things for them so that they would understand and get better. All of our first year interns were encouraged to have notebooks with them to take notes on drills and our philosophies so that they could bring the information with them to their next job. We would always break down tape on players and would discuss it as a staff, giving them experience on player evaluation as well as instruction. It was important for them to not only do regular intern work like stocking refrigerators, laundry, and cleaning but also get an opportunity to get better as a basketball instructor.


The ways that I do things isn’t necessarily the way that every head coach should treat their staff in college and pro basketball. People are comfortable running their programs the way that they run them and I’d never ever want to stand in the way of that. One thing that I have a strong belief in is sharing information with people. Young people that have a desire to get better should be able to learn from their mentors early in their careers. They need to grow and be given responsibility by their bosses. Nothing should ever be given to them, as they need to earn the right to be given reasonability. Entitlement is a very dangerous thing as a young person so you need to be careful on giving them too much, too soon.


Head coaches need to develop trust in their assistants and mentor them to develop their skill level in the profession. Especially with younger coaches, it is so important to give them knowledge on how to become a better assistant and to put them in position to  one day be a head coach. Too many young coaches try to emulate others without acquiring knowledge. They are on the fast track to success and think because they dress, act, or talk like their favorite final four coach that that’s all they need to become a successful coach themselves. Many of them crash and burn in the business because they never learned the basic traits that make up a good coach. These are just examples of young people wanting to sprint before they learn how to crawl. It’s something that we deal with in today’s game and it’s unfortunate.
A head coaching position isn’t just about being famous, having power, and winning games.


Being a head coach means that you get to give your players and staff something more valuable than money- knowledge. Every coach has had help  along the way to becoming a head coach. Those people took the time to mentor you and show you the ropes on how to become a good coach. No one in coaching ever gets to the level of head coach without having received help from someone. Your assistants are no different than you were when you were trying to move up in the coaching profession. They will lean on you as you did with your head coach when you were starting out. It is so important for you to not only to teach your assistants what you know about the game of basketball, but also slowly empower them and increase their responsibility. This could mean having them run film sessions, run workouts, or coaching a team in practice during scrimmages. Empowering your staff with your players is so important to their development. When your players see that you put your assistants in positions of power, it sends a message that they are knowledgeable and will increase their trust in them.


I never treat my staff like gofers. I never ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. They don’t bring any value to me if the only thing that they are doing is fetching my lunch and making copies. They have dreams and desires of going on to college or the NBA and I feel as though I can help them achieve that dream. The only way that they will get there is by learning their craft and developing value in themselves. When my staff moves on to other places they will represent not only themselves but also ATTACK Athletics and our ability to teach. It makes me so happy to see my interns move on to bigger things. We’ve had about ten interns that went on to the NBA, the NDBL, and college programs as video coordinators or coaches and I’m proud of every single one of them.


Assistant coaches both paid and unpaid are there to help the head coach be successful. They provide so much support- from recruiting, scouting, coaching, and administrative support. Their job is to make their head coach’s life easier. As a head coach you should have the obligation to not just make phone calls for them when the time is right to get a better job, but to make them better as coaches and people. Empower your coaches with improved responsibility and trust as well as with communication. Spend time with your staff- especially the youngest ones, and develop them. Give them research assignments and discuss their findings. Hold them accountable like you would any other coach on your staff. As a head coach your time is valuable and sometimes have many obligations. There is always time to develop your coaches either during the season or off-season as it could be invaluable for them and will do nothing but help your program. Our game needs to develop its young players as well as coaches. Just like some young players out there, young coaches are cutting corners to get ahead and need guidance. If not for the betterment of your program, do it for the betterment of the game.

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