The rise of the assistant coach in Lebanon

Sarkis says he is lucky to have worked with some fantastic assistant coaches. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakir)

BEIRUT: The level of basketball coaching in Lebanon has been always an issue. But defining the role and importance of assistant coaches for both clubs and the national team has grown even more important.

While it is normally the head coach and players who gain praise after a victory, unknown people behind the scenes contribute massively to the team’s success – among them assistant coaches.

It was not long ago that the term “assistant coach” was barely used in Lebanese basketball. Usually the coach is seen to be responsible for everything, every detail big or small.

The importance of assistant coaches becomes apparent when looking at the Lebanese national team, who qualified for three consecutive World Championships. At the tournaments, the differences between the technical staff of the national sides competing were obvious, both in terms of quantity and quality.

The job of an assistant coach is not too different from that of the head coach. Scouting and working directly with the players, as well as having his own tactics and philosophy, are skills an assistant coach must now have. Nowadays, most professional clubs and sides around the world have no less than four or five assistant coaches as a part of their management team, an infrastructure that is now widely considered crucial for success.

“It was a secondary thing in Lebanon before. But, obviously, we can see some improvement in that respect. Big teams are appointing many assistant coaches to help the manager – not just one,” said Koko Krikorian, a newly appointed assistant coach at Sagesse club.

“It is very important to have a complete body of staff if the work is to be done correctly. An assistant coach is vital to the success of a team – whether in terms of working individually or collectively with the players, scouting other teams, or even suggesting his own tactics,” Krikorian said.

“When we were participating in the World Championships in Turkey [2010], we were exchanging information with the Lithuanian coaching staff regarding another opponent. Afterward, they were shocked with the quality of the information we gave them. They asked us ‘How many people make up your coaching staff?’ ... The answer was even more shocking to them,” Krikorian said. Lebanon went with only one assistant.

During practice, assistants provide for greater interaction between the coaching staff and players, allowing the team to work in smaller groups on specific activities.

“Assistants usually work on the specific details with the team, while the coach is responsible for imposing his character on the group, gathering the players together, and managing the game. Assistants provide him with their observations, offering suggestions, one after another, before or during the game,” Krikorian explained.

Assistant coaches are often characterized by their loyalty, integrity, tactical nous, enthusiasm, motivation and goal setting, but despite these attributes, it is rare for an assistant coach to replace the head coach after he leaves.

There have only been a few occasions in Lebanon when an assistant has been promoted to the coach’s position. One remarkable example was when Iraqi coach Koussay Hatem took over the national team for one game against France in the World Championships in 2006, after the head coach, American Paul Coughter, left, having managed just three games. Hatem was able to inspire Lebanon to a historic 74-73 victory over the French side.

“There are many different types of assistant coaches. One can be quite average, but another can be of the highest standard – someone who the coach depends on.

“Any assistants should be setting goals for their own coaching career, or they will fail to be successful from the start,” explained Krikorian, who was part of Champville’s 2011-2012 championship team.

As the coach has a wide range of responsibilities, he must delegate some of his duties to his assistants. It is important for coaches to give credit to their assistants while they are experiencing their success, as head coach Ghassan Sarkis has said before. While the situation is improving, top quality coaches are not always easy to find.

“There is a problem in Lebanon in that field no doubt. Good assistants are not always available, and so I am quite lucky to have one assisting me like Marwan Khalil [assistant coach in Champville],” Sarkis said.

“He can manage any of the top teams in the league in my opinion. It’s just a question of time and him being given an opportunity. When you have someone like him [Khalil] next to you, someone who you trust and share a good understanding with, it will inevitably pay off on the court,” he added.

“I have always had good assistants beside me in my career, starting from Fouad Abou Chacra to Koussay Hatem and Joe Moujaes, among others. I hope that the coaching field in Lebanon will keep on improving, because it is very important for the progress of the game, especially with the level of competition raising,” Sarkis said.





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