Experienced, successful coach seeking a job!

Yes, this is a bit shameless, but the site gets thousand of visitors each month – coaches from all different levels and locales. I might as well leverage that. Some visitors may know of job openings I don’t, or ones that will open in the future. Some may actually be looking for a new coach or assistant coach. Heck, someone might be able to give me 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:

  • Master’s degree
  • NCAA Division I coaching experience
  • Experienced in all aspects of running a Division I program.
  • 7 players recruited during my NCAA Division I years went on to earn 12 All-Conference selections. Three were also Academic All-Conference
  • 11 players earned 14 All-Conference selections while I was coaching them
  • Position coach for a string of successful setters
  • Head coaching experience (women & men)
  • International coaching experience and contacts
  • Coached championship teams and other high performers
  • Always passed the NCAA recruiting exam and had no rules violation citations
  • Experience running camps and clinics, plus a Juniors program
  • Reputation for professionalism and organizational skills
  • Strong academic commitment

Additional qualifications: Here are some other things about me and my experience which might be of interest/value:

  • USA Volleyball Coaches Accreditation Program (CAP) Level II and Volleyball England Coaching Level 3 certifications
  • Regularly involved in the local volleyball community – often nationally as well.
  • Authored multiple books and published one about US college volleyball.
  • Developed, patented, and marketed a volleyball training device.
  • More than 10 years business, consulting, and entrepreneurial experience
  • Calm, positive coaching demeanor
  • “How can we … ?” approach to challenges, on and off the court
  • Highly analytical (Mensa level intelligence, but I don’t generally tout this)
  • Reputation for teams that continually improve
  • Fairly laid back, collegial personality
  • Always looking to learn and develop as a coach

What I’m targeting: Full-time work as a volleyball coach. I’m not hugely concerned with the competitive level. As long as I know I will contribute meaningfully to a team’s success, development, etc., I’m fine with being either a head or assistant coach.

Salary, geography, and other considerations: I’m single and very flexible with regards to location. My lifestyle is pretty simple and low cost – and I have other sources of income – so no need to worry about high salary demands. My main concern is a good working environment.

If you know of a job I might be a good candidate for, or you have any kind of suggestions or feedback, definitely let me know. You can email me through the contact page or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks,

John

Off to Berlin for the Final 4!

volleyball-tv

This afternoon I’m headed to London for an overnight stay before heading to Berlin on an early flight tomorrow. I’m attending the men’s CEV Champions League Final 4. The two finals will be on Saturday, with the final and consolation matches happening on Sunday. Along with obviously seeing some top level volleyball, I’m looking forward to catching up with a couple of my coaching contacts who should be in attendance. I also want to try to develop some new connections, which is why I opted for the VIP package. ;-)

If you have access to LAOLA you’ll be able to watch the matches live or on-demand (along with the earlier playoff rounds). You can also watch the corresponding women’s matches as well, I believe. They are in Poland this time around.

I’ll try to post some updates and pictures – maybe even some video – via Facebook and Twitter while I’m there.

Becoming a composite of your former coaches

shadowy volleyball coach

VolleyCountry recently posted an interview with former USA national team setter LLoy Ball. The title of it suggests that as a coach, Ball would “… be a combination of all the coaches I played for.” Seeing that headline immediately made me think about my own comments from the Avoiding the “This is how I learned” trap post.

In the interview, Ball talks about wanting to coach professionally in Europe once his kids have grown up. These days he does a lot of coaching at the youth level. When asked what his coaching style would be like, Ball’s response was

I would be a combination of all the coaches I played for.  I would have great energy and passion like Hugh McCutchen, I would be the most prepared coach like Doug Beal.  I would manage players well like Alekno and I would demand 100% every moment like my father, Arnie Ball.

Of course this is exactly the sort of approach we would all like to be able to take in developing our own coaching style – picking the best of what we have seen from other coaches and combining them. We inevitably at the start of our coaching careers become something of a composite of the coaches we’ve had and seen in action. It’s not always easy to pick out the very best elements of each, especially since not many of us can claim having played for some of the top coaches in the world, but we can all aspire to it. The trick, as I talked about in that prior post, is remaining flexible and adaptable.

