Making the Transition from Assistant to Head Coach

The transition from assistant to head coach is an exciting time, but it also carries with it potential pitfalls and new problems.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” –Arthur Ashe

Transition from assistant to head

I just discovered Mike Deegan’s email newsletter.  He writes regularly about life lessons from sports and coaching.

The particular one that came to my attention, “Seven Things You Should Consider Before Sliding Into the Big Seat,” has to do with the transition from assistant to head coach.

The transition is not always an easy one.

Grass Is Often Greener

I have been a head coach and an assistant coach in my career.  I have enjoyed each job, but whenever I am doing one job, I have a tendency to remember and focus on my favorite parts of the other job.

There is a reason for the cliche “the grass is always greener.” It’s pretty true. Whatever problem you are dealing with, from difficult decisions to doing the tedious jobs, seems much worse than the problems the other is dealing with at the same time.

On top of that we also can think we might handle a decision better than someone else discounting the stress and other factors involved.

Becoming a Head Coach

Deegan in his article lists out the most difficult changes for a new head coach.

He starts with “Get ready to be unpopular.

“Get ready to be unpopular: As an assistant, everyone likes you.  As the leader, that won’t be the case.  The happiness of our players, parents and coaches is really important to me, probably too important at times.  Let me be the first to tell you, not everyone will be happy and they will more than likely blame you.  Can you handle that?”

You have to be able to handle that when you make the transition. If you can shift from worrying about being liked to making value based decisions in which you elevate being respected then you will be fine.

But it takes getting used to and there are days when it’s hard on a person.

Advice for assistant coaches

He concludes the piece with a brief list of great advice for current assistant coaches including this very important one:

Enjoy your present situation. (Don’t wish time away.)

This is great advice for assistant coaches. If you can trust your time will come then it affords you a chance to enjoy both learning and teaching. You’ll know when it’s really time to go.

The advice is also equally true for a head coach.

Don’t Wish Time Away

I wish I had reminded myself of this more when I was a head coach: don’t wish time away.

I sometimes got caught wallowing in what was difficult about being in charge and forgot what’s great about being in charge. When I remembered and changed my lens things improved and often very quickly.

When you are in charge you have an opportunity to create an environment and culture that brings joy and respect to everyone on the team. You get to create the vision, establish and enact a plan, center deep-held values, and be a part of others reaching their potential.

We may not be able to provide playing time for each person, but we can teach each person well and hold each accountable. Do each of things in the long run that are good for a person or a team.

Every day may not be easy but in the end that’s a valuable endeavor.


Instead of disconnecting as the stress grows let’s begin to connect to others. Worry less if you are liked and more if others are thriving.

Each time I do this, each time I actually provide to others what I would like for myself, things improve.

And, not just for me. Things improve for the team and staff as well.

I think Deegan’s list has merit–we all feel these things–but we often forget to embrace our power to change this dynamic as well.

We forget to be right where we are.

The book Popular has been a valuable resource to me in understanding the power of connection.

Assistant coach to head coach transition

Buy Popular at Amazon.