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The Assistant Coaches Toolbox

Joseph TrinseyComment

I got a great follow-up question from a participant in the Coaches Workshop (featuring Luka Slabe) this past Saturday.

I would be curious to hear your opinions on what you think the most important things would be for a young assistant coach to have in their toolbox or qualities that they should have. I’m getting ready to transition from my graduate assistant role into (hopefully) a full time assistant coach role after the 2020 season and looking for almost some direction

If you prefer to listen on audio, I recorded a podcast episode and it’s also on my Youtube channel:

First of all, I love the way this coach is already thinking about the question. To be honest, she doesn’t even really need me to respond, because she’s already thinking about it in the right way. “What do I need to have in my toolbox?” (It’s one of the ironies of life that, once you start asking the right question, you don’t really even need to hear the right answer. But the people who never ask the question in the first place are the ones who most need to hear the answer.)

Because, the overriding principle of, “Build your skills, not your resume,” is how you need to think about this question. The statement, “it’s not what you know, is who you know,” is not only incredibly toxic and arrogant (OMG if only the right people could see how much I know I would have everything I so obviously deserve.), but it’s also dumb. The only way to know the WHAT is to find the WHO. If you want to find the value in the statement, you can read it is, “you can learn what you need to know without seeking out the right people to learn from.”

When you start getting serious about being a better coach, the only way to really learn is to start seeking out those better than you. As your skills raise, the amount of options you have in terms of learning resources start shrinking. When you’re in 9th grade, playing volleyball for the first time, you can learn a lot about passing from your JV coach. At a certain point there may not be much more that person can teach you. You need to keep seeking out higher and higher sources. At a certain level, that’s going to lead to somebody like Karch. There’s a reason he’s coaching the Olympic team.

So keep that in mind, and here’s what I consider to be the top-5 tools that young assistants need to put in their toolbox.


When you are a young coach, time is your ultimate superpower. You have more of it than anybody else. Odds are, you don’t have a family, you don’t have as much responsibility, you don’t have as many needs, and frankly, you just don’t have as much going on in life. Your 48 year-old head coach of a Big 10 team has a lot going on. They have a spouse, kids, maybe grandkids. They get asked to speak at alumni dinners and coaching conventions. Pro agents are calling them to get their opinions on what players to sign. Players call them to ask opinions on what job to take, or what city to move to. They have a lot going on.

You don’t.

Literally, your time isn’t very valuable. Just look at your paycheck if you ever forget. :)

But guess what, that also gives you a power. When I was volunteering at USA, I was the first person in the gym every day. Because… what else was I going to do? I didn’t have to make breakfast for the kids or enjoy a few extra minutes in a wonderful Orange County townhouse. I was sleeping on an air mattress in my Craigslist-rented “bedroom,” aka section of the living room that the person I rented from curtained off from the rest of the room. What was I going to do, linger over coffee and a croissant and read the morning paper?

I would jump at the chance to take video home and clean the DataVolley code until midnight because… what else was I going to do? I was 24 years old, broke, and I slept on an air mattress. It wasn’t like I was going on any dates!

Your goal as a young coach should be to find ways to spend 2 hours to save somebody else 20 minutes. That’s how you make yourself valuable. And by doing so, you start learning how to do that 2-hour task in 20 minutes, because your skill level rises.

Be Good In The Gym

First of all, if you’re a volunteer, being good in the gym might mean you get the nets set up and you wipe down the floors and maintain the volleyballs at the right pressure. Been there, done that, happy to still do it. But you need to have some volleyball skills.

When I coached at some high-level programs, I was coaching players that had a level of skill and/or physicality that would amaze me. I was definitely not as good of a volleyball player as them. But I could do some volleyball-related things that could help the practice. You need to be able to do the same.

  1. Can you run a passing tutor off your arm? Can you stand on the ground and hit consistent float serves to the locations your passer needs to work on? Can you stand on the ground or a box and hit power spins to replicate something of a spin serve?

  2. Can you hit balls with control to work on some defensive moves? Brittany talked about doing this every day with her Wisconsin players. Luka talked about the same. Your players need to get some defensive reps and you need to be able to put some balls in the right zone for them to practice diving, or sprawling, or overhand digging.

  3. Can you go beyond that and jump and block and attack? That was half of my role in my first college volunteer position. It’s not that I was some world-class player, but I could jump and hit with enough power and control that I could get our liberos reps digging. Or blockers reps blocking. And more importantly, I could jump and hit with enough power and control a couple hundred times a practice without much of a break. So get your body in shape.

Okay… check back soon for Part 2 where I discuss 3 more tools to have in your toolbox.