The score is 0-0, two minutes to go, and you have the ball at the halfway line. Can you maneuver through six or eight defenders, confidently maintaining possession, while the crowd roars, giving yourself a shot on goal to win the game? It’s a lot of pressure, and only a prepared and skilled athlete can thrive in this situation.
What about when you’re in position to score a coaching job, not just a goal? It’s exactly the same type of pressure, with the stakes being higher when you want to win the job.
What’s an AD or Athletic Committee looking for from an aspiring head coach in an interview? How can you leave it all on the table and give yourself the best opportunity of earning a better position?
Let’s face it, a lot of coaching vacancies are filled by those with connections and big-time recommendations. In fact, some are filled before you even hear they’re open. That being said, you’ll never move forward if you don’t take chances. So, how can you help yourself when the opportunity presents itself and you’re in the interview?
- HOW CAN I PREPARE? Do as much research as possible on the history and achievements of the school or club. Be able to talk about it comfortably. Develop practice questions to rehearse with someone to build your confidence. Make sure some of the questions are challenging and tough. You need to know how to answer, “Why are you leaving your current job?” or “Why wasn’t your team successful?” Videotaping the practice interview may give you more insight on strengths, body language and areas of concern. I’ve included a list of interview questions to consider.
- HOW DO I SET THE STAGE WITH THE GREETING? When you enter the room, seek everyone out and greet them with a handshake while asking their name, leaning in and looking them in the eye. Let them know how honored you are to be there.
- ARE THERE RIGHT AND WRONG ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS? Not really, just be yourself. Be consistent with questions dealing with discipline and how you would handle challenging situations. Stay with the question and don’t wander off on some other subject. Trying to answer questions in a lofty way when that isn’t really you will come through as fake.
- HOW SHOULD I DRESS? Be professional looking when you show up. Remember, you’ll be the face of the program and employers want a coach who shows and acts first class. Showing up casual and unkempt will be seen as a reflection of your personality and ultimately your coaching demeanor.
- HOW DO I TALK/ACT? Stay focused, scanning the room and making eye contact with everyone as you answer questions. Make an effort to keep them involved by saying, “I know you’ve experienced that situation as well.” Be respectful of everything you say and do. Refrain from talking ill of the previous coach. Only speak in terms of what you can do. Don’t mention the challenges you had with your last team in a negative way, or make excuses.
- HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEAK ABOUT MYSELF? Speak confidently and proudly with some humility mixed in. Be sure not to go on and on about what you’ve done. They’re more concerned with what you can do for them. Mention those who’ve helped you such as assistant coaches, administrators, parents and outstanding players.
- SHOULD I HAVE A PRESENTATION WITH MY PLANS FOR THE TEAM? Absolutely! It shows you’ve done your homework and already have a detailed plan to start today with your new team. Include the team’s logo throughout. The readiness and passion to start tomorrow is what they want. This is always impressive to interviewers.
- WHAT ABOUT MY LACK OF SUCCESS? Always be honest. If your success isn’t or hasn’t been where you wanted it to be, let them know your plans and what you plan to accomplish. Point out progress and successes that may not be apparent in the win-loss record. Let your passion to succeed shine. Be proud that you’ve worked hard, and continue to strive to achieve your goals.
- WHAT WOULD INDICATE A LACK OF INTEREST IN ME? You’ll be able to get a real feel for interest in you, early in the interview. When interviewers start looking at each other waiting for someone else to ask a question or they don’t seem to be paying attention, it may be a lack of interest. Another indicator may be the fact they’re interviewing two candidates at the same time. This is a very uneasy situation, and they may be doing this to save time by running through candidates quickly. In my opinion, it’s not a very professional thing to do and is an indication of how they run their sports program.
- WHAT ABOUT FOLLOWING UP? Ask about the time frame for filling the job, and when they plan on contacting those interviewed. It’s always a good idea to call or email them the next day and thank them for taking the time to interview you. As you leave, walk around the room and shake hands again. Let them know if they have any questions they can contact you. If the deadline time passes with no contact, call them.
- IS IT A GOOD IDEA TO INTERVIEW FOR SEVERAL JOBS AT THE SAME TIME? It can be a negative, especially since most AD’s know each other and communicate frequently. They may feel you’re job shopping and don’t take theirs seriously. It can also be a distraction to be thinking of so many programs and keeping your information straight. Do your best to, at least, narrow it down to your top two.
