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Responsible Sports: Benefits of an assistant coach – even a parent

Last month, a Responsible Sports Coach wrote to our panel of experts to ask: 
I recently started a position with a soccer travel club. Responsible SPortsI have run different clinics, assisted teams in the past and have been certified as a soccer coach for 4-years but this is my first time as head coach. I am having a hard time finding an assistant coach and I really do not want to have a parent assist me. I am worried that they will overrun me since I am new to the position and am fairly young (I am only six years older than some of the players on the team). I worry that these players will not respect me and will be more willing to listen to a parent over me.

Should I ask if a parent wants to step up and help me or should I just do this on my own? If I do this on my own, how should I get started?
- Ash, an aspiring soccer coach
We asked two of our experts to weigh in. Sam Snow, US Youth Soccer Director of Coaching, had this to say:
If you can get an assistant coach then by all means do so. You don’t want to carry the load all season alone and having someone with whom to kick around ideas is useful. Choosing an assistant coach is an important step for a coach. Ideally none of the coaches should be related to the players. But the reality in youth soccer is that many coaches are related to one or more of the players on the team.
In this instance of the head coach being younger than the potential assistant coaches, it is not a concern. A quality head coach will be respected by the majority of the parents of the players. When you are looking to tab someone as your assistant coach, look for the same qualities as previously mentioned in the person, regardless of their age.
Your assistant coach plays many vital roles; he or she can assess the quality of your team, help you to decide player development issues, attend parents-coach meetings for you (I wouldn't recommend this though, always try to handle these yourself) and help you to choose game day team formation and tactics.
Begin the process of choosing an assistant by considering your own strengths and weaknesses and then look for someone who can balance them out. First and foremost, look at the character of the person. The knowledge of soccer and how to coach the game can be learned, the right personality for coaching children cannot. Your assistant coach should enjoy interacting with soccer players. So, look for someone who can be motivating with the players. An adult the players will see as a role model, as well as a coach. You don't want an assistant who just lets the players get on with training and in a match, you want your assistant to help inspire or motivate them.
Secondly, can the person judge player potential. Your assistant needs to be able to aid you in determining a player’s strengths and weaknesses so that the two of you can make a plan for each player’s improvement. 
Lastly, we come to tactical knowledge. He/She has to know his/her stuff and should be good at arranging set pieces, formations etc.
Here are the types of assistant coaches that do the best job:
  • Open minded, does not have a set idea on systems of play or formations
  • Does not care what their role is
  • Asks a lot of questions, they want to improve as a soccer coach
  • Detail oriented
  • Are out to improve the lives of the kids, not build themselves up as a coach
  • Are great listeners and observers
  • Take whatever task they were given and excel at that task
  • Volunteer to help at nearly every turn
  • Ask underlying ‘whys’ without being abrasive
  • Once a decision is made do not question anything and implement the decision
  • Are calm and have the game in perspective (watch them coach other sports or as a fan)
  • Are not complainers or excuse makers, they are doers
  • Admit their lack of knowledge and admit mistakes freely
  • Want to get all the kids into games
  • People that have had success in other parts of their lives
  • Coach (or have coached) other sports or have worked with youth
And Tina Syer, Chief Impact Officer from Positive Coaching Alliance answered:
Dear Ash,
My blink on this is that it’s really nice to have an assistant coach (assuming you can find the right parent for the job). Perhaps you can get a sense of the players’ parents and then extend an invitation to one you think would complement you well. If you’re clear with the parent/assistant coach about each of your roles, then I think the risk of you being undermined is slim.

Simply having another coach who can help set up drills, keep an eye on the bench during games, give positive feedback to players and help you answer questions coming from parents (even as simple as what time is the next practice!) will be valuable to you and the team.

Finally, even though you are young, if you carry yourself with confidence and come to practices and games prepared, the respect from the players and their parents will not waver.
Are you a coach or parent who has a youth soccer question you’d like to pose to our panel of experts? Visit us on Facebook and ask your question today!  We regularly post answers on​rts and each month we’ll feature one question here at US Youth Soccer Association.