Mike Deegan: Life Lessons Learned Through Sports
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Seven Things You Should Consider Before Sliding Into The Big Seat

I was the top assistant coach for nine years at a highly successful baseball program.  We won National Championships in 2006, 2011, and 2012.  What a great experience!  I had the opportunity to be a part of nearly every aspect of the program: fundraising, recruiting, coaching, hosting regional tournaments, etc.  You couldn’t ask for a better apprenticeship.  In addition, I spent those years studying and reading about leadership.  It was and still is a passion of mine.  I was ready to be a head coach.  Or so I thought.     
Sure, everyone says they want to sit in the big seat.  But do they really?  Before you step into a leadership position it is important you “get ready” for these seven things:
  1. Get ready to be unpopular: As an assistant, everyone likes you.  As the leader, that won’t be the case.  The happiness of our players, parents and coaches is really important to me, probably too important at times.  Let me be the first to tell you, not everyone will be happy and they will more than likely blame you.  Can you handle that?
  2. Get ready to be questioned: As an assistant you make suggestions, as a leader you make decisions.  There is a huge difference.   And guess what, everyone knows more than you.  People with fractions of the information will tell you what you are doing wrong.  The questions will come from everywhere.  In my profession that means assistant coaches, players, parents, bus drivers, fans, administrators, faculty….the list goes on and on.  Can you be confident enough in yourself to make bold decisions?  Can you stay strong and not allow outside influences to affect your decision making process?
  3. Get ready to have your character challenged:  I recently had dinner with a Federal judge.  We were discussing the coaching profession when I said, “you are never popular as a head coach.”  He responded by saying, “tell me about it, I’m the most hated man in America right now.”  If you decide to lead you will be attacked at some point.  People will take shots at you either directly or more often than not, behind your back.  How will you handle this? 
  4. Get ready to have your family affected: Yes, your family will feel the impact of your leadership position.  Don’t let anyone fool you; this will be tough on your family.  The hours will be longer and you will never be completely “off” from the job.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve come home from a long day at work and tried to shift gears into dad and husband when I’ve received the “emergency” text or email.  This absolutely impacts the family.   Yes, dad is home but now dad is distracted. 
  5. Get ready to be on an island:  There will only be a very, very select few people who know what you are going through.  Other people may think they know but they don’t.  You won’t have the ability to “vent” to many people.  You will have to find a core group of friends that will be there to support you, provide you with advice and help you through the difficult times. 
  6. Get ready for a different type of relationship with your players: This may be the toughest challenge.  As an assistant, typically, you have a very close relationship with the players.  However, as an assistant, you are not making the final decision.  The leader needs to maintain a healthy distance.  You will have to guard against getting too close; you have to make sure it doesn’t appear that you are “playing favorites.” 
  7. Get ready to deal with people who just don’t get it: You will work around the clock trying to provide growth and contribution for those you lead.  You will sacrifice your personal time for others.  And, there will still be some people who don’t get it.  In my profession, it all revolves around playing time.  You will strive to teach the life long lessons that sports provide.  It won’t matter to some.  This will hurt.  Can you stay the course? Can you continue to try to do what’s right despite of the criticism?
Of course, the seven things listed above focus on baseball.  However, my guess is these things apply to most leadership positions.  I can tell you this, despite the challenges, I love being a leader.  I cannot imagine being anything else.
To anyone reading this who is an assistant coach here are a few pieces of advice:
  1. Keep learning.
  2. Do everything you can to help the head coach.
  3. Enjoy your present situation (don’t wish away time).
  4. Be aware of the difference between being a friend and being a coach.
  5. Understand that things change when you become a head coach.
Head coaches, CEO’s, owners, and any leaders reading this, can you add anything else that changes when you step into the “big seat?”  I’d love to hear your thoughts.
One final thought, to anyone who is in a leadership position and is trying to do it right, I salute you.  Remember, you aren’t alone.  At times, people who “don’t get it” will make you feel like you are wrong or even a bad person.  If your heart is in the right place, trust your instincts.  The people that do “get it” will be thankful for their experience.
Keep Pushing,
Coach Deegan