I will be interested to see how Lloy does going back to coach professionally in Europe. His name alone will certainly get him some attention! Will he immediately become a head coach? Or will he start as an assistant?

Do I get the coaching credit/blame for this?

Exeter University Volleyball

I have a question which has nagged at me for a while. Maybe you can help me with the answer.

If you’ve read my bio and/or followed along with the blog for a while you know over the last couple of years while working on my PhD in England I have coached the Exeter University Volleyball Club teams – men and women. That started with the 2012-13 season. Before I arrived, in 2011-12 the men had barely avoided being relegated from Division 1 and the women had just earned promotion up from Division 2. It had been a while since the program had any meaningful success (the history is hard to find).

2012-13
In my first year the men’s team finished 2nd in the league with the only losses coming to the undefeated top team (Bournemouth). We went on to beat a team from Northern Ireland in the Championship Round of 16 to earn a spot in Final 8s in Leeds where we finished a disappointing 8th (should have been 5th or 6th but one bad match did us in). The women that year took 3rd in the league, but lost in the Round of 16 to what was still a relatively good Loughborough team.

2013-14
In my second season we brought back quite a few of the women’s players but the guys had a lot of turnover (only 3 back). The women ended up in a 1st place tie in the league, but came second (to Bournemouth) on I believe a head-to-head set differential tiebreak. We made Final 8s and reached the semifinals, with a win over Bournemouth being the key in doing so. As far as we know that’s the best the Exeter women have ever done – or at least have done in a long, long time. The men weren’t quite as strong, but still managed a 2nd place league finish and again advanced to Final 8s, where they finished 7th thanks to an upset win over Durham. By making Final 8s, both the men and the women earned promotion into the 6-team Premier League South for the next season – a new division set above Division I.

That year we also added men’s and women’s second teams in Division 2 (the lowest level in the Western Conference of which Exeter is part). The men finished 3rd in the league and reached the Conference Cup semifinals. The women took 2nd. Unfortunately, a major schedule conflict forced us to field a significantly undermanned women’s team in the Cup quarterfinals, which saw that run end there.

All together for 2013-14 the combination of league, playoff, and cup results were enough to earn Exeter the 3rd most points of the schools with volleyball. Not bad considering the two schools above us – Northumbria and Bournemouth – along with some below us, featured scholarship athletes and we had none.

2014-15
My third season working with the teams was just a half year. I only coached them during first term, and even then on a limited basis. I coached all the training sessions and the home matches (though when there was a conflict I coached the women), but only coached one away match (for the women). Being in the last year of my PhD program forced me to put my focus there. I could have potentially continued coaching second term, but I felt that doing so would be a distraction I really couldn’t afford to have at a time when I was jamming hard to finish my thesis and to find a job (the latter being a job unto itself!).

This time the women only had a couple returners. Although some good players came in, we were entirely lacking an experienced setter. I had to convert a former OPP who could end up being a pretty good setter in time, but she basically got thrown in at the deep end. The team definitely made steady progress, but the results were pretty predictable. We ended up going 1-7 in the matches played during that first term, with the single win coming against Sussex in the last one I actually coached. They lost their two second term league matches, which meant finishing bottom of the Premier League South and going into the relegation playoff. They lost their Championship Round of 16 playoff though (all premier league teams qualify) against the 3rd place finisher from the North league (Edinburgh), which meant no return trip to Final 8s.

The men had a lot more in the way of returners. Unfortunately, I was only able to actually coach them in 2 matches. One a loss to Bournemouth (again!) and one a win over Warwick the same day I coached the women’s victory. That win was important as they were able to pick up a pair of wins over UCL in second term play to grab 4th in the league. That kept them away from relegation and set up a Round of 16 match at home against winless Edinburgh from the North, which they won to make it three straight years reaching Final 8s. They had a tough draw, but managed to take 7th again.