- SHOULD I ASK THEIR VISION OF THE NEW COACH? It simply may not match what your expectations are, and it may not be possible to do so. If this is the case, let them know early.
- SHOULD I ASK ABOUT THE SALARY? Research the job first to see what it pays before the interview. You have to know if you can afford to make a job change from a personal standpoint. If you’ve done your research, you might say at the end of the interview, “I understand the salary for this position is ___________. Is that correct?” If it’s a negotiable salary, wait until an offer has been made or until they bring it up during the interview.
I’ve taken for granted this is a meet and greet interview allowing you to sit in front of or across from the hiring committee. I do know some schools or institutions have used phone or media interviews. Those are essential especially in the case of a candidate or candidates who live a long distance away, or just can’t be there in person. I will say if that’s the case, those are the toughest. You aren’t able to scan the room, make eye contact or gauge the atmosphere or feelings of those on the committee. It also doesn’t allow them to see your passion, or expressions of determination as you explain why you’re right for the job. Be sincere with your answers, showing through your voice all that shines in your ability and personality. Stay engaged by asking for clarifications or make a point to ask questions back to committee members to keep the dialog moving smoothly.
Interviews can seem contrived, and certainly may miss something important that you feel is significant. Questions may have very little to do with who you are, and your ability to lead a team. If that’s the case, share information you want the interviewers to know at the end of the interview.
You may get a sense that the position is already filled. Committee members that aren’t paying attention or seem distracted and bored are good indicators. Or it could be you lost their attention with an answer on the last question. If you feel that’s the case, stop and go back, ask for a clarification of the question and either explain your answer in more depth, or give a new answer based on the clarification.
Having been on both sides of the interview table, my recommendation is to just relax, be yourself and let the committee see you’re the right person for the job. Allow your confidence to show, and be genuine in everything you say.
Nothing will guarantee you get the job, but think about all the attributes you want your players to have: Persistence, Character, Integrity, Loyalty, Work Ethic, Determination, and Relentlessness. Those are all the things you want to come across as you talk to the committee.
If this job doesn’t work out, be persistent. Never lose that passion and continue to work toward your dream.
Here are a number of questions that may arise during a job interview.
- What qualifies you for this job?
- How will you deal with an angry parent after a game?
- Define your coaching style in three words.
- Describe a typical practice session for your team during the season.
- Why are you leaving your current position?
- Do you have expectations for your players? What are five?
- What will give us an indication that you had a successful season?
- Where does your coaching passion come from?
- What have you used in the past to motivate your players?
- Describe your best game and why. Your worst game/moment and why.
- What role will your assistants have?
- Your best player breaks a rule before a big game. How do you deal with it?
- What are your strong coaching areas? Your areas of concern?
- What do you hope your players take with them after they graduate?
- How will you deal with your team after a heartbreaking loss?
- What’s your philosophy with respect to parents?
- Several players complain about a certain player. How do you deal with it?
- What specifically will you do to challenge your players?
- How will you determine the leaders of your team?
- What are three personal coaching goals you want to achieve?
- What is your definition of character?
- What are three words your colleagues would use to describe you?
- Why should we hire you?
Often we’re swamped with paperwork, scheduling and practice plans. It’s common to be so determined to get those completed we lose track of what’s most important, our players. Remember what it was like when you played? Sure the game may have changed, but two distractions never will, doubt and anxiety. I know you have a sense when you see it in what your players say and do before a big game. Are you ready to help them through it?
Players face many challenges throughout their career, non greater than the questions that race through their minds creating doubt and anxiety. How can they deal with it all? Should they avoid them, push them back, only to face them another day?
Often the questions listed below can keep a player from achieving their dream and realizing how good they can become. There will always be questions along the way. Some remind players to get back on track, while others place doubt in their mind over their dedication, ability, determination or lack of it.
Let’s take a look at some questions players face:
WHY DO I PLAY? After a tough practice, preseason conditioning, injury or a heart breaking loss it’s natural to ask this question. Why subject yourself to such punishment and despair? Is it worth it? Take a moment and visit those special memories you created with teammates and the positive moments shared along the way. It only takes a few to let you know why you play.
DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? As you progress from high school to college you find out quickly that your skill is matched or below your teammates and opponents. Are you as good as you can be? Have you honestly pushed yourself? Probably not yet, so just be determined to improve every day. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You know the answer, but are you really willing?
IF NOT TODAY WHEN? It’s easy to put things off until tomorrow. Champions refuse to do that. They understand that today is a gift for learning and improving. Tomorrow will have its own set of challenges to face. Don’t let yourself off the hook today by putting something off that should be worked on today. Look it in the eye, accomplish it and move on, you’ll be glad you did.
HAVE EXCUSES BECOME PART OF MY DAY? Have you ever caught yourself telling a teammate or coach you just didn’t feel good when in actuality there was nothing wrong? How about with an activity or skill that you didn’t feel comfortable with? Putting yourself in game situations on the practice field which are new and make you uncomfortable allows you to grow. Did you make an excuse to avoid it? Once you get started on an excuse path it gets easier and easier. Stay disciplined, avoid excuses and embrace tough situations.
CAN I LOOK IN THE MIRROR? At the end of the day can you stand in front of the mirror and be proud of your efforts? It has nothing to do with winning and losing. It has everything to do with you giving an honest effort for yourself and your teammates. Only you can give a true assessment of your dedication and determination. One person we can never fool is ourselves.
WHAT IF I MAKE A MISTAKE? Mistakes are part of any game. By dwelling on this question and worrying about who’s watching, you highlight it and make it bigger than it is. If it’s the only thing you see during a game, guess what? Mistakes will come your way. Great players make mistakes, but what they see is the reward and what can be accomplished past the mistakes. Focus on what you can control, your effort, not mistakes.
WHO CAN I TURN TO? Without someone to share your thoughts and feelings, they suddenly consume every thought you have. Find a teammate or friend who will take the time to listen. They may not have any answers, and that’s okay. Just by sharing them you’ll be able to release some of the added pressure you were feeling. Great friends never quickly judge and understand you may not be seeking solutions.
WHO AM I HURTING? Mainly yourself. By always carrying around negative thoughts and questions you inhibit your ability to play your best and be a good teammate. You also impact your team, and is that fair to those who work just as hard and deserve your best? Change your mindset and tackle every situation and challenge with passion and enthusiasm. It’s how you grow.
HOW CAN I AVOID DOUBT/FEAR/ANXIETY? Not sure you can totally, but you can certainly reduce it. See yourself in shining moments where you make the perfect pass, big save, game winning goal, etc. Draw from all the past successes in your career. When your image and mindset focuses more on what you’ve accomplished and who and what you can become, doubt, fear and anxiety become smaller and smaller. Eventually those thoughts and questions will fade away.
HOW DO I GET BACK THE PASSION I HAD AS A LITTLE KID? No reason you can’t, but understand you’ve grown into a new person and player. Everyone thinks back to those days when we ran around the field freely with a love for the game. It brought us to where we are today. Keep those memories close and remember you have new responsibilities for yourself and your teammates. Go ahead and embrace the game the way you did back then. It’s up to you.
Questions allow your players to grow. It’s their conscious asking, “Are you where you want to be, doing what you love, giving all you have, and being the person and player you are capable of?” The challenge is to not dwell on the questions, but to answer them and move on. Players will always be the only one who knows if they answered them truthfully. When they do it frees them up to play again with the passion they did as a kid.
I wish you the best in reminding them how strong they really are!
Often we learn of high profile coaches who step away from their respective sports. It seems surprising and makes us wonder why these successful coaches didn’t want to continue a career they obviously loved.
Is there a common thread? Could the issue or challenge be alleviated, or relieved in part? How many other coaches in club, high school or college step away unnoticed due to suffering from the same condition?
Coaching can be a stressful career, and it requires wearing many hats. The variety of demands is one of the allures of the job because it presents us challenges to solve and keeps every day fresh and new. Here are a few of those hats.
Visible Leader– In the spotlight at school, the community and during press conferences. Being the leader of a team and patrolling the sidelines fuels that ego.
Strategist/Planner– Moving the X’s and O’s to our advantage during a game while matching wits with an opposing coach is stimulating and it allows us a plan to lead our team to success.
