Courtesy: Chris Ritter, founder of RITTER Sports Performance
It’s the goal of many coaches: become a head coach at a college program, especially at the Division I level. But what does it really entail to get there? What key factors are often overlooked by applicants interviewing for their first head coach position?
This time of year, there are many great jobs opening up in the college ranks, and rumors about who is going to end up where. But what really makes the different in the interview process?
I’ve been traveling around to many of the best college swim programs, getting training sets, technique and dryland videos for The Hive, and through these visits there’s been a lot of great conversations.
In particular, I had some great conversations when I was at NC State talking with Head Coach Braden Holloway and Associate Head Coach Mark Bernardino, that I felt I needed to pass on to other coaches that were interested in what the interview process is like.
“You need to be ready to share with the school you’re interviewing at how you are going to move the team forward. It’s really key to know the team’s history, strengths and weaknesses and how you’ll direct that as a new head coach.” was Braden’s advice to young coaches.
Here’s what you should be thinking through if you aspire to be a collegiate head coach one day.
– Ask the Athletic Director what their expectations are.
This can vary greatly from school to school. You need to be sure you understand what matters most to the AD and how you’ll be evaluated. This is especially important to know if your vision lines up with the AD’s in terms of what direction you want to take the program.
– What kind of support will you get?
Getting the job is one thing, but once you are “in it” will it really be as good of a situation as advertised? How much support you’ll get can often be a huge factor in how attractive a job is. This can usually depend on what conference the school is in but even then, it can vary from school to school. Knowing what your current/future facility situation is, how much fundraising you’ll have to do and what your team’s scholarship situation are just a few things you’ll need to be aware of and comfortable with before accepting a position.
– Know the team’s history, strengths and weaknesses.
Applying blindly to jobs without any background is a waste of your time. But don’t assume because you’ve “heard” of a program that you really understand the history and other parts of it. Do your homework and have an ongoing list of “top choices” based on these factors. You never know when your “dream job” will open up, but you need to do your research to see if it is really all it’s made out to be.
– Speak with the current team captains.
Getting to know the current team captains will help you to learn about the current team culture and what, if anything, you may need to change if you get the job. These are your biggest allies to changing the culture and so being on the same page and being able to develop a relationship with them during the interview process should be a big factor in your decision.
– Have relationships already in place.
As a head coach, you’ll have a lot more on your plate than what you’re going to be doing for workouts that week. That’s why it’s critical you have a great staff to help you succeed. But after you interview isn’t the time to start making connections with who would be a good potential hire. You should already be networking, getting to know other coaches and evaluating who you think would be a good fit with you and your vision, if you end up getting offered the job.
– School Support Staff
This ties into the type of support you should ask the AD during the interview process. Knowing who the strength coach, athletic trainer and even academic support staff are and how they operate can be a big variable that’s easy to overlook. You’ll rely on these people just as much as the assistant coaches you hire, but often times you won’t have much say over the support staff so knowing if they’ll buy into your vision requires some investigating.
– Be up front with your current head coach.
Relationships are the key to your success so don’t burn any bridges by keeping your current head coach out of the loop. In fact, if you’re with a quality head coach they probably want to help you develop during your time with the program and then be in a position to take on your own when the timing is right.
Big Picture Questions
– What’s your program’s philosophy?
– Who do you want on your staff?
– What type of student-athletes will you recruit?
– What will “success” look like for you?
These are the types of questions you should spend a lot of time determining your answers to and when you’re busy polishing your resume and submitting your application isn’t the time to be doing this big picture thinking.
If you aspire to be a head coach take the time now to start developing your own answers. There’s no “right” answer but you do need to know YOUR answers. And be courageous enough to realize when a potential job that you thought was ideal isn’t turning out that way, to be able to walk away and wait for one that does check all your boxes.
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