In terms of the second teams, they were largely completely turned over from the prior year. I didn’t coach any of the women’s matches as the first two were away on a day the 1st team played and the others were second term. They finished 2nd in the league again. This time, though, they could field a full team and won their quarterfinal Conference Cup match to reach the semis. Unfortunately, injuries and illness forced them to play short-handed in that match and they lost. I did coach the men’s first round Cup match, which they won. They went on to reach the semis, but they again lost at that stage. All of their league matches were second term and they finished mid-table.

The women’s 1st team not making Final 8s cost them points, but overall the club managed a solid 6th in the volleyball standings. I believe all but one of the teams above Exeter feature scholarship athletes, so that’s a pretty respectable finish.

So what do I tell people?
It’s easy enough for me to put the results and achievements from my first two seasons on my resume/CV, in my bio, etc. What about the third season, though? Do I just ignore it and leave it out of any official type discussion? If I include it, do I only count what I was there for, or do I include it all?

The inclination is to count 2014-15 fully as being on my watch, so to speak, even though my involvement was cut back considerably from the prior years.They had no other coach after me and some of the players were in the program all three years I was there. Although from a win/loss perspective the 2014-15 results don’t look very good, in many ways Exeter has been punching above its weight as it’s a place where volleyball has no scholarship athletes and is quite low on the sports priority scale. The teams may have been automatic Championship qualifiers in that third year, but that’s because of the work we did in the years before.

So what are your thoughts? What do I put on my resume/CV, in my LinkedIn profile, etc. with respect to 2014-15?

 

When should you “Sub Six”?

substitution

I’ve written previously on the subject of the substitution decision. In this post I want to talk about a strategy I’ve seen employed at times in professional volleyball, and read about in My Profession – The Game, but which I don’t recall hearing talked about in any other context. That’s the idea of making subs not necessarily to try to elicit a better performance from your team in the present context, but with an eye toward the next set.

Let me lay out the scenario. It’s the third set of a match which is tied 1-1. Your team is struggling. The score is 17-8. You’ve called timeouts. You’d made the subs you thought might improve things, but it just hasn’t worked. What do you do?

A lot of coaches just simply don’t do anything. After all, what can they do? They have what should be their best team on the floor, but it’s just not getting the job done. It’s time to think about the next set. Maybe spin the rotation. Perhaps flip OHs.

What about simply taking all your starters out – or at least those remaining – and putting your bench on to play out the rest of the set? My guess is you’ve probably not really thought about doing that (though you may have fantasized about it). There are a couple of reasons for actually doing so, however:

1) Starter Reset: Putting your starters on the bench for an extended break gives them a chance to reset. They get to step back from whatever troubles they were having on the court and break any negative feedback loops that were going on. They get to watch the other team from outside for a bit. They also get to rest up a little ahead of the next set.

2) Opposition Psychology: When you have your second team out on the court, naturally the general level of play is likely to be lower. This has a couple of potential of potential positive outcomes for you. First, if the subs do play at that level then the opposition players may start to coast, which could pay dividends in the next set. Second, if your subs play above themselves and actually make things competitive, it could rattle the confidence of the other team. The opposing coach is going to be hesitant to make radical changes for fear of risking losing the set. That means in either case you could gain a psychological edge to start when you have your starters back in next set. And of course if your subs somehow managed to pull out the win you’d be in the driver’s seat!

3) Playing time: While perhaps not a great situation in terms of putting your players in with an opportunity to succeed, a runaway set like this does give you a chance to get your bench players some court time. The nice thing, though, is they’ve got nothing to lose. They can go out and play loose.

I should note here that this cannot be something the starters will interpret as being punitive. I’ve heard stories about coaches who subbed out the entire starting six basically out of disgust at how they were playing. That sort of thing isn’t going to accomplish much. It will probably be harmful, in fact. Instead, it must be clear to the players coming out that this is a strategic device and that they should see it as an opportunity to regroup to start the next set.

If you want to try this out some time you have to think about the timing of it in advance and have a plan because my guess is you won’t automatically think about it in the heat of battle. Our inclination as coaches tends to be to try to fix things now – or failing that, think about what we’re going to do next set. This substition ploy works in the gap between the two, so you simply might forget about it as an option. If you actually plan it out – maybe talk it over with the team – you might be more inclined to remember. Failing that, you could give someone else the task of reminding you.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 20, 2015

Volleyball Coaching Log

A bit of a quiet week overall, no doubt helped by many schools having Spring Break. I applied for a Division I head job in the south and one out west. The latter is a decided long shot. Hell, maybe both of them are, but what the heck. I also applied for a Division I assistant job and a Division III head position, both on the middle of the country.