Counselor– Many challenges throughout the year on and off the field have little to do with our game, but have everything to do with the mental state of our players. Knowing and understanding this means the difference in success and failure.
Enforcer– Stepping in when needed to hold ourselves, our staff and our players accountable. Our actions must match our words regardless of who is involved.
Parent– In a parent-like way, we are delighted to we see our players succeed, are there when times are tough and have to be totally honest as well.
Rock– That stoic and solid persona in the darkest of times after a big time loss, a parent issue, or a player does something out of character. Often the rock prefers to carry the load locked inside with no help from anyone.
Let’s focus on the “Rock.” What situations require and take so much of us?
Big loss against a team you’re supposed to beat.
Losing in the post season when expectations are high.
Player breaking a school or team rule.
Heated parental confrontation
Losing control in a game and getting ejected.
Player(s) who are self centered and care little about the team.
Athletic Director or Administrator who does little to support your team.
Newspaper or reporter who blasts your team regularly, or ignores it.
Facilities that are sub par and in disrepair.
We could name more, but I’m certain you’d agree these are tough to deal with. Granted some are in your control, and others can be dealt with in an appropriate manner. But will they leave scars? Will they heal quickly, or might you drag them around for a long time?
Many veteran coaches will tell you, “You can’t be thin skinned and do this job.” What exactly does that mean? If you’ve put your heart and soul into your team and your program, some situations are going to sting from time to time. Telling me I’m thin skinned doesn’t approach how I should handle the after effect of these situations.
Dealing with these challenges all alone can be the dark side of coaching. Those times in a career when something gets to the very core of who we are. It’s an area that isn’t talked about in coaching classes. Yes, the challenges are listed and some solutions are given, but no discussion about how to deal with absorbing it and taking this part of the job home with you every night.
As coaches we often hold some things in, never share the distress and blame, figuring it’s our fault and just wait for time to slowly pass so we can get over them. Is that the best way? Surely not.
So how can we deal with these challenges allowing us to move forward?
Mentor/Coaching Peer– Talking about the issue is usually a good first step. Share it with someone you trust who may have been in the same situation in their career. Just knowing that you’re not the first coach to deal with this challenge, and the fact that you’re not alone in carrying this burden can be a relief.
Athletic Director- If the load of the job is wearing you down, talk to your AD about delegating some of the responsibility and how best to prioritize the tasks required every day. AD’s are experienced in these situations and can remind you that you’re not in this alone. They want you to succeed and be at your best mentally for your student athletes.
Parent/Player/Reporter/Team- If someone has upset you, set up a meeting with them and do your best to resolve the issue. They may not know what they’ve done, and if you were wrong, admit it. They need to know how you view the best way to move forward. Even if you don’t resolve the issue you’ll feel better for making the attempt.
Husband/Wife/Partner- Talk about the challenges of the day with those at home. While they may or may not understand every detail, just by sharing your feelings you will have released some of the stress of the day. Plus you may be surprised at their insight of how best to handle a situation and move forward. Keep in mind they care about you most.
24-Hour Rule- Wait 24 hours regardless of the situation before you act. If only someone had shared that with me. After a devastating loss I was totally washed out. After tossing all night long, I made the decision to resign the next morning figuring the loss was totally my fault. I didn’t even tell my wife. My team gathered in a classroom and after telling them I had let them down, I shared my decision. The look in their eyes was utter astonishment. What I failed to realize was the loss was devastating to them as well, and now in a selfish act I had hurt them even more. During the day I got a couple of heartfelt letters from players asking me to reconsider, as well as phone calls from several parents. My wife’s voice of reason, after learning what I had done, was the final assurance I needed to stay on. I am deeply indebted to players, parents and my wife for helping me see the truth. Had I shared my thoughts and feelings early I feel certain I wouldn’t have resigned in the first place.
Carrying a weight like this is tough, and many coaches are often unwilling to share because they think it’s a sign of weakness. It’s quite the opposite. By sharing we show our strength to work through challenges and unload a burden that hinders us from being at our best for ourselves, our family and our players.
If you’ve faced these coaching challenges alone, you aren’t the first to keep everything locked inside, and you won’t be the last. Just know it’s a great feeling when you let it go by sharing it with those who can help.
I wish you and your team the best!