The hiring process for assistant coaches is deceptively tough. A coach can show up with an impressive W-L record, incredible statlines from the athletes they’re responsible for, and be a poor fit for the job you’re hiring. Why is that?
It could be that they’re efforts didn’t have an effect on the success of the team or athletes — after all, talent does make a difference even when receiving poor coaching. It’s more likely that the coach is capable of producing impressive numbers, but doesn’t fit from a culture standpoint.
Since that is often the case, we poured over hundreds of assistant coach interview questions and took input from some coaches to better understand what questions you should be asking when interviewing an assistant coach. If you are an assistant coach, use these questions to prepare for future interviews so that you’re ready when the time comes.
Here are the seven hiring questions you should be asking assistant coaches. Click to download the 7 Hiring Questions to Ask Assistant Coaches infographic.
Give a specific example of how you have positively impacted an athlete.
This isn’t exactly a question, but it’s one of the most powerful ways that you can identify a coach that cares more about the young athletes than the playbook or scheme they’re installing. Make sure the candidate knows this is not the time for modesty or being humble — you want to make sure they’re capable of using their coaching platform to impact your athletes as people.
This answer also reveals how the candidate aligns with the culture and values that your program is focused on. If you hire an assistant coach that doesn’t embody the culture of your program, it won’t matter how many playoff appearances, wins, and accolades your team receives — it’s a matter of time before somebody parts ways because there isn’t alignment on the most important aspects of coaching and leadership.
What have you learned from mistakes on the job?
This question is tricky because you’re likely to receive guarded answers that may be masking bigger mistakes. Big mistakes aren’t the issue here, so don’t get caught up with what happened. Focus on how they handled the mistake, took ownership, and made changes to improve.
It could help draw out more honest answers if you mention that up front, but understand that candidates aren’t dying to give you reasons not to hire them. However, this question is critical because you get to understand if the coach is willing to admit their mistakes and take the time and energy to correct them. Much like athletes, coaches are going to make mistakes or under-perform. You want to find an assistant coach that is capable of rising above those mistakes to continue improving as a coach. After all, you want to be playing and coaching your best at the end of the season.
Describe the role you see taking on during practices/games.
This question doesn’t always make it on the list of questions to ask, but the coaches we talked to when researching this article insisted that this question is actually really valuable. Why? Because most assistant coaches have ambitions and want to create the biggest impact on the program they can.
As a head coach, it’s your job to clearly define the role your assistant coach will play during practices and games.
- Do they get to address the team in the huddle?
- Should they be pulling athletes aside to give individual coaching?
- Will they be leading some drills so that you can spend time evaluating your athletes?
There are hundreds of ways that this question will play out, but what they answer isn’t as important as starting a dialogue that creates clarity. They can be completely off-base with what they envision their role being — as long as the conversation following the question makes it clear what they’ll be doing and how you will work together to lead practices and games.
How do you plan on getting athletes to buy into their role on the team each year?
You can’t start every athlete on the team. There are inevitably disappointments that young athletes may face when they aren’t getting the time or role they hoped for. Thankfully, we asked 75+ coaches how they keep motivation high so that your athletes stay focused on making a positive impact on the team in the role they play. Coach Jamy Bechler also wrote a fantastic response on this exact topic.
Their answer gives you a better idea of how deep this assistant coach will dig when athletes need reassurance, encouragement, and guidance from coaches. You can’t be the only coach responsible for getting athletes to buy into their role and doing what needs to be done to have success as a team. This is also a sneaky question that reveals the coach’s ability to connect with athletes and trust the vision you’ve set as a head coach.
How would you handle a philosophical difference with the head coach or an assistant coach?
Note that this question isn’t asking what their philosophies are — it’s how they handle disagreements. Can they find compromises when there’s a path to compromise? Are they willing to simply step back and support your decision as a head coach if the situation calls for it? How do they approach tough conversations and opposition to their ideas? These are all helpful qualifying questions that allow you to assess the way they operate and how they get along with you and other coaches on staff. Trust amongst a coaching staff is critical, so make sure you do your research and think through the different ways that your coaching staff can build more trust.
Once those questions are answered, you can take some time to ask about their actual philosophies and how strongly they feel about them. Are there some non-negotiables that they have or you have? Get those on the table for discussion and see if there is alignment that you both feel comfortable moving forward with on those topics.
How do you plan on improving as a coach from year to year?
This falls farther down the list because this is more theoretical than some of the other questions. Every coach will tell you they want to improve. Every coach will tell you they make steps to improve. However, that isn’t always reality despite their good intentions. Assistant coaches are navigating their career, family, personal life, and other pillars of life that vy for their time.
Despite the potential inconsistency between their answer and reality, you still need this question. You’ll reveal the sources that inspire, teach, and grow them as a coach on your staff. This also allows you to see how they prioritize between things like:
- Learning playbooks/schemes
- Becoming a better communicator
- Finding new ways to teach familiar concepts
- Finding familiar ways to teach new concepts
- Handling parent relationships
If you do pull the trigger and hire them, you can work with them to add new sources they can learn from or adjust how much you want them focusing on X’s and O’s versus culture and the soft skills a coach needs. We actually spent the time to find some of the best coaching podcasts regardless of your sport, so consider adding these to your daily diet.
What would you try to teach your athletes besides the sport?
This final question steers them back towards building young men/women of character. Their answer will tell you what traits they look to build up in your athletes — things like perseverance, positivity, diligence, respect, honor, etc.
You don’t want to hire an assistant coach because you’re enamored by their ability to coach on the field and then find out that they’re lacking substance in the locker room.
Download the infographic
Keep track of these questions, think through them, and spend time answering them so that you’re prepared when the opportunity comes your way. Click to download the 7 Hiring Questions to Ask Assistant Coaches infographic.