Episode 60 – Board Interview Questions for Head Coaches

Your Sports Resource

Today Matt and I are going to continue our conversation about interview questions, but this time we are going to look at what the boards should be asking head coaches when they are looking to replace their head coach.

Tune in to discover the essential elements that boards should focus on during interviews to ensure they are selecting the right head coach for their team.


Leave us a review and a follow!
Apple Podcast

Connect with me!

If you have a suggestion or topics you want me to discuss, write me at info@yoursportsresource.com or check out our website www.yoursportsresource.com




00:00:03 – Introduction 

This is the Your Sports Resource podcast where each week you’ll learn actionable strategies that you can implement so the operations of your club support your coaching staff and the direction of your organization. We are committed to excellence in youth sports leadership. Let’s get started.


00:00:26 – Renata

Hello and welcome to the Your Sports Resource podcast. Today Matt and I are going to continue our conversation about interview questions, but this time we are going to look at what the boards should be asking head coaches when they’re looking to, I guess, replace their head coach.


So last week we discussed what the coaches should ask boards and those very specific questions to ensure they are moving into a club that is organized, has a vision, or at least wants one, and is on the same values playing field as the head coach.


We don’t believe that head coaches really do their due diligence before they sign their name on the dotted line as they should, which is why we started with that first episode. But the same goes the other way.


So, this week we want to make sure that the boards are actually paying attention to the right things when they are interviewing head coaches. I think a lot of times they go directly to the technical successes and throw the rest of it, throw caution to the wind, so to speak. So let me give you an example.


I had a client a few years ago who needed a new head coach. I gave my recommendation that they needed to find a coach that met their values and is able to fill or was able to fill the culture void at that time that they were experiencing.


They were having a lot of problems with parents, they were having a lot of problems with coaches being connected and showing up at practice. It was just kind of a mess. Okay? That’s what it had deteriorated into.


And so, I asked them, you really need to pay attention to a type of coach that’s going to fill that void and pull you out of it. And I gave them a list of questions to ask, and they were nice enough to share the interviews with me so the recordings of the Zoom interviews so I could provide feedback.


And to my mind, there was one coach that really stood out as the front-runner for what they needed and could get them out of the position that they found themselves in. However, they chose a coach that sent one person, just one person, to the Olympics.


And that was their reasoning for choosing that coach. And listen, hey, that’s great. But sending one person to the Olympics probably is not as much of a reflection on that coach being a quality coach as they feel that it is. And there are many amazing coaches out there that haven’t sent anybody to the Olympics. So, I felt like their decision was seriously flawed.


Thankfully, the coach that they chose declined because they knew that there was a lot of work behind this club to get them into the new situation that they needed to be in, and they turned around and went with the one that I recommended. And I’m happy to say that that club is really flourishing, not because I recommended them, but because of the why on I recommended them.


And I think that’s where we want to get to today. We want to get to making sure that board members ask the right questions that are aligned with the organization. Yes, ask technical stuff, but maybe not all technical stuff, if that makes sense.


So, in order to kick it off, Matt, I’d like to ask, where would you start as a board member? What’s one of the very first questions that you feel that they know put front and center when they’re interviewing a head coach?


00:04:24 – Matt

Yeah. Yeah. And I would preface this question with, you know. I don’t want to hear about your resume. Right. We’ve got your resume. Like you said, we can read through that. But I want them to then articulate why are they interested in my organization and what are the things that have brought them around to that. Right.


Everyone’s going to have certain experiences that they have that are going to kind of lead them to that next role. So, I want to just hear them articulate that. I don’t want to hear, like, yeah, I was here, and I did this. We know that stuff from looking at it.


And for me personally, I don’t have experience hiring, actually, a head swim coach. Right. I was a college coach, and I had experience hiring assistant coaches. And you kind of learned a lot from there. But I have hired coaches from another business that I own outside of swimming.


Luckily, it was kind of going off what you had just talked about. I lucked out where we were able to hire a phenomenal coach, but she came in and told us this story. Right.


Of, I see your organization. I see where you’re going with it. I see the vision of it, and it’s really in line with what my values are and what I would like to get out of the sport. And it wasn’t, hey, I want to make Olympic athletes or professional athletes.


