Aspiring Coaches

I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m no dummy. Wednesday is signing day for college football teams throughout the country so as an assistant for a men’s basketball team in the SEC, I know the majority of our fan base will be focused on their twitter accounts and message boards waiting to see which highly-ranked players commit to the Orange and White of Tennessee. Therefore, with basketball on the back burner until Thursday, I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to other young aspiring basketball coaches in this tough business.

As a younger guy myself, blessed to have started out my coaching career working for a potential Hall of Fame coach at one of the top athletic departments in the country, I get TONS of emails and letters every week from student managers and graduate assistants from other Division I universities, assistant coaches from Division II, III and NAIA schools and high school coaches, eager to find out what they can do to move up the “coaching ladder.” Some of it has to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time, but I am a strong believer in you create your own luck and opportunity. Below is a non-exclusive list of five things I believe will help other young coaches and what I focus on daily as I work toward my ultimate goal of becoming a head coach.

1.       Dominate your responsibilities and then do more.  As a graduate-assistant and administrative assistant, I have been given may different responsibilities. Some, were as deflating and small as going to get Coach Pearl coffee, while others were much more meaningful like planning our summer camps or helping our coaches with scouting reports. Regardless of the importance, it is our job to take care of all our responsibilities to the best of our abilities. However, I believe most people do this. To get to the top of this profession though, I believe we can’t be like “most people.” To create more opportunities for yourself you can’t just punch the clock when you have work to do. If you want to seperate yourself from most people you must put in extra time searching for ways to help the program you work for improve. Whether it’s in the area of player development, game planning, student interaction, summer camps, recruiting, development, marketing, etc there is always something to do. No idea is a bad idea so when you’re done dominating your duties, start working on others and brings some new ideas to your boss. Just think, as a head coach you’ll have to have your foot in EVERY part of the program so why not start now?

2.       Be someone the staff and players can trust. I’m not talking about being an honest person. I would hope you’re already honest because if not, you need to start working on more important issues than how to move up the coaching ladder. I’m talking about you must be a person on your staff that anybody from a student manager, administrator, the players and a head coach can trust. How does this happen? You need to know your stuff! Can people call you with a question within your program and will you be able to get them the answer efficiently? You can’t ever be uninformed or unwilling to put in the work to find out the answer. You can’t just be willing to do it for the people you like or when it is convenient for you. Be a sponge for information and be accountable so that everyone around you knows “If I need something, I know I can goto_______.”

3.       Player and Staff Interaction. Let’s face it, if people around you in the program or around the school don’t like you, you’re in trouble. Therefore, I strongly believe that your interaction with those around you is vital to your success. Do the players like you? What about the other staff members and administrators? Do they respect you? This is important. Besides the above things, to help create this it is important to interact with them besides normal working circumstances. Have you asked one of these people how their day is going? Have you joked around with them? Coach Pearl has taught me a lesson that I will never forget…it’s about relationships. If you have a strong two-way street relationship with your players, they are more likely to buy into what you are telling them. Same with those you work with. To do this, be an energy giver each day. We all have our own daily issues and stresses but don’t let that force you to be an energy taker. Be someone that others want to be around.

4.       Don’t be a Naismith. I’ll never forget a couple months ago when Coach Pearl jokingly asked one of our managers to “go get Naismith.” Unfortunately he was referring to me. I was working on one of those “do more” projects and I thought I had all the answers and apparently was acting close minded to suggetions. To be successful you can’t be like that. You must be a great listener. There are so many brilliant and experienced people out there and we must utilize them. Seek out other ideas and information to build your knowledge.

5.       Network. As you seek out other knowledge, build relationships with other people in this business because you never know when your paths may cross again. Whether it’s a student-manager, another coach or administrator, these are all people that are great resources for your future. In many of the letters and emails I get, the question “how do I network” comes up a lot. Well, by emailing me that’s a start. Email or write other coaches, work summer camps, go to coaching clinics, work summer tournaments (if permitted) and get to know high school players and coaches (if permitted). That stuff is all great and very important to your future. BUT, the most important thing is your success. Be known for your knowledge and what you have accomplished rather than the guy who emails someone once a week trying to get information about a job.

I strongly believe that if you do all of those things, your future is very, very bright in this business and in life in general.  If you can’t tell I am a huge believer in relationships. Life isn’t about how much money you make or how big your house is. It’s about how many truly good friends you have and the difference you make in the lives of those around you. Chances are we all won’t get to be head coaches in college basketball but ultimately that shouldn’t be our main focus. Like we tell our players, we all need to focus on the things we can control and as professionals in positions of influence over our student-athletes and others in the community; our focus must be on making a positive difference in those around us and the community to which we live in.

I hope this helps fellow aspiring coaches out there. Please know you can always email me at if you have any questions or information you would like to share. Have a great day!



About Mark Pancratz's Blog

A native of Schaumburg, Ill., Mark Pancratz played Division I basketball at UW-Milwaukee, earning his degree in marketing and finance. He joined Tennessee's staff in 2006 as a graduate assistant, earning his master's degree in sports management later that year. Serving as a G.A., director of video scouting and assistant to the head coach, Pancratz was an integral part of Tennessee's six-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. At 26, Pancratz boasts an impressive 18 games of NCAA Tournament experience as a player and/or administrative staff member. He is a member of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and voted one of the 100 Legends of Illinois High School Basketball. Pancratz resides in Knoxville and is married to the former Brooke Waddell.
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3 Responses to Aspiring Coaches

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Aspiring Coaches | The Pancratz Full Court Press --

  2. Pat Walden says:

    Great blog. I’ve already forwarded it to several of the young coaches I know. Thanks for taking the time with this “to do project” with all the other duties you have and the new family addition.

  3. Jesse says:


    Wise words, and thank you for taking the time to share this with us. I am a college assistant in Canada and while it is not my goal to become a head coach, there are a lot of great points in there that relate to simply being a great assistant. Good luck with the rest of your season, and please keep writing, it makes for fascinating reading for any coach or fan of the game.

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