Since taking a gap year, my Return To Coaching has led to the transition from head basketball coach to being back on the bench as an assistant coach. Nearing the halfway point of the season, I thought it’d be worth sharing a couple positives and challenges that can come with making the move a couple chairs down.


  • Comfort to contribute immediately
  • Learning from different all over again


  • Finding the voice for the role
  • Not being the final decision-maker

The objective was to get back to the collegiate level; therefore, accepting a role as an assistant was expectedly the likeliest path to entry. The chance to join Midway University as the only assistant on staff offers flexibility to still possess my full-time job off campus while actively being in the trenches in every capacity. And to do it with a rising program in a location still close to home is all an added bonus.

The Positives Stood Out Right Away

Comfort With Contributing

During earlier stages of my career, it took some time for me to find the comfort to contribute right away; likely due to insecurities of being judged or a lack of awareness of what needed to be addressed at the moment.

If head coaching teaches you one thing it is that pleasing everyone is impossible. This notion can either consume your concerns or challenge your confidence to simply focus on what matters most – staying centered on the program’s best interest.

  • What is the best decision possible given the circumstances?
  • Are these habits revenue-generating? (Translation: Will it help him/her/us improve?)
  • How will the message be interpreted?
  • Find tasks to help reduce the workload of the head coach.

Comfort comes by being yourself, not a caricature of any coaching role. Stick to your strengths when considering how to contribute and assist the head coach by fostering the habits that generate consistent growth for the team.

Learning From Different All Over Again

After years of doing the same system; there’s a paranoia of having tunnel vision. Coaches are always looking for ways to improve, which is why clinics or resources (e.g. Slappin Glass) available to share different philosophies or drills continue to be so prevalent.

In this situation, the opportunity to go from head coach to assistant can be a little bit of relief. It’s been fun to be on the other side of the table in the coach’s office seeing different ways to structure activities within their program. Taking mental notes of anything new, while being able to fill up the suggestion box without always having to make the final decision.

In this particular season, there is one concept that was completely brand new to learn.

“Point Zone” used by Dean Smith blends 2-3 zone concepts with a 1-3-1 zone.

After 5 games into our conference – albeit a small sample size – our defense is top 3 in defensive field goal percentage and points per game. This is not a primary defense in our program but has been implemented enough to force upcoming opponents to prepare in advance.

Challenges That Come With Change

Adapting & Assimilating To Find The Right Voice

An assistant coach has a different platform than the head coach. There is an adjustment to addressing the team as the assistant coach versus the head coach.

Take practices as an example where the head coach is often the primary voice on the floor with a preferred language on how to teach certain concepts. Adopting new terminology can be a challenge, in addition to picking and choosing the best times to address the team. The bulk of my interactions start 1-to-1 pulling kids off to the side or having conversations during transitions of drills. After a couple weeks of seeing how the head coach operates, there is more of a balance between speaking up or taking a step back.

Previous coaching experience has helped identify areas to assimilate and adjust to the temperament of the program. Ask necessary questions, and be aware of distinguishable characteristics of program operations to find the right voice as soon as possible.

During my time as a head coach, these were some of my expectations for assistants on staff:

  • Reinforce/echo core values & program concepts
  • Effectively lead breakdown drills using consistent terminology
  • Actively build trust with the players & enable team chemistry
  • Thinktank: scouts, recruiting, & necessary team activities

Coaching chemistry doesn’t seem talked about enough pertaining to overall team success. Filling out a winning staff is about fit as much as it is about qualifications, which can be frustrating for people that blindly apply for new opportunities that feel deserving of the job. There is no right or wrong way of building the coaching staff as long as it works.

Conceding Control

Not sure if this is a common concern for head coaches hiring former head coaches as assistants, but there is likely some apprehension about potential power struggles.

This isn’t my show. Midway University Men’s Basketball has only existed for 7 years and with one head coach in its entire history, while incrementally improving under his tenure. Understand that the head coach has a vision and it is my responsibility to support that path.

The challenge isn’t necessarily envying the power to make the overall decision again, as opposed to picking your battles. That doesn’t sound right because it comes off as implicitly confrontational. However, head coaches are seeking one of two things: confirmation or other suggestions. The in-between feedback doesn’t help. Should we go with this person or that person for a substitution? After watching film, would zone or blitzing ballscreens be more disruptive?

Head coaches make the final decisions but are more confident with the trust that the entire staff is on board with each and every one. There will be differences in opinions on a variety of topics of discussion. The challenge won’t be conceding power to make that decision, it can be from selecting which decisions are more important to potentially challenge. Regardless, it can’t impact how I participate or my commitment to support each decision.

Key Takeaways

Each opportunity offers something to add to the coaching credentials. Going from head coach to assistant coach will be a new experience during my journey that has come with positives and challenges in the early parts of the season.

At the halfway point of our season, these 3 aspects have stood out the most:

  1. Increased comfort with situational leadership after being a head coach
  2. Conceding control & finding the right voice can be an early challenge
  3. Be yourself & lean on the experiences that have strengthened perspective to effectively contribute!

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