It was, I see how this can affect the kids that will be coaching and where it can take them in life. And it was like, okay, that’s what I wanted to hear because I could see all the great stuff that this person had done as a coach and as an athlete herself.


But it was like hearing that story and understanding why they’re going to be great for my organization. That’s the first thing I really want to understand.


00:06:18 – Renata

Yeah. And I think it’s not to say to discount their achievements technically. Right. And that’s not really what we’re trying to say because those kinds of things, you can see they’re kind of black and white. You can ask other clubs, you can ask other coaches about their reputation and see those kinds of things.


And you want a coach that’s proud of their technical achievements. Right. But the real thing when you’re running a business is understanding. Like you said, they can see how they fit into your organization, and that’s what you want. You want a club to be able to, or a coach to be able to express how they feel like they can fit into the organization.


00:06:58 – Matt

And that’s knowing your organization. Right. Like, what do we need to kind of move us to what our vision is? So, in the next three to five years, here’s where we want to be. Who is the best person that can help us, take us from where we are now to that point?


And like you said, there’s going to be different skills that are going to come into play for different organizations. So just realizing exactly what is going to be the best hire for you will kind of help as you start that process.


00:07:27 – Renata

Right. I’d like to move on to communications because I think that, I don’t know if you would agree with me or not, but I feel like one of the biggest areas that we struggle with or that clubs struggle with or even university programs is communication.


How they communicate, being in front of their communications instead of chasing afterwards. I think one of the really good questions is to ask about, I mean, you could go really general in saying, tell us about your communication thought process with your coaches and with your parents, or for me, I love to hear examples.


So, I may say something like, can you tell us a time, give an example of when communications didn’t go well with parents and what did you learn from that and how did you correct that situation? And it kind of gives that coach the opportunity to explain how they learned from a poor experience.


Whether it was their fault or not, it doesn’t really matter. It shows that they understand that communication is important and how they rose above that scenario.


00:08:46 – Matt

Yeah, because you’re hiring them. Right. For their technical skills, like we said. And can they coach the swimmers to where we need them? But as a board, a lot of the things that you’re going to deal with are the communication aspects of, are the parents feeling like you could be the greatest coach in the world.


But if you can’t relate that to the athletes and then as a club, if you’re in a club situation, you kind of have to at a certain point be able to relate that back to the parents as well. Right.


As they get older, maybe that’s a little bit less and it’s more coach to athlete, but as a board, those are the potentially the things that you’re going to spend a lot of your time with. Right. Is the parents. I didn’t understand why this is happening.


We’re confused on why we’re doing these meets, making these choices. So having that in place where you have somebody who’s a great communicator because that is a huge part of particular like I said, a club coaching job. And that’s something that you want to make sure that that person is a fantastic communicator.


And it’s going to hopefully then go both ways where they’re pushing out the messaging towards the athletes and the parents, and then they’re able to come back to the board and kind of communicate what’s going on, what they’re seeing on the day-to-day. So, it’s going to have a few different kind of branches to that communication tree that you want to make sure we’re going to be solid before you get started.


00:10:18 – Renata

Yeah. I mean, from a board perspective, I’d be looking to see also do they front in information and like you said, make the board aware so they can support the coach in their efforts. Right. Especially in clubs where it’s kind of deteriorated, where parents feel like they can dictate what the training looks like or the expectations look like, it’s really important for the board and the head coach to be on the same page with communication.


So being able to explain to the board, like, listen, I know my path. I know where I want to go. I want you to align with me. Well, all that stems from appropriate upfront communication and transparent communication. It’s very hard for a board to support somebody when they don’t know what’s going on in the back end.


00:11:11 – Matt



00:11:12 – Renata

All right, so what’s another question?


00:11:16 – Matt

So, the next thing I would really want to know is what type of development plan that they have in place for the other coaches. Right. So, you’re hiring this person. You’re going to bring them in as the leader of your organization. And part of that process is now they need to coach the coaches.


