Coach McVeigh on Empowering an Assistant Coach

Coach McVeigh has been through what you might call a coaching sandwich. He started out as an assistant coach (at the college level), became a head coach, and is now an assistant coach for his son. Having been an assistant myself, I wondered what he thought of the roll and came away with two helpful takeaways. First, if an assistant coach wants more responsibility, find a way to give them it if they deserve it. Second, once that responsibility is placed on them, give them space to work with the players.

Give More Responsibilities to an Assistant Coach

“Maybe the best lesson I learned about the role of an assistant coach happened when I became one towards the end of my career. After retiring from North Andover, I went to work for my son, John, at a very successful prep school, Brooks High School.  From the very beginning, we had a great relationship on the court. Early on, I didn’t expect or even want to have major responsibilities. As time went on though, I simply felt I could be doing more.

I worked with the bigs and post offense each day, but I started to want an entire team concept. Individual skill work was not enough. The defense Brooks played was superb and very well taught by John and his capable other assistants, Mike O’Connor and Kenya Jones. Thus, I jumped to offense with a specific focus on our team attacking different types of zones. It became my area. During practices and games, if we were working versus zone defenses, I knew that I was in the ring. I relished this opportunity and appreciated John giving me this responsibility.

Upon reflection, I wish I had shared this type of assignment a little more with some of the fantastic assistants that I had during my career as a head coach. I can think of some assistant coaches that I did give large responsibilities to, but I could have done it more often. I will stipulate however, that the assistant and not the head coach must be the one who actively wants this opportunity. He or she must be knowledgeable and passionate for obvious reasons.“

Let an Assistant Coach Start and Finish Teaching the Drill

Giving more responsibility leads to Coach McVeigh’s second point. “If the assistant coach is going to be delegated to do something, you as a head coach must live with the result. Before the high school season begins each year, I have found it to be very productive watching early college basketball practices. And while it has been a very meaningful learning tool, there are on occasion, some things I have seen where I go, ‘I hope I don’t do that.‘

One such example would be an assistant is teaching something, and the head coach will then come in and take it over for him midway through the drill or even contradict what the assistant was trying to get done. I have been guilty of doing this. In retrospect, I should have waited until after practice to add or correct the flawed teaching of this assistant.  That is not to say that a head coach has no veto power.  If there is a game the next day, you somehow must make sure the players are on the same page of the game plan as the coach. Overall, the major point here is that correcting one flawed drill of your assistant is not a higher priority than devaluing the role of the assistant coach to the players.“

This is Part IV of the series with Coach McVeigh. 

Part I dealt with communication.

In the second part, he discussed undervalued concepts

Third, he discussed principles he had passed on to him from outside influences.

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