Experienced, successful coach seeking a job!

A bit shameless, but I might as well leverage the fact that the site gets thousand of visitors each month – coaches from all different levels and locales. Some may know of openings or ones opening in the future. Some may be looking for a new coach or assistant coach. Heck, some may offer valuable feedback on how I’m presenting myself as a job candidate.

Basic qualifications: You can see the specifics on my resume/CV, but here are the high points with respect to the qualifications I most often see desired in job postings:

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Building a team vs. building a program

shadowy volleyball coach

Do you consider yourself a team coach or a program builder?

By that I mean do you tend to like to think just one season at a time or to have a longer-term view in mind?

I personally consider myself a program builder. When I say that I mean what I find the most rewarding aspect of coaching is developing players, teams, and organizations over time and progressively moving them forward. The irony of that, though, is from a silverware perspective it could perhaps be said that I’m best in a single “season” role:

  • Gold medal coaching the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Bay State Games in my first head coach position.
  • 3rd place in the regional championships with the Metrowest 16-1 girls in my first year coaching Juniors.
  • Reaching Final 8s in my first season with the Exeter University men, which they hadn’t done in anyone’s recent memory.
  • Winning the South West Championship with the Devon Ladies after taking over midway through the NVL Division 1 season and leading them to a 7-1 second half record in helping them recover from a 1-7 start.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I think these achievements aren’t worthwhile. In part they reflect my attitude that coaches coach whatever group they have in front of them They also suggest I’m pretty good at getting the most out of the available players.

The thing is, though, what I look back on and remember with the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment are not the above. Instead, top of the list is the Exeter women finishing 3rd at Final 8s, and the club ranking 3rd overall in the UK for volleyball in my second season, building on the foundations laid in my first season. Significantly, that was without any scholarship athletes.

Also on that list is building the RI Blast Juniors club program (now called Blast Volleyball) into the dominant program in my home state, a position it still holds. Not only does the club provide playing and training opportunities for lots of kids beyond high school volleyball, and to give younger kids a chance to play the sport that didn’t exist before, it helped change the whole volleyball culture.

Although it’s not coaching per se, this blog can be put in this category as well. I’m quite proud of how it’s grown and developed and now has a positive impact on volleyball coaches all over the world.

These things have been near the top of my mind recently in considering professional coaching. When I visited German club TV Bühl last preseason they had only one player returning from the prior year’s team. That’s basically starting from scratch. This can be the reality of certain types of clubs. Compare that to BR Volleys where they only had a handful of roster changes and you can see how different things can be from club to club.

I would venture to say that many professional coaches in that environment tend to think more from a season perspective than a program-building one. This is not just a reflection of roster turnover, but also in how they have less responsibility beyond the on-court product than the likes of college coaches in the American system. From that perspective, they are probably more in line with coaches in the US Juniors system, which in comparable to the pros in terms of structure.

Just my impressions. Feel free to share your own feelings.

Learning from college transfer developments


A recent article discusses the increase in volleyball transfers in NCAA volleyball. It cites numbers which indicate they went from 95 in 2010 to 267 in 2013. That’s a pretty big increase. I don’t know if it’s yet at the level where there needs to be serious concern (it’s probably about 5% of all Division I players), but it does suggest an evolution in the sport at that level which it would be good to understand.

One of the main culprits often mentioned with regards to transfer numbers is the shift toward earlier and earlier commitment. How can we expect a 15 year-old to know what they’ll want as a 19 year-old?

In the article, John Cook from the University of Nebraska also suggests that the current generation of athletes is less emotionally connected with their teammates because they interact so much via technology rather than face-to-face. This makes it easier for them to transfer. I’d be curious to know if there’s any research as to whether that’s actually true.

Something else which could be pointed to as a potential source of rising transfer rates is coaching turnover. As much as players are encouraged to pick a school based on academics and other non-sport considerations, the reality is that the coach matters. Coaching changes, therefore, can alter a player’s level of satisfaction. Further, sometimes new coaches come in and clean house in order to be able to “bring in their own players”. Or, as in the Hugh McCutcheon case, there can be a cultural change some just don’t want to go along with.

I would add into the mix the tendency for the recruiting process to operate as two sides trying to sell themselves rather than truly trying to find a good fit. Coaches in pursuit of players are putting their best foot forward, as are players in pursuit of schools. That can lead to one or both sides not really taking the time to look at things on a deeper level where the actual satisfaction level once a player is on campus will come into effect.

We can never completely avoid transfers. They’re going to happen for any number of reasons – many of which are case-by-case. What we should do, though, is to look for the broader patterns of commonality and see if there are detrimental underlying factors which need addressing. In some cases there won’t be. In some cases there might. Even for those not involved in US college volleyball, these sorts of things can help increase understanding with regards to player recruitment and retention.

Dealing with performance expectations


The other day, Alexis at Coaches Corner posted a piece on the subject of performance relative to expectations. Basically, the somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea is that the best way to go is to do just slightly better than expected. The bottom line observation he made was “….the best thing to do is to lower expectations and exceed them.”