Right. Because there’s a couple of things. One, you’re obviously wanting everybody on the same page as far as what training and stuff like that you’re doing in the actual swimming philosophy. But there’s so much more that goes into that as far as teaching those coaches and bringing them along. And there’s going to be different scenarios.


I mean, there’s times where you have a head coach who comes in and there may be another one or two or three coaches who are involved in that program who’ve been there for a long period of time and they may outlive the head coach. Right. So, you want them to learn and continue to grow because those people may be part of your program.


After that head coach leaves, you may want to potentially take one of those people and if you have an opening, elevate them to that spot. But as far as the overall success of the team, we know that it takes the whole coaching staff from that youngest group all the way up.


So, I would just kind of want to know that they’re there to help the overall organization. And part of that is I want to know how they’re going to help the other coaches kind of keep improving and learning and develop.


00:12:54 – Renata

Yeah. Because if you don’t invest in your coaches, it’s kind of hard to control the outcomes of the swimmers. And are they achieving the right things to be moving up through the ranks or through each group at each age level? And so if you’re not investing in those coaches, it’s very hard.


And not everything, again, is technical. It can also be the right communications. And how are you talking to your parents? How are you handling difficult swimmers or parents? And investing in your coaches encompasses so many different things.


Along that same line, I would even add, what is your leadership style? What can other coaches expect from you as a leader? How do you handle the good times? How do you celebrate people doing the right things? Not just coaches.


It could be volunteers, it could be swimmers. And how do you handle when there’s issues like what is your really digging deep and understanding what their leadership style is, I think is also just as equally as important as their investment in their staff.


00:14:07 – Matt

Sure. How are you going to handle parents? Right. Because you know you’re going to get complaints at some point someone’s not going to be. So how does that communication, again, it comes back to communication leadership. So, I think those seem to be the things where obviously you’re looking for when you’re hiring a head coach.


00:14:25 – Renata

Yeah. I think to my mind, the next important question for a board to understand and to ask is maybe it’s two parts. It tells us about your experiences in working with other boards. Or maybe it’s what do you expect from us?


How do you feel the relationship should go between working with the board of directors and you as the head coach and really digging deep? And it’s important, I think, for boards to understand if they’ve got a coach that says we need to stay in our own lanes and that’s like the first thing that comes out of their mouth.


Now, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. That could mean like, hey, we are both responsible for the direction of this organization and we need to make sure that we both are in control of our responsibilities.


Or you could be looking at somebody who’s adamant that I make all the decisions and you guys just need to roll with it. So, you really need to kind of dig into what that means and ultimately, you’re looking for a coach that wants to work collaboratively with a board but also respecting each other’s roles. Right.


And the other side of it, too. And I hate to say this, but if you are a board that wants to micromanage a head coach, we believe that’s wrong. We believe you don’t understand your role as a leader. But if that’s your direction, then you need to be upfront with that.


Like, if you want to dictate every move from that coach, then you need to understand that, because all that’s going to happen is you’re going to butt heads with that head coach and they’re going to take off. I don’t think you’re ever going to have a fully compliant head coach that wants to be told what to do from a technical perspective. But hey, let’s at least be honest if that’s what you want, right?


00:16:32 – Matt

Well, that’s right. And again, that comes back to Just knowing your organization and kind of you understanding, hey, this is kind of how our board does operate. Right. And if you’re bringing somebody in, they need to kind of work within those parameters. Unless you’re willing to switch. Right.


Unless you’re like, okay, hey, we’re going to kind of look at and rethink about how we’re doing things, but that’s something that needs to be kind of discussed and understanding. You’re exactly right. If we’re kind of hands-on, we want to be working alongside the coach, we’re going to leave maybe the technical stuff, but we want to be involved in everything else.


And you have somebody who’s like, no, just leave me alone. I want to run and do my thing. Well, then if you’re hiring that person, that’s a bad hire. Right. For your organization. So knowing that what that is kind of super important.


00:17:30 – Renata

Or it could be the perfect scenario if the board doesn’t want anything, like, you’re on your own. Right. I hate to see that scenario, too. I don’t like to see the extremes on either end. Right. But I guess, again, it just depends on what you’re looking for as a board.


