The New Coach: Tips for Graduate Assistants
Joining a new program in any capacity typically comes with feelings of excitement and anticipation of adjustments. For many aspiring coaches, a graduate assistant (GA) position can be the first entry point to the coaching world and comes with its own unique set of adjustments. This past year the WBCA started a “Coach to Coach Mentoring Program” in which I was connected with a diverse group of other graduate assistants from across the country. Together, we have compiled some bits of advice that we hope can help other graduate assistants navigate their first years on the job!
Let’s Begin with Introductions…
Within the first few weeks on the job, be sure to reach out and introduce yourself to those associated with your program. Everyone from the Athletic Director, Sports Information staff and academic advisors to the radio personalities, managers and trainers are great people to get to know! As a graduate assistant, the types of tasks assigned to you can drastically vary. The more touch points you have across the university the more smoothly some of these tasks can be accomplished! As you are just beginning your coaching career, recognize that people are not going to come to you; you have to find appropriate ways to initiate and make a connection with them.
If there are other graduate assistants at the university or within athletics, get to know them! Sammi Goldsmith (Virginia Tech GA) says, “Not only do they understand how busy your schedule is, but they can serve as awesome spur of the moment lunch-dates.” Getting to know the other graduate assistants also helps expose you to what is going on all across the university. You’ll later realize that what the marketing and athletic foundation graduate assistants are doing for example, can be helpful or provide great inspiration for what your tasks may be on your team! Mistie Bass (formerly Indiana University GA) suggests, “find a coach who is wiling to invest time into you and can help guide you towards doing your best in all areas of the job.” As a general rule of thumb, seek to add value to what they are doing for a period of time and then ask for help. Add value before you ask for value in return.
Grow Those Relationships!
Getting face time or one-on-one time with coaches and administrators can be a daunting task given the busy schedule that surrounds athletics. Additionally, every relationship is individualized and takes different things to grow. Some tangible things you can do to help grow these relationships are:
- Show up to work early so that you get one on one time with whoever shows up next!
- Go to lunch with the coaches
- Continually be available when they are in need of help!
- “Show up, work hard, and be loyal”
- Show your head coach how grateful you are to be there and working with such amazing people. Don’t’ assume that they know, find a way to say the words to them. Even just sending a text now and then can go a long way!
- “Ask to borrow a book or DVD from the head coach and then it is something you can both converse and trade ideas about in order to start getting to know each other’s thoughts and opinions on certain topics.” –Brittany Batts (Former GA at Castleton University; Currently assistant coach at Bridgewater College)
- Pick up on small details: what drink do they like on the bus trips? How do they take their coffee? Surprise them with this or have it ready before they have to ask.
There is a reason that the word “graduate” is a part of your title, and while the basketball responsibilities often seem to be a majority of the job, it’s important to still acknowledge the schoolwork! Adam Gleason (Former GA at Oklahoma State; now Director of Operations at Denver) advises, “Stay healthy! Eat right, workout, and get enough sleep.” All of those things can help you better organize and more efficiently finish the growing to-do lists! Another tip is to complete all assignments a week earlier than due, so when the (inevitable) surprises pop up, you can handle them with ease. Prioritizing school is of course important, but don’t let school steal valuable learning opportunities for you to learn in the office or on the court.
Hindsight is 20-20
No two graduate assistant spots are exactly alike! After a year or two on the job, here are some things that veteran graduate assistants wish they would’ve known before they jumped in, that could’ve helped smooth the transition:
- Ask a lot of questions, especially when joining a staff that has been together for years. They all have their routines and won’t think to automatically explain the basics to you because they are automatic for them by now. It’s okay to say you don’t know and ask for help.
- Bring snacks until you get a feel for the schedule! Sometimes lunch just isn’t a thing. Having snacks that you can grab on the go can be a real day saver.
- This is not a 9-5 job. Sometimes it’s 6-10 and sometimes its 10-3; come in ready to be flexible and expect long hours during the season!
- Do your expected responsibilities as well as you possibly can. Outside of your job description, continue to seek out professional development and learning opportunities.
- Try to gain clarity before taking the job of where exactly you will fit into the staff. You can do this by asking if that atmosphere is more of a mentoring type feel or a more job detailed atmosphere.
- Make time for yourself. You can only give your best to your players if YOU are at your best.
- If no one is noticing you, there is a good chance that you are doing your job really well! Eventually your hard work will be noticed, but this can take months! Stay engaged and keep asking if there is anything else you can assist with!
Draw the Line and Don’t Cross It
Be wary of getting too close to the players, being friendly with them is great but you aren’t friends with them. One of the best things you can do proactively is to establish a professional relationship with the players first. Many graduate assistants tend to be close in age to the players (or sometimes even younger than the players!) but it is important to avoid hanging out with them on a social level. That being said, it is definitely important to build a trusting relationship with the players so they know you care about them. One of the best strategies for finding this balance is to pay close attention to how the full time coaches you work with interact with the players and then follow suit. Never engage in complaining with them, instead try to provide solutions to the problems they are facing. If you want to be an assistant coach as your next step, then start acting like it in terms of professionalism now.
Ballin’ On A Budget
Let’s face it, being a graduate assistant is going to come with some financial sacrifices. Don’t be embarrassed to pack a lunch instead of going out to lunch all of the time! Be smart about your grocery shopping, eat healthy when you can (especially take advantage of ordering healthy at team meals!), but it is okay to throw in some PB&J’s or ramen dinners to make ends meet. Drink the office coffee and save on gym memberships by working out at the university facilities! Lastly, be proactive and ask around for opportunities to work a clinic, camp, or another sporting event on campus.
To Sum It Up…
- “Remember your why!! It is so easy in this profession to live and die by wins and losses because there is tremendous pressure to win. But we as GAs and coaches have the incredible opportunity to impact the lives of the student-athletes we coach.” –Adam Gleason
- “It is NOT going to be easy. Your first year is one of ups and downs, but be a sponge and let all of the info soak in. Don’t ever get so frustrated that you lose sight of your goals because those can be an amazing source of inspiration just when you think your tank is running dry.” –Sammi Goldsmith
- “Try to get involved in as much as possible on campus whether it is basketball related or not so that you can be representing your team in a positive manner and other players may start following your lead and getting involved as well.” -Brittany Batts
Special thanks go to Adam Gleason, Mistie Bass, Sammi Goldsmith, and Brittany Batts for sharing their unique experiences!