Skip to main content

The 7 unwritten rules of the coaching profession

The coaching profession is one of the greatest fraternities in the world, and with each great fraternity comes certain unwritten rules.

With the help of a number of coaches in the profession, I came up with the seven unwritten rules of the coaching profession.

You won't find these inscribed on a stone tablet anywhere (yet), but each one of them hold something important that you need to know whether you have dreams of wearing the whistle one day, or you already currently do.

1 - Don't allow yourself to get so caught up taking care of others that you forget to take care of yourself, and your family
When you become a coach, you inherit a new "family" of sorts in players, coaches, and each of their families and that carries with it a lot of new responsibilities. The past few years we've seen a number of coaches forced to step away from sidelines due to health reasons, and at their final press conference they all echo the same message - you have to take care of yourself. Jerry Kill had a great quote at his farewell presser: "If I can give anyone any advice; Count on your health instead of your wealth and count on God instead of yourself."

Splitting time between your family at home, your new family, recruiting, game planning, and the many other hats that coaches wear can be a lot, but nothing should be more important than your family. It's absolutely vital that you find time to dedicate to them away from football and find ways to be the best husband, father, brother, and son that you can be.

Chances are good that you'll probably miss a dance recital, or a baseball game or two, so make sure you get the most out of the time that you have together making memories like getting ice cream, going to the movies in the park, or scheduling a weekly date night that absolutely nothing can interfere with. That's what important.

2 - Understand the importance in putting personal differences to the side for the sake of the kids, and the program
Coaching football is a unique profession because it brings together people from all different walks of life - and that goes for both players and coaches. That means that chances are really good that at some point in your coaching career you're going to have to coach alongside someone that you don't see eye to eye with on life, drills, scheme, and/or overall coaching philosophy. However, if you both understand what is best for the kids, and the program, and can get on the same page (along with the head coach's vision) with that in mind, it makes working together much, much easier for all involved.

3 - Never forget about the people who helped you get to where you are today
Picking up the phone and making a call to someone can go a really, really long way, and that is something that is becoming a lost art. You didn't get to where you are today on your own, so make sure you keep in touch with the people who vouched for you, took a chance on you, mentored you (or maybe you mentored them), and those that were there for you and your family through the good times, and the rough times.

Coaching is a fraternity built strong by friendships, and while it's rewarding, the job security isn't always the best and you never know which one of those old friends may once again become colleague some day - or perhaps your boss.

4 - Help someone else climb the ladder
If a graduate assistant, intern, part-time assistant, volunteer assistant, or student assistant busted his hump for the program on a daily basis, without being told or asked to do things, you do everything in your power to help him take the next step in his career. After all chances are real good that someone did the same for you to help you get to where you are.

5 - Always do what's right
As coaches, the privilege of leading young men is bestowed upon us. We also have the responsibility to do what's right for our players, the community, the team, the school, and the future of the program. That can be a lot, and it has a tendency to pull coaches in many different directions. Some guys can handle that responsibility, while others crumble under the pressure to win and end up making local, regional, and sometimes national headlines.

If you're on the fence about a major decision about your program, simply ask yourself "if my athletic director or the media caught word of this, would their reaction be positive or negative?" It really is often that simple. If that doesn't work, pick up the phone and refer to rule #3. If you have to think about it for too long, you probably already know the answer.

6 - Pay it forward
A simple act for someone who is just starting out in the profession, making well short of an honest wage, can be powerful. Every once in a while, do something special for the guys (interns, graduate assistants, part-timers) just starting off in your program. Take them out to lunch, or pick up their tab every once in a while, or buy the next round at the local watering hole.

I remember as a young intern, the rowing coach (who had an office in the facility next to me) would sometimes bring me in home cooked leftovers from their family meal the night before and almost a decade later I still get chills thinking about how much it meant me - someone living off the McDonald's dollar menu and frozen burritos for 10 months.

7 - If you're going to leave for another opportunity, do it the right way
If you're doing a great job, other coaches are going to notice and come knocking eventually. When that phone rings with another interested program on the other end, it's always best to keep your current head coach in the loop. He may be pissed, but do it with class and if things fall through with that other program, then you go back to a head coach that has confidence in how you handle that situation in the future. Loyalty is paramount in this great profession, and it is possible to be loyal and also do what's best for you and your family.

The other situation this comes to play in is how you inform your team that you are leaving. Each situation is different, and some coaches have the time to get the team together for an emotional meeting before leaving, some call each and every player individually, and others simply shoot off a mass generic text and board a plane for greener pastures. Find what is right for you and your situation, and just do it the right way.

Other pieces you may enjoy include: