Truth to power is hard, and the head coach is the one with the power.
As an assistant coach, much of your job will come down to navigating the delicate balance. Your job is to help, to make things easier on your boss and better for your players. But sometimes that is going to mean disagreeing with the head coach, or pointing out situations that you think should be handled differently.
As an assistant coach you have a different view than your boss. You interact with the players in a different way, mainly because they are different with you than they are with the head coach. Often you have a better view how they react individually to the decisions that are made. You can see the immediate impact better than your boss. So how do you go about helping him see it clearly?
A lot of head coaches are insecure. You wouldn’t think that, based on the fact that they are established leaders and decision-makers, but it is true. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of the job – the fact that everything you do is in the “public” eye. It may not create traditional publicity, but everything you do or say is ingested by everyone in the program. They watch how you look, what you say, how you say it, your body language – all of it. And maybe that creates some insecurity.
All I know is that coaches are the ones making the big decisions, but they aren’t always comfortable making them.
So to help your boss, you really have to understand his or her personality. You have to think about how they are going to process the information you want to give them. A closed-door meeting starting with “Coach, I need to talk to you” might be received very differently than a “Hey coach, you know what I was thinking…” as you walk off the practice floor. A lot of coaches might receive the information differently if you are alone than if there is someone else in the room – sometimes people who are insecure feel like they are being ganged up on. Everybody has certain times when they are in good moods or bad moods, more reflective than at other times, or just receptive to different ideas. You are around your head coach every day. Having a feel for the best time to deliver a message is really important.
If your best player is playing poorly in a big game, there’s a big difference between “take him out, he stinks tonight,” and “Hey, let’s give him a quick breather and let him relax for a minute.” If the players are reacting poorly to the tone that is being set in practice by the head coach, saying something like “practice is so negative, that’s what we are going to get,” will likely put your boss on their heels. There has to be nuance to the way you deliver the message, just like you need with your players, to make sure the message gets across.
As an assistant coach there are going to be many times where you need to get a message across to your boss that might make you uncomfortable. You will see things that are having a negative effect on the players that he doesn’t see. It’s a big part of the job, but how you get that message across is very important.
Understand your head coach’s personality and learn the best time and method to deliver the message. Figure out how far you can push, because many head coaches are insecure and will get defensive. You don’t want to make him uncomfortable so that the message isn’t received the right way.
Delivering truth to power is very important in a high-performance organization. But the ability to deliver it in a proper and effective manner is crucial.