00:17:47 – Matt

Yeah. So then going back again and just knowing what you need, I want to kind of know what their long-term goals are. Right. And where do they see themselves? And I got to be honest, maybe in some situations it’s great. Like that someone’s like, yeah, this is where I want to be.


But knowing where you’re at and what your position is kind of offering, I don’t want to necessarily hear someone say, oh, this is a place I want to be, and that’s my end all. This is it. Right. This is the end of the road for me.


Unless there’s a few jobs out there where maybe that is the case. Right. Where it’s like, all right, this is what it is. But depending on where the person is, too, I want to know what are your long-term goals. Where do you see yourself going?


Because I want to know, too, if I want someone who’s excited and wants to for them professionally, we talked about staff development, but them to keep learning and say, hey, this is a great position for me because of this. And ultimately, I’d like to see this in my career, and this is where I’d like to ultimately go. So, I want them to be able to kind of express what their vision is for themselves as well.


00:19:01 – Renata

Yeah, absolutely. I think something that we kind of skipped over when you stated that you wanted to understand how the head coach would invest or build up their coaches, I think another question that should be asked is, okay, sometimes it can be feeling like you’re alone or out on a raft by yourself.


So how do you learn and do you have a mentor? Who do you go to and how do you ensure that you’re constantly learning so you can fill that pipeline for your staff and for your swimmers? And I think they may not have a very long answer to that, but I think it would be very telling to understand.


I’ve interviewed several coaches. They’re like, no, I don’t have a mentor. I just kind of go with what I’ve been doing now. It’ll be very different when I’m asking them the question than when they’re in an interview. They’re going to come up with a response.


But I think it really is telling for a board to understand does this guy or woman, do they put forward their continuous improvement. Do they take it upon themselves to ensure that they do that? And that may be important to an organization to understand that their head coach does ensure that they too are improving over and over again. So.


00:20:33 – Matt

Yeah, it’s a long-term process. Right. And you want to hear them. And again, you kind of said it too earlier where if you’re the board, you’re running this organization. One of the other things you kind of want to somehow try to pull out of them is for them to understand that, hey, we’re running a business here, right?


That working with the board, understanding that maybe what are some of the ideas for, for growth and programming, you know, added programs like that. They need to understand that this business needs, you know, that they’re going to kind of be the face of the business.


And what are some of their ideas as far as potential marketing? What’s the growing the programs, adding programs? Because everybody’s probably going to need something as far as pushing that business forward. So having them understand that it’s a business.


And we talked about that in our last podcast. I think on the reverse side of it, right, where it was like we want the coaches to understand that, but you kind of need that as well. If you have someone that’s like I’m going to walk in the door, I just want to coach swimmers. Well, that’s part of the job, right? It’s not the full extent of the job.


00:22:03 – Renata

Well, I think that should be clear. I mean that should take us to the next section is maybe it’s not a question, but I think that the board needs to be very clear at explaining what it expects from its head coach.


So are you expecting that head coach because you’re really big, to be more of a CEO and then maybe they’re only coaching the elite group? If that is your expectation, then, boy, how do you better ask some questions about operational excellence, structure, communications? Like you really need to dig into that.


If you’re a smaller club and their main focus is really just coaching, then you need to express that and even moving on from that as you grow or even that larger club. Lately, it seems like we’ve talked to quite a few coaches that have said like, listen, we’re kind of at this point to where this role has to separate.


I can’t both be the CEO and the head coach. As much as I love coaching, I’ve got to make a choice. Right. And so, I think for boards, you’ve got to be really clear that if you expect an individual to be both a CEO and a head coach, you have to understand that those are completely different skill sets and you need to understand where that coach’s passion is.


Is it CEO side, operational side? Is it coach side? And it could be a combination of two, but you have to understand that they are very much different skill sets. So, things balls will drop on either side if you don’t give them the support that they need.


Like if they’re really strong in operations, then maybe you limit their time on deck. Right. Or ask them to limit their time on deck. If they are really strong in the coaching side. Well, then you need a really good, probably executive director or an admin staff that can really ensure that they keep up with the review meetings, the communications out to families, and all that kind of stuff.


