Late last week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly pulled back the curtain and explained how he evaluates his coaching staff.
That got my wheels turning on how coaches are being evaluated on a daily basis. How are head coaches evaluating their coordinators? How are coordinators evaluating their assistant coaches? How are coaches evaluating prospective assistants? And lastly, and most importantly, how are these all connected in the coaching community where constant evaluation plays such a large role?
That, in turn, prompted me to identify traits that coaches are constantly looking at, and evaluating, and how coaches can focus on these traits in an effort to climb in the coaching profession. It’s a question we field from coaches around the country all the time, and this article addresses it.
What I came up should prove to be valuable insight for high school and college coaches that want to climb the coaching profession. Here are the 9 traits I came up with and wanted to share with fellow coaches.
1 – Connect with the kids
Being a coach should be all about the kids, and being a coach means that almost nothing (outside your own family, faith, etc.) is more important than the kids in your program. Building a relationship with the kids you coach should be something that drives you daily, and this is an area that should be a priority for you just as much off the field, as it is on the field. As Jim Tressel once said, “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It’s important to connect with the kids on the field, in recruiting, and off the field whether you coach at the college or high school level.
2 – Study and maximize how the kids respond to you
So much goes into being an effective coach – you have to demonstrate your knowledge of the game and your position, be able to connect with the kids who are looking to you for guidance and direction, and you also have to find a way to get kids to respond to your coaching. Every kid is different, with a different story, a different background, and very different things that motivate them. As a coach, part of your evaluation is always going to be how the kids in your position respond to your coaching. You could be an X’s and O’s wizard, but if your players aren’t responding to your coaching and mentorship, and it doesn’t translate to the field, it really doesn’t carry any significant weight at the end of the day.
3 – Be loyal to the kids, the program, and the head coach and coordinator
Loyalty is a word that I feel like gets used a lot in the coaching profession. Being loyal to the kids means always having their best interest in mind, and committing to helping them reach their full potential as people, students, and athletes. For coaches, being loyal goes far beyond sticking by a head coach year after year, it also means committing to being on the same page on things like discipline, creating a culture in line with the head coach’s vision, scheme, how to handle situations at practice and during crunch times of games, and having your colleagues back in the face of adversity from the administration or parents, and so much more. For head coaches and coordinators, loyalty means supporting your assistant coaches when they look to better themselves, even if that means losing them to a better opportunity with another program.
Loyalty doesn’t have to mean that you’d do things the same way when you’re running your own program, but it does mean having the respect for who you’re working for enough to support his vision and get behind it 100% and communicate it that way to the players and the community.
4 – Bring your energy and passion EVERY DAY to practice
Anyone can come to practice with energy and enthusiasm on days that they feel great, but head coaches are evaluating coaches on a daily basis so that means coming with the same amount of passion for the game that you bring that first day of practice than you do during the last hour of two-a-days. Energy and enthusiasm, especially on the practice field, is incredibly contagious, and you can’t depend on just the head coaches and coordinators as the ones to bring it. It’s important to have assistants that bring it too.
5 – Find common ground with the rest of the staff
One of the things that I think we all aspire to create as coaches, and aspiring head coaches, is an environment of camaraderie and inclusion across the entire staff. That’s much easier said than done, but nonetheless, coaches everywhere are evaluating how the pieces of their staff fit together to create that utopia so that when the bullets start firing in the fall, everyone knows they can rely on one another to do their job and also contribute to the vision of the culture that the head coach has in mind for his staff.
6 – Be conscious of your answers, and behavior on game day
On game day, we all show our true colors. If you share a headset with a head coach or coordinator during a game, make sure you have clear and concise instructions on what you should be looking at both pre and post-snap, and when you’re asked a question be fully prepared to answer it both quickly, and accurately. Sideline behavior is also important, head coaches shouldn’t have to be pulling assistants back from the hash who want to complain about a call. Let the head coach handle the in-game conversations with referees.
7 – How do you act and behave when it seems like no one is watching?
As coaches, we can’t preach to our players about the importance of good decision making and stuff along those lines if we aren’t doing the same ourselves, so whether you’re having a good time with friends at a local watering hole and you’re debating whether to call a taxi / Uber, or coaching your kid’s youth sports events in a neighboring town, how you act when it seems like no one is watching is extremely important because coaches want good role models and mentors on their staff who make good decisions.
8 – The “sweat in the bucket” metric
Kirby Smart said it best during his first year at Georgia when he talked about wanting to be surrounded by assistants that put close to the same amount of “sweat in the bucket” as he does. Head coaches will put an enormous amount of time and energy into crafting the program to their vision that no assistant may come close to in all reality, but the importance in having assistants pitch in during morning workouts, in the weight room, and over the summer cannot be understated. Few things are more frustrating to both coaches and kids than having a coach show up for fall camp who no one has seen all off season, wanting to step in like he’s been there all along to pick up where he thinks he left off.
I heard somewhere once to strive to “find a way to make yourself irreplaceable.” That can mean a lot of different things, but if you’re irreplaceable, you’ll always be in high demand, and that starts with putting “sweat in the bucket”.
9 – Being a great coach starts at home
At the end of the day, coaches want guys on their staff that are good people, and a great judge of a person’s character is how they treat those who mean the most to them. In order to be a great example for the kids they coach, they first have to be outstanding examples in their own homes, otherwise the ground in which they stand on falls from under them with nearly every word they say.
Growing up, my dad would always tell me that “everyday is a job interview” and, while i used to laugh at that, now that I’m a member of the “responsible adult community” I realize there is a lot of truth to it, and as coaches (and many members of the coaching community are also educators or administrators) it would be smart of us to operate that way for the jobs we have now, as well as future opportunities in the profession.