“A head coach is only as good as his / her assistant.”

Pretty straightforward statement. It’s one I agree with 100 percent. The only question I would have nowadays would be: which one?

There seems to be a growing trend among high school athletic teams where the number of assistant coaches on the sideline is nearing the number of players on the team.

Maybe it’s not a growing trend. I guess I do remember complaining years ago that it took twice as long to get through some post-game handshake lines as others, due to the additional four or five coaches some teams had. But I don’t ever remember shaking hands with more adults than kids after games, as it seems can be the case now.

As a staunch believer that when it came to cooks in the kitchen … less was more, I have next to no insight on this tactic.  

I was blessed with a great assistant coach for the last three years of my tenure.

I didn’t need, or want, additional help. I did often recruit and welcome former players and alumni from both our school and neighboring schools to come scrimmage against our team. I was very liberal on that. If I thought it could help the boys, come on in and play. But that’s it.

I appreciated that people want to be involved. I remember being approached once, maybe twice, by someone wishing to join our staff. The interaction went something like this..

“Hey coach, I’m so-and-so’s uncle / brother / step-cousin’s neighbor. If you’re ever looking for some help, I played a little ball in high school.”

“These kids play ball in high school. We’re good, thanks.”

I learned a lot of things from coaching, “Coach-speak” wasn’t one of them.

One key attribute an assistant coach needs to possess, especially if you’re only going to have one, is to have differing experiences than the head coach. Both playing and coaching, preferably. I guess having a bench full of assistants helps that cause, if the head coach wants it that way. He could still surround himself with all his buddies that all went to school together and all know the same things. But that’s fairly counterproductive.

The last thing a head coach should want, or needs, is someone just agreeing with everything they say and telling them they’re right all the time.  

I already think it’s a great idea ... I came up with it. Now someone tell me why it could be better.

The biggest difference of opinion that my assistant and I had was probably how our practices would go. He was a big proponent of drills. I was almost the complete opposite. I wanted the boys to play live basketball as much as possible. Even to get their conditioning. We compromised on that, and I think we found a great practice routine.

Now, I don’t know how willing I would have been to listen to six or seven different practice plans. So I chose not to.

Another key component of our successful coaching relationship was, my assistant knew more about the game than I did, and I readily admit that. Again, I don’t do “coach speak”... it’s just the truth.

I was OK at game management. I’d even grade myself out at above average. My assistant was better than I.

And when it came to situational basketball, he was light years ahead of me. That’s not something I think is required to be a good assistant, I just was very fortunate.

You tend to see that dynamic more in football, I think. The head coach needs to surround himself with assistants who specialize in different aspects of the game. Typically, the head coach isn’t calling offensive plays, defensive plays, making line adjustments and rounding up the kickoff team. That’s why football sidelines are inundated with assistants, in addition to a handful of volunteers. Some, if not all of them, have roles during a game.

But in basketball, not as much. Not during gameplay, anyway. Assistant coaches aren’t even allowed to be standing up while the game is going on. Not while the head coach is standing, which is pretty much all of the time.

So ... why all of the extra help? If they aren’t calling out plays or defenses, and don’t generally have a say in substituting or any other aspect of gameplay or situations, then why the need for six, seven, eight assistants?

Yes, eight. That’s the number of adults that dotted the bench area of a recent girls’ basketball game I attended. Now, I’ve been accused of exaggerating in the past ... once or twice ... so my claim at the time that they had more coaches than players was ultimately not true. BUT, of the 12 players listed in the scorebook, only seven actually played. So, technically ...

As I sat grumbling like an old man about “the good ole days” and “too many chiefs” ... it was pointed out to me by someone much more astute than I, that maybe some of the adults “coaching” were parents of the players. Since most schools are refusing to provide tickets for opposing teams’ fans, this is how they are getting to watch their kids play.

Well, shoot. I didn’t think of that. And if that’s even partially the case, then forget everything I previously said in this column. I applaud all of the schools and coaches that are accommodating their players’ parents.

As a parent who has had to rely on substandard live-streaming by some schools to watch my kid play, I say let’s take it even farther. If schools aren’t allowing ANY opposing fans to attend games, but there is no limit on the size of the coaching staff that can come, sign up each and every parent, grandparent, loved one, and that guy who hasn’t missed a game in 30 years, as coaches.

Sign all the younger brothers and sisters up as managers. Filming crew. Stat-keepers.

So, yes, I jumped to conclusions when I started seeing all of these extra coaches on the sidelines. Not that it’s any of my business anyway. But, now that I was set straight, and I think about it, if I can go watch some games, and not actually have to coach?

“Hey coach ... if you’re ever looking for someone to carry that No-Slip Pad ... “

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