So, I think boards, you need to be very clear with what your expectations are for that coach and ask the right questions in those areas. Because if not, then they’re going to walk in thinking that they’re doing X and then you’re going to say, oh, no, we want you to do Y. We want you to do X plus Y.


00:24:26 – Matt

Right? Yeah, you’re doing both. Yeah. And I think you’re right there where it’s, in the end, knowing what your club is, is if you’re a smaller club and hey, this coach has to do it all, that’s okay. But then that’s where I think even further that partnership of, hey, we’ve got to communicate this.


The board’s going to have to help. That’s just a situation where it’s kind of going to be a little bit more all hands on deck to kind of keep that club operating and moving forward, where to kind of look at the other side of it.


If you have a big organization and you have the ability to potentially pull in other staff members or structure it to where it’s not all on them, then we’re now focusing on, hey, what’s their skill set and where is it best utilized.


Because I think that mindset is something that potentially a lot of people who are in this hiring kind of in that hiring seat that they’re maybe not looking at it that way. Right. They’re like, who’s the best swim coach? Right.


And you said, who’s the best swim coach? It’s like, no, who’s the best person to run your organization? And a good way to find that out, too, sometimes is as they’re going through it and you’re going through the process feeling out what questions do they have. Right.


We went over this, like you said, to refer back to that other podcast. But the coaches, they should be able to come and ask a lot of relevant questions about your organization, about how you’re operating. You can kind of feel out where they’re coming from and understanding potentially what is interesting them. What are they kind of seeking information about to kind of know what type of coach they’re going to be?


00:26:14 – Renata

Yeah, I think that along that lines we talked about in the last one about the questions, I want to just set the boards up to understand that, be ready for questions. You should expect the head coach to ask you questions. If that puts you off, then that makes me worry about your organization.


So, I think that you should expect the coaches to ask you some deep dive questions because there’s so many times that coaches are really, on paper like the best coach from a technical perspective. But it’s not what you need as an organization yet because you’re in a really tight spot or an uncomfortable spot or you’ve just come out of a giant mess. Right.


And you need someone who can handle that and move you forward. Right. I think the only time that you would be looking at a coach solely from a technical perspective is if you’ve got your culture set, your operations are set like you’re running on all cylinders, you got great programs, you have full engagement from your staff, from your volunteers and parents. Right.


If you’ve got all that sussed, then yeah, you could probably just look at coaches from a technical perspective. But if you don’t, and there’s not many clubs that do have all that sorted, right, then you’ve really got to look for what’s best for your business and try not to lose sight of that.


00:27:45 – Matt

Yeah, I kind of look at it as if they don’t have questions. That’s more of a red flag for me. If I’m hiring, I’m expecting that, hey, you’re going to have questions. And partially if I’m interviewing, I want to know, again, why us?


Why are you leaving your current position and then why us? And if I’m that coach, honestly, I think one of the first things I want to know is why do you have this open position. Right. Unless it’s blatantly obvious, hey, someone retired after being here, you know, they’re just at that point.


That’s one thing. But it’s like, okay, well, why is this position open? And I want to know what you have to offer me. If I’m interviewing, asking questions, and if I’m being interviewed, I’m going to have a list of questions. So, yeah, don’t look at it as a red flag if that’s not happening.


00:28:46 – Renata

All right. I think I have two more questions from a culture perspective, and one might seem light and fluffy, but let me explain why I think this is important. One of the questions that I ask clubs to put forward is if we were to interview your current swimmers, what would be the main messaging they would give us about you? How would they describe you as a coach?


And that’s probably a light and fluffy kind of question, but for me, I would be more looking at their body language and their reaction. Like, does a smile come across their face? You know, that’s a really good, that’s a tell. That’s a really good tell.


If they are like, all of a sudden you’re noticing it’s a little bit more tense, then maybe you could understand that there might not be the best scenario. Now, there’s a lot of reasons for that. It could be that the coach has done nothing wrong, but he’s coming from a really shitty club, right?


And so there probably won’t be a lot of positive things, but at least reading the body language and what their responses are, you can dig and you can pick away and you can ask questions and you could say something like, hey, I noticed it took you a while to come up with something and you didn’t feel really confident in that response.


