Ali Sanders is in her second year with the University of Florida’s women’s basketball staff. Sanders began her journey with the Gators as a Video Assistant in August of 2016, before transitioning to a Graduate Assistant in January of 2017. The Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, native is pursuing a Master of Science in Sport Management.
Preparing to Become a Graduate Assistant
When I was looking for my first position on a coaching staff, I talked to everyone I knew in the coaching world. I talked to old coaches, coaches in different sports at my college, and anyone who had connections in college women’s basketball. I wasn’t well connected at all, so I asked for advice and any help they could give me!
Each one of them told me that I needed to keep connecting to coaches around the country. I got to know Erik DeRoo (Abiline Christian AC) through my former coach, and he told me to reach out to coaches at any level who had done something that I was interested in. For example, look into teams with the highest shooting percentages in the country, teams who run offenses/defenses that I like, etc. He told me to ask them how they got those percentages up or how they taught the offense/defense.
With the coaches that I knew well, I asked them to make calls on my behalf, and keep my name in the front of their mind for any available positions. The greatest thing I did to prepare for my first job in college basketball is being a part of the “So You Want to be a Coach” program. Being at the Final 4, I got to network like crazy and sit in on seminars and sharing circles with amazing coaches.
A lot of my development has come from reading books and asking people questions.
There are a number of things I get to do! Mainly I work as an assistant to all of the coaches. I assist one of our coaches with scouting during the season. I fulfill recruiting responsibilities like mail outs, organizing travel, gathering tournament schedules, and on campus visit activities. I rebound for the girls and am active in practices. I “recruit” and coach the practice player team. I work with the managers to make sure that the “team behind the team” is always one step ahead.
Tips for making the most of your GA experience
- Embrace things that are hard and uncomfortable to you.
- Take on as many tasks as you can and do them quickly and efficiently.
- Practice effective communication.
- Learn from other coaches. Reach out to coaches from other schools. Most likely they will respond to your email or letter! Ask other coaches on campus if you can watch their practice. Come up with questions to ask them.
- Stay organized at work and with your school work. Plan out when you will do your homework around work.
- Build a routine. Don’t leave out things that are truly important to you, but be ready to sacrifice to make time for the things you need to do.
- Remember your why! Remember why you do what you do and don’t take your foot off the gas.
Biggest Surprise About Being On a Coaching Staff
My biggest surprise was how much time coaches invest into their jobs. I have been with two staffs now and both have blown me away by their work ethic. I was also surprised with how much time they all take to invest in GA’s. My relationships with these people are really special. I’m grateful to have worked for such outstanding people.
Best Advice You’ve Received?
“Your biggest advantage is your authenticity.”
Difference Between Year 1 and Year 2 on the Sideline
Year 1 was the year of the PB&J and film sessions. Everything was new, nights went late, mornings started early, PB&J and cutting film were my two best friends. I tried to get involved in anything I could help with or learn about. I watched my coaches with intent. I wanted to know how they do everything!
Year 2 has some similarities because I am with a new staff, but a year under my belt has helped me take on more responsibilities. The longer I’ve been here the more I’ve become invested in the players and the staff, and the more I’ve been able to help them and learn from them. It’s critical to learn the needs of your staff and your players. You become really valuable and appreciated if you do that.
An area I have aimed to improve in my second year at Florida is my communication. I work to be concise and clear when communicating with with coaches, players, practice players, and managers. I’ve also tried to take advantage of the resources around me. I asked to be included in the athletic department wide coaching development monthly meetings. I talk to assistant coaches from various sports teams at UF. I also go to our men’s team practices when I can. I have learned a lot from stepping away from women’s basketball and seeing different perspectives.