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How Matt Olinger Went from Student Manager to D1 Assistant Coach in 5 Short Years?

By David Baker on 4/29/2016

Becoming a college basketball coach at any level is difficult. Rising from student manager to NCAA D1 assist coach in less than 5 years is ri-di-cu-lous.

We recently caught up with Matt Olinger, Assistant Coach for Liberty University Men’s Basketball, who went from the head student manager in 2006 to an Assistant Coach in 2011.

Matt’s journey into coaching wasn’t pre-scripted. As a matter of fact, his decision to become a manager was simply “the closest way to get a front row seat to the game”. Call it luck, call it hard work, call it whatever you want, when we asked Matt how he went from holding pads in practice to wearing suits in games, here are the three lessons he shared with us in reflection.

1. Do your job

Do your current job to the best of your ability. You don’t have to beg, borrow and steal your way into a coaching career. “It just kind of developed”, Matt told us. “Whether it was rebounding after practice, running drills or getting water, my opportunities began to open up when I did my job well.” Jim Platt, former coach at the University of St. Louis, instilled into Matt that if you don’t do your job well today, you won’t develop for the next opportunity. If you approach your job with that mindset, “things have a chance to work out.”

And for Matt, this mindset first materialized in 2007 when head coach Ritchie McKay offered him a position to be the Director of Operations. After doing his job well as a DOBO he again experienced the benefits in 2011 when he was promoted to Assistant Coach. Matt admits coaching changes, timing and a little luck all played a part, but had he not committed to the daily grind of doing his student manager job well, he never would have had the chance.

2. Challenge yourself

Challenge yourself to learn new skills that help you develop as a professional. To remain competitive and add value in this environment, you must push yourself to learn things “outside your job responsibilities”.

As a student manager, Matt learned graphic design and got his masters degree. As a Director of Operations, he implemented new team communication software and increased camp attendance by improving the team’s marketing efforts. His personal brand was being built as a contributor. So, in 2011, when an assistant’s resignation left a gap on the coaching staff, it was no surprise who got the call up. Matt had actively been displaying his ability to challenge himself and execute each and every step along the way.

Matt told us, “If you were to try to learn these things in a classroom you may never learn a thing, but go out into the field and you will learn every time you do something. This may entail making plenty of mistakes but you can learn from those mistakes.”

3. Prepare Yourself Daily

Prepare yourself daily for the road ahead – wherever it may lead. It’s no secret the landscape of college coaching is filled with change and volatility. It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager, video coordinator, director of operations or coach, preparing yourself daily for what lies ahead is about committing to the process of getting better.

When Matt was working as a student manager, he had a demanding schedule that entailed rebounding before and after practice, holding pads, doing laundry, (you get the point). However, during this time, he taught himself graphic design and got his master’s degree. Assume he doesn’t get the opportunity to become the Director of Operations, at the very worse he’s graduating with a master’s degree and job opportunities as a Graphic Designer.

As a Director of Operations, Matt gained experience managing the budget, running camps, and working on projects with pretty clear ROI cases. These experiences develop skill sets that are valuable to take with you in any organization. Fortunately for Matt, the next stop in his journey was Assistant Coach.

Matt will tell you that being around good coaches who served as great mentors played a big part in his current success. However, no matter what the circumstances, doing your job well, accepting new challenges, and preparing yourself daily will go a long way in helping you position  yourself for success. 

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