If that’s the case. Listen, we know that there’s problems everywhere. We’re not trying to say that you’ve done something wrong. Sometimes it’s a scenario. So, can you just explain a little bit more behind that? But if they’re really happy and they’re able to give a response right away, that’s just a big indicator that they really love their swimmers.


They believe in the culture aspect and raising kids up, teaching them. I mean, there’s just so much information that you can glean from a question that on the surface seems a little airy fairy, as I always say. I use XYZ, right? And list them off.


Can you choose one of these values that resonates with you and explain to us why it resonates with you? And then how would that be important as far as working at our organization from your perspective? Like really digging deep on the values piece?


Again, this is culture, but it’s extremely important, right? To understand their perspective of what maybe something like integrity means or being transparent. Whatever your value statements are, I think it’s important to have the coach be able to articulate what one of those values means to them, and it’s a good indicator of whether or not it aligns to you.


00:31:32 – Matt

Yeah, I think you feel like you’re maybe putting someone on the spot there where it’s like, hey, but you are, right? You’re trying to get them to articulate something that resonates with them. Right.


And it doesn’t have to be all of them. I mean, coming up, you have five values, but something in your values should resonate with them and they should be able to kind of go in depth a little bit and why they feel that way.


Because, again, then it’s going to give you an idea of what type of person you’re dealing with, where it’s not just like, hey, here’s my resume, I’m a good swim coach. That’s all you really need to know. It’s like, no, we need to know kind of all of these other things. And then partially with this is, I think, as a board, trying to figure out how you’re going to approach the interview.


Right. Like, who’s the main person, because there’s potentially within that group if you have a board, someone who probably has some experience with this. Right. And they’ve gone through this process and understand that, hey, maybe that’s the person that needs to be asking these questions.


If they’re not 100% somebody else isn’t comfortable asking these, let that person who’s got the experience kind of lead that interview and be able to ask these questions and try to pull and dig a little bit out of somebody.


00:32:57 – Renata

Yeah. I also would highly recommend that the video be recorded and you could have several people in there and do round robin of questions if that makes you guys more comfortable. But, yeah, I think you really want to make sure that the interview itself really flows and it’s comfortable.


And I think that, don’t be afraid also to expose what you’re looking for and potentially even expose if you’ve got a major problem, which is why you’re hiring. Right. So, I mean, you could ask another situational question where you say, hey, we have been struggling here.


How would you handle this situation? I think a coach, I don’t know my perspective. You tell me if I’m wrong. My perspective would be that a coach would be much more open to understand where you’re having your shortfalls and how they can fill those gaps.


They would be much more open to you as an organization, knowing that upfront, being able to give that some thought instead of walking in and finding out, oh, they’ve got all these issues. Right. And you also want to know you’ve got someone who can fill those voids.


00:34:11 – Matt

Yeah. I believe the more transparent you can be, the better the match is going to be. If you’re hiding things and you don’t want to have discussions on certain things because you’re afraid it’s going to turn somebody off. Well, when they get there and they find out about it, and it’s kind of too late, you’re now creating more problems instead of solving the ones that you wanted to initially.


So, I think being transparent about all aspects of the job, the job description, like you said. Yeah. What your positives are, what your negatives are, are only going to make a better match and kind of move you forward long-term.


00:34:49 – Renata

Yeah. Don’t be afraid of it. Yeah, absolutely. All right, everyone. Well, we hope that helped you with getting yourself organized and interviewing a head coach. And don’t forget to go look at the other podcast if you are a head coach and you haven’t listened to the other one, where we recommend questions for you to ask boards to make sure it’s a good fit for you.


So, thank you for listening. Please subscribe and rate review this podcast so we can reach a bigger audience and help others such as yourself. And don’t forget to visit the website yoursportsresource.com where you can find tools and articles. All of our podcasts, we’ve got all kinds of things on there that you can glean some great information and use for you and your organization.


Finally, remember what is common sense isn’t always common practice. Put what you learn into action. Don’t just be good, be good at it. Thanks, everybody.