A guide to hiring good coaches

Hiring coaches, like coaching itself, is an art and science. Just as we do in training, you need to have a process that not only helps to hire a candidate (recruit) but also evaluates (assessment) them once they have worked for you to develop them into better coaches (preparation and performance). When we think of coaching excellence we often only thing about this last step, but the hiring process is just as critical. With that in mind, what makes a coach a “good” hire?

As someone who has made several hires over the past few years in my role as Director of Strength & Conditioning at multiple Division 1 schools, I feel I can confidently speak to this process of discovering, vetting, and onboarding quality coaches onto your staff. You must know who you and your department are first before hiring someone just because you think they are “good”. The idea of “good” is relative and is especially true at a mid-major school like Florida Atlantic University, where we will tend to get less experienced people for jobs regardless of position title.

The current model I use at FAU to evaluate & hire quality coaches for any position I may have on my staff has come from various influences over the years. People such as Fergus Connolly (Performance Consultant), Urban Meyer (Head Coach of Jacksonville Jaguars), Vance Pittman (Senior Pastor of Hope Church Las Vegas), Jay Mellette (Director of Sports Performance and Head Athletic Trainer of Vegas Golden Knights), and many others, deserve all the credit as they have helped me assimilate their ideas into 6 “C’s” contained in practices below. These ideas come from some of the greatest minds in sports/leadership, yet they all emphasize the importance of the “right” people for the experience you are currently in . . . not the “best” people.

MicroMacro
Me (Purposeful)Character – Who you areContext – Where you are
We (Personal)Connection – How we doCulture – Who we are
Be (Professional)Competency – What you doCapacity – What you’ll be

These practices also include categories that focus on how they relate to the candidate and others. For example, “ME” is something you can do as a person and your purpose, while “WE” are focused on your relationship with others. “BE” focuses on how well you can do your job overall now and in the future. There are also Cs influencing both micro (individual qualities) and macro (big picture concepts) questions, values, and other things that lead to a detailed vetting process when looking for talent to add to our team. Below are the detailed concepts and questions we focus on for hiring the right people for our environment:

Step 1: Me

The first step is purposeful. It focuses on what you as a person can do and also finding your own purpose.

Character: Who you are (Micro)

Character is 100% by far the #1 quality we look for . . . by a mile! Situationally, character issues will prevent any professional advancement from happening. Questions we ask candidates:

  • What do people say about those who worked with them or under them . . . especially those who are NOT on their reference list?
  • How do they handle confrontation?
  • Social media and public information. How do you present yourself as a coach outside of coaching?
Context: Where you are (Macro)

In what context do they want to work, and will they excel in your environment? Coaches can be “good” yet be in the wrong environment for their strengths. Questions we ask candidates:

  • Do they work well in group vs. private settings? Have they even worked with specific teams (soccer, baseball, etc.)? 
  • Location and culture matter. At FAU, we live in a multi-ethnic, vibrant culture. My previous school Gardner-Webb was a rural, one-stoplight town. Will they personally and professionally excel here?
  • A great question to ask is “Why do you want to work at BLANK SCHOOL/TEAM?” Many people do not have specific answers! Have they researched your program and know anything about what you are about?

Step 2: We

The next step in the process is personal, focused on how they relate to others.

Connection: How we do (Micro)

While you can only get so much information, personal connection is a crucial piece between coaches and other staff members, sports coaches, administrators, and of course the athletes. Similar networks, experiences, and interests help contextualize where someone is coming from to where they are now. This goes from coaching personality to hobbies. Questions we ask candidates:

  • What is your story?
  • What is the biggest NEED, WANT, and FEAR in life?
  • If you could be proud of one accomplishment between now and next year, what would it be?

Interesting enough, I have only hired 1 full-time staff member I previously knew. Our most recent hire, who I did not know yet, connected well and knew he would connect with our staff and athletes. I have not hired people I’ve previously worked with on multiple occasions because we did not feel they would be a good fit in our current setting. FIT is KEY!!!

Culture: Who we are (Macro)

Simply, this is WHO WE ARE. This is expressed through the values that we want as coaches to live daily in training. Here at FAU S&C, they are:

  • STRONG – We Adapt & Overcome Our Environments
  • SERVING – We Build Up & Care For Others
  • SYSTEMATIC – We Get Results Using Scientific Principles

Do potential coaches align with what we value? Everyone brings in their own experiences and beliefs to a program but should share the same values as us. We ask questions that tailor to each value and bring information about our vision, mission, and objectives as a department.

One way we provide information to others and hopefully attract like-minded people is by sharing our department website and playbook with everything there is to know about FAU Olympic Sports Strength & Conditioning. We want everything to be as transparent as possible!

Step 3: Be

This last step focuses on the professional side: how well you can do your job overall now and in the future.

Competency: What you do (Micro)

Where are you at right now to do the job intended? This technical and tactical piece of coaching is usually the first priority in most people’s books but it is only part of what makes a “good” coach. We are looking for coaches who view training from a holistic standpoint addressing and accounting for the 5 key components of high performance:

  • Personal Skills
  • Psychological Skills
  • Physical Skills
  • Technical Skills
  • Tactical Skills

We hope to identify talent (network, social media, etc.) and pursue future candidates vs. just waiting on resumes. This process helps us find people who will excel in our environment. A great question for coaches is “What do you think a good coach looks like?”. This helps with getting a better idea of who they are or what they are hoping to model themselves after.

Capacity: What you’ll be (Macro)

Development as a coach will only go as far as the level of humility and purpose you have. This “ceiling” will prevent people from becoming what they can be. Questions we ask candidates:

  • What would people who have worked with you say about you (Self-reflection)?
  • What would someone else say your biggest weakness is?
  • What is your dream position in strength & conditioning/coaching?

I have been blessed to serve and watch multiple staff members who worked for me go on to bigger and better jobs. This process is easier when you find the right people who check many of the above boxes before even getting into the technical and tactical elements of coaching!

Summary

Overall….People > Everything Else. This process is continued once we onboard a coach to assess them bi-weekly in one-on-one meetings, end of the semester, and end-of-year staff evaluations. The same “C’s” we use to hire we transfer into our evaluation process of 3 “P’s” (Purposeful, Personal, and Professional) which is included below:

Just like training, you must assess not guess! This multi-faceted “process” is a system just like training that leads to an intended result. For more details on our actual evaluation process, see our department playbook at https://linktr.ee/fauolystrength.

In closing, George E. P. Box’s famous quote holds in any process or “model” of hiring coaches “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. I hope a look into how we look for coaches will be useful for you. Ultimately, I hope you can take some of these concepts to better your ability to select and hire good people first…then good coaches!