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How To Utilize Your Assistant Coaches

By Jessi Pierce, 10/28/13, 2:45PM MDT


Assistant coaches can be valuable assets to your team. Are you utilizing them effectively? Managing your staff with proper planning and communication will make the season go much smoother for players, parents and coaches. Most importantly, the kids will reap the benefits through increased skill development and enjoyment.

Whether it’s practices, games or off-ice activities, make sure you’re all on the same page and committed to the cause.

“The assistants are another part of your responsibility as a head coach,” said Bill Switaj, a former NCAA DivisionI head coach at Kent State. “Ultimately the team of coaches needs to work together and be on the same page in order for everyone to have a great season, players and coaches alike.”

Plan it out: Just like having a practice plan, go into the season with a blueprint for your coaches on how you will all work together.

“Draw up a practice plan that requires you to utilize them,” said Switaj, who currently serves as the Mid-Am District Coach-In-Chief for USA Hockey. “Know how your practices are going to be run and what you are to expect from your assistant coaches at each station or game.”

The head coach should be spending his/her time observing the entire team during practices and teaching/correcting the kids as needed. They shouldn’t have to be the person making passes during drills, gathering pucks in the corner or setting up cones for the next station.

Assistants can also coordinate and help parents with off-ice tasks, such as travel, tournament planning, team meals, etc.

Use their strengths: The best head coaches find assistants who complement their coaching style, experience and skill sets. This makes for a more well-rounded staff that should ultimately be more beneficial for the players.

Get to know your assistants’ strengths and weaknesses. Some will specialize in skating, shooting and/or stickhandling. Others might be more effective motivators.

Don’t try to do everything yourself: Former Brown University Head Coach Roger Grillo said if he could go back and redo part of his coaching career, he would change his ego and attitude of wanting to do everything himself.

“That was one of my biggest regrets as a young coach,” said Grillo, currently a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “I wanted so much control that I didn’t allow my assistant coaches to get involved and take part in their role that I needed them to be. Part of your responsibility as a head coach is to develop your assistant coaches.”  

Switaj compared it to a person’s development in the classroom and the workplace.

“If you never get called on in class or aren’t given tasks to do at work, you begin to pull away and participate less,” he said. “Head coaches must engage with their assistant coaches. Give them even a small amount of responsibility but make sure it’s enough where they feel a part of the team and the coaching staff.”

No experience? No problem: Not all volunteer coaches are going to be incredibly knowledgeable or full of hockey experience. As the head coach, take the time to teach and develop your assistant coaches if they are newer to the sport.

“You don’t have to be a goalie to run a goalie drill,” Switaj said. “If you show assistant coaches how the drill works properly and what to look for, they can still lead that drill.”

Communication is key.

“Good communication, especially at the youth level, is really what’s important in a good assistant coach,” Grillo said.

There will challenges at all levels of coaching. But if you draw it out and realize that the head and assistant coaches are all on the same team, the kids will get the most out of their experience and hopefully come back next year.

“I have had challenges coaching from youth to college,” said Switaj. “But remind yourself why you are all doing this – for the good of the team. Ultimately that is the priority for all coaches, head or assistant.”