Of course that’s easier said than done. Certain coaches seem to be masters of it. I remember Lou Holtz always talking down his team’s prospects when he was leading Notre Dame football. It’s kind of a funny thing because especially these days in at least American sports there is the feeling that we should be bolstering our athlete’s confidence, not deflating it with hedging type language in the public arena. That, though, is potentially where there can be a conflict between what’s good for the team and what’s good for the coach. After all, if the team doesn’t perform to expectations then it’s the coach who will most likely suffer the career consequences.

Coincidentally, part of what I had Mark Lebedew talk about in his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview was handling external expectations from a professional coaching perspective, which I’m sure is not much different from other levels in that regard. This snippet from that interview is what he had to say.

Of course you will have your own internal expectations as well. I’ve written about those previously from a season and tournament perspective. The best seasons are the ones when you actually beat your own expectations. :-)

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 22, 2015

Volleyball Coaching Log

In the last week I put in for another Division I assistant position.

I did some follow up with two of the clubs in Europe I was in touch with about head coach positions where I’ve been waiting to hear back. The manager at one of them responded that there’s been a fair bit of interest in their position, but that I was “…one of the coaches I would like to discuss the position further with.” What followed was an email exchange covering the club’s recent history and ambitions, my coaching philosophy, and some other related topics. I’ll get into more specifics later once things are resolved one way or the other. I was told at the beginning of the week that I’m on the list of the final 3-4 candidates and that I’d hear back around today with “…a little more details and numbers.”

The rejection list adds the assistant job at UAB., the assistant job at Buffalo, the assistant job at Clemson, the head job at Urbana, and the head job at UC Irvine. I knew I had zero chance at the latter.

One of the things I’ve decided recently is that I’m not going to pursue just any position anymore. Not that I’ve put my resume in for every job I’ve come across – though at times it’s seemed that way. I’ve simply decided that there must be a legitimate positive about a coaching job. If it’s a lower level job where moving up the career ladder probably isn’t going to be a real consideration, then the position needs to be in a place I legitimately think I would like to live in, where I think I can do some good things for the program, and where I’ll still have opportunities to pursue my other projects and interests. If it’s a job where I would expect to be able to move up a step or two after a couple seasons, then I’m willing to sacrifice some things.

That could all become moot, though. There’s apparently some interest from my former employer (finance industry) in hiring me back in the London office. I’m fast approaching a point where I’m going to have to make some hard decisions if nothing meaningful develops on the coaching front. I can’t really stay in Exeter any later than the latter part of July because of my housing and PhD funding situation, so I will have to move in the next eight weeks one way or the other. If I am indeed offered that finance job, I will very seriously have to consider taking it as we’re getting to the point of the year where US jobs openings of any consequence will be few and far between.

On the plus side, living and working in London could offer me the opportunity to continue coaching at the UK university level as there are a number of programs in and around the city. There are several National League clubs I could potentially coach for as well. On top of all that, it would also be easier for me to get involved with the national team program if an opportunity were to arise. I do generally like the idea of working to help grown the sport in England, and more narrowly to help develop the country’s volleyball coaches.

We’ll see how things play out.

Coming up with new topic ideas


You know what one of the big challenges of being a volleyball coaching blogger is?

It’s remembering to touch on subjects that may not currently be of much specific interest to you, but which others out there are very much interested in learning about and/or discussion. I sometimes have to make a conscious effort.

There are times when I can churn out post after post, article after article. That’s usually motivated by one of two things. The first is the challenges I’m actually experiencing as a coach myself at the time. This is really easy stuff to write about and tends to be on topics which a great many readers can easily relate to because we all tend to have a fairly comment set of issues we deal with regularly. This is something I wrote about in Being reminded of the coaching similarities.

The second thing that helps stimulate lots of blog posts is coaching education. The HP clinic I attended in February was a fantastic source of motivation and inspiration (and lots of readership!). There are also things like the books I’ve reviewed, and the Volleyball England certification I did.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a grind to come up with ideas, though. As any writer does, once in a while I hit a bit of a dry patch. Spending a lot of time trying to be a brilliant PhD researcher doesn’t help! That’s when I need to look for other sources of ideas and inspiration. Reader questions help a lot in times like those, though, the nature of things is that they tend to come in during the season when ideas are easiest to generate.

Actually, in the months ahead I expect the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews I do to provide all sorts of interesting points of discussion.

Still, from time to time I need to go back and remember what it was like to be a developing coach and bring back subjects that I haven’t thought about personally in a while. If I forget to do that, don’t hesitate to give me a poke. :-)

Question everything


Last week when I was interviewing Mark Lebedew for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project I asked him what his advice would be for relatively new coaches. Mark is an FIVB coaching instructor, so he’s done his fair share of working with developing volleyball coaches. His response was, “Question everything.” That includes all the stuff he said himself in the interview. :-)

When Mark said that, I immediately thought of Mike Hebert’s book Thinking Volleyball. Mike too offers the advice that coaches should always be ready to challenge what they are seeing or hearing from an educational perspective as it relates to their own situation, even when it comes from the so-called experts.

You won’t be getting any arguments from me!

Making yourself progressively unnecessary

John Kessel from USA Volleyball recently tweeted out a photo from a presentation he did:


Replace “teacher” with “coach” and you’ve got what I basically believe should be the mission of every volleyball coach. I’ve written on the subject of play-calling in volleyball. In some sports like football and baseball where there are discreet plays, coaches can be heavily involved in the action. In other sports like soccer and hockey, the more continuous flow minimizes a coach’s impact during play. Volleyball slides somewhere in the middle, albeit more toward the continuous sports because even though it has discreet stoppages when plays could be called, the unpredictability of the first ball is a major wrinkle. As such, our players are mostly left to decide for themselves the best course of action in the heat of battle.

There’s a Phil Jackson quote from his book Sacred Hoops describing the final play of a championship winning game that goes:

“In that split-second all the pieces came together and my role as leader was just as it should be: invisible.”

Basically, we have to train our athletes to think and act for themselves and to make the best possible decisions in every possible circumstance. And we have to develop in them (and ourselves) the understanding that we will trust them to do so.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I shifted from being primarily a technical coach to being much more focused on decision-making. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped coaching technique (ask my women’s players how much work I had them do on serving!), but I now do a lot more of putting things in context to get them problem-solving and thinking from a solutions perspective and addressing the thought processes behind their actions.

Not that a coach can ever completely become superfluous – at least if they are doing their job properly. A major part of what we do is to act as objective observer to provide players external feedback with regards to their development and play. Of course we also handle managerial duties which free players up to focus on being players and provide an outside perspective during play to help develop strategy.

So go ahead and train your players not to need you on the court. You’ll still have plenty to do. :-)

Making a cultural change


A couple of articles out of New Zealand recently caught my attention. They have as their focus Hugh McCutcheon, the Kiwi who coached the USA national team in two Olympics and now heads up the University of Minnesota program. One of the articles relates to Hugh helping out the NZ federation in a push to develop more female volleyball coaches.* Apparently, there is a growth surge in girls playing volleyball in the island nation, which is certainly good to hear. If nothing else, that will help develop more female coaches, though it will likely take at least a generation to have a meaningful influence. Given the trials and tribulations of trying to encourage and sustain women in volleyball coaching in the US and elsewhere, it might be interesting to follow how things go.

Of perhaps more interest from a coaching perspective, though, is the other article which focuses on team culture. In it Hugh talks about making a series of changes to how things operated at Minnesota – some of which were akin to ones we brought in during my time at Exeter. To be honest, I was surprised at a couple of them. Not that the change was made, but that they weren’t in place already.

As noted in the article, making changes at that level is bound to cause some issues. In this case it saw several players decide they no longer wanted to be part of the team. From Hugh’s perspective that was fine because it essentially saw those who would likely not go along with what he was trying to do self-select themselves out. The challenge, however, can be with having to deal with external expectations while going through the likely rough patch as changes are being implemented.

The article actually got me thinking about the sort of things I might have to do in taking over a new program if I end up as a head coach – or working as an assistant with a new head coach – in the future.

Have you ever had to put through a cultural change? If so, what was it and how did you go about doing so?

* There are a couple of stats in the article which are wildly inflated. The U.S. does not have 15,000 volleyball scholarship athletes. There are about 1700 women’s collegiate volleyball programs. That works out to about 19,000 roster spots. NCAA Division III accounts for nearly 5000 of them, and there are no scholarships at that level, so already we can see the 15k figure is wrong. Even at the Division I level not all programs have the full 12 scholarships, and some offer none at all. The idea that sand volleyball will get to 10,000 scholarship athletes is massively optimistic.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 15, 2015

Volleyball Coaching Log

The new week of applying for jobs started with a submission for a volunteer assistant opening at a school in one of the Big 5 conferences. Also put in for a non-volunteer assistant position at another similar level program, and for a mid-level Division I assistant job as well.

I put in for the head coach position at an NAIA school. It’s not exactly in a part of the country that I probably would have named if asked for a target region, but it looks to be relatively attractive country. The position is full-time, but only 10 months, so the pay is on the low end. It does look like a situation I could make better, though.

One of my US coaching contacts (as opposed the German ones I’ve mentioned frequently) actually suggested there might be an opening at one of her former programs. That would be a Division I assistant position in the southern part of the country. As it turned out, though, the position was already filled, just not yet announced.

Someone on Twitter also pointed me at a vacancy with Volleyball England. They are in need of a Cadet Boys National Team coach. Interesting to consider, but it’s a volunteer position. I would need an actual paying job somewhere else to be able to take it on.

On the didn’t get list goes the head job at Augustana (Division II).