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Celia Slater and Becky Burleigh Discuss Hot Topics for Assistant Coaches

Posted by Lexi Dakin on Feb 19, 2016 in Events 0 Comments

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NSCAA.com has been posting recaps and videos gathered from the 2016 NSCAA Convention. The following is a session recap from one session held during the week.


Celia Slater is a nationally recognized leader committed to providing professional development opportunities to coaches of all sports. She has started an immersion program called “ACIP – Assistant Coach Immersion Program.” The program is meant to challenge assistant coaches, push them out of their comfort zone, and make them become self-aware.

Slater presented alongside University of Florida head coach Becky Burleigh a session at the NSCAA Convention focused on hot topics for assistant coaches. The session was formatted as a workshop for assistants to discuss the problems they come across in their roles.

The first topic brought up was the matter of whether or not it is okay to have dating within a team. The room was split into two, with the right side belonging to those who believed it was okay, and the left side belonging to those who thought there should be rules against dating teammates. Discussion ensued with comments from the left side being:

The team is a family, and you do not want to taint that with dating

You don’t want to lose respect for your teammates if/when a breakup occurs

Coaches need to be very upfront with the rule and their stance on team dating. Players need to set healthy boundaries

The right side countered with the fact that they believe if dating is going to happen, it’s going to happen whether or not you have a rule against it. Drama between team members is inevitable so it’s better from a coaching perspective to get ahead of it and be able to create solutions to problems that may arise.

Slater took over the discussion at that point to bring in her and Burleigh’s knowledge. The first thing they brought up was the issue of it being a rule. How do you enforce the rule? What are the repercussions for breaking the rule? Burleigh made a point to mention that she never has a team rule that isn’t enforceable, and feels that the less team rules there are, the better.

Attendees jumped in with the opinion that creating a rule just instills the thought in the player that they have to keep any relationship a secret, rather than not be in the relationship at all. That the problem then becomes that they feel they can not come to the coaching staff to talk about their relationship issues because it would be admitting to breaking the rule.

Ultimately, most of the coaches agreed that it was better to not have a concrete rule about dating, but to instead be open with the athletes, and create an environment where they feel they can come to the staff about any issue they are having. Burleigh put it best when she compared the issue to an abusive past, a family issue, or just regular drama between teammates. She stated “By normalizing it like any other issue, it takes the stigma away.”

The next topic covered was that of playing time. It centered mainly around the relationship between the assistant and the head coach when it comes to individual player’s time on the field. This was broken down into two main parts:

When the assistant believes an athlete should be getting more field time than they are

When an athlete comes directly to the assistant about playing time, rather than to the head coach

Burleigh brought up that there are times when a head coach gets an idea in their head about a player, and that it becomes hard for the player to ever break out of that idea. This could be the issue when the assistant believes that player should be getting more playing time. Burleigh’s advice is to take an analytic approach – to pull up stats and comparisons and create a discussion with the head coach. If that doesn’t work, she said to ask “What specifically do I need to work on with this athlete for them to get playing time?” That way the head coach has to lay out exactly why they believe the athlete shouldn’t be playing.

The second issue is common and can get tricky. Often times the athlete believes they are not getting anywhere with the head coach on the playing time issue, so they will come directly to the assistant. The worst thing the assistant can do at this point is agree with the athlete (i.e. I don’t know why you’re not getting playing time; I think you should be.) or make promises to the athlete about playing time. Instead, listen to the athlete, relate to them, and work on communication with the head coach so that the assistant can mediate between the two.

The whole session came down to communication and an assistant’s people skills. Slater made the point that hardly anybody ever gets fired because they did not know the X’s and O’s. They get fired because of people skills.

“Being a great coach really comes down to how great our people skills are”

–Celia Slater

Burleigh offers the advice of making sure to relate to athletes on more than a soccer level. Make a chart – and mark on a day when you have a conversation with an athlete that isn’t about soccer. Over time you will see a pattern. She says you will see athletes that you have a great relationship with, and you will see ones that you hardly ever talk to outside of the practice field. Improving on this little aspect will improve your people skills, and improve you overall as an assistant coach.

Slater encourages you to check out her immersion program if you are an assistant looking to pave your way in the industry. Not only does it challenge you, push you out of your comfort zone, and make you self-aware as mentioned before, but it gives you a great network of other assistant coaches that you can go to when you need advice. Check out Slater’s program on her website.


Want to relive the 2016 NSCAA Convention in Baltimore? Photos are now available to view and download at photos.nscaa.com.

You can also find more at the 2016 Convention Highlights page here!

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