Got rejection emails for assistant jobs at Towson, which I didn’t think I had much chance for, plus for Bradley and UW-Milwaukee, both of which I thought I might have a shot at. Also found out the Sienna Heights NAIA men’s & women’s job has been filled, as has the assistant job at Nebraska-Omaha, and at Central Michigan.

I very nearly applied for a head coaching job at a university in Canada. I’d have an issue with eligibility, though, and there looks to be a teaching requirement as well for which my qualifications seemed lacking. They pay made it tempting, though.

Drill: 3 v 3 All-Touch Transition & Attack

Synopsis: This is a good game-play exercise that gets every player lots of touches and works especially on transition hitting.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 6+ players, a ball, a net, extra antennae

Execution: Attach the spare antennae to the net to create a channel for attacking in Zones 2 and 4 (similar to what’s discussed here). Place three players to a side, with one at the next in Zone 2 (opponent’s Zone 4), one as the OH, and one as back court defender. One side starts the attack with a set to 4. The opposing player at the net blocks line, so the two others defend the angle. If the back court player digs the ball, the blocker sets the OH in Zone 4. If the OH digs the ball, the back court player sets the blocker in Zone 2, in which case the OH hitter on the other side blocks and the other two play defense. In this case the pattern is same in that if the front court player digs the ball, the back court defender sets the blocker, otherwise the blocker sets the OH. In other words, every player touches the ball each play. Continue until the ball goes dead, then the players rotate.

BertrandDrill

Variations:

  • This can be done cooperatively to encourage longer rallies.
  • The antennae can be adjusted to alter what the hitters have available to swing at around the block.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is from England Junior National team coach Bertrand Olie and was posted as part of an interview with him on the Volleyball England website.
  • As a cooperative drill this could be used as a warm-up.

Playing to win vs. playing not to lose

volleyball-net

Alexis at Coaches Corner recently had a post where he talked about sometimes it makes sense to not actually play to win, per se. His main point was that we often think only in terms of winning, but that in many circumstances it makes more sense not to actually take the kinds of chances required to do so because the probabilities simply don’t work in your favor.

Think about a gymnast or an ice skater. If they do a super hard trick they could win, but their chances of actually pulling it off are low. If they don’t do the trick they won’t win, but would have a much better final standing than if they tried and failed. This is something in volleyball we could easily equate to the serving aggressiveness decision or going for it attacking a ball.

I confess, I didn’t actually think of that when I first read the post. I only just thought of it as I was writing this one! Instead, I was thinking about how volleyball teams can play to win or play to not lose in a couple of different senses of that, and how we as coaches factor into it.

Playing not to lose
If you’ve coached enough matches you will have seen examples of teams playing not to lose. They get ahead or are the clear favorites, but rather than just playing normally, they get conservative. They’re looking to avoid making mistakes. The problem is, that can lead to the opposition making things tight, at which time the team really can start freaking out and go into full panic mode.

I’ll share a personal example. At the end of the 2012-13 NVL season the Devon Ladies team was playing their final match away at the newly crowned league champs, Team South Wales. We were up 2-1 and ahead in the fourth when the wheels came off. The team got tight, TSW came back, and we panicked. I didn’t read the signs properly, and we ended up losing in 5. A few weeks later a similar situation developed at the South West Championships in the finals against the same team. We had been up, but let them come back. This time I recognized what was happening and got the team settled down in a timeout. We went on to score 9 of the next 10 points to win the match and the title.

Playing conservatively to win
There are times in volleyball where going for it makes sense. There are also times when that’s a poor percentage play. The most obvious example of this is in hitting. When a hitter gets a good set in an advantageous position then it makes total sense to be aggressive. When hitter gets a poor set, has no approach, and is facing a monster triple block, smashing the ball is not the brightest idea. Better to take something off and play a smart shot.

The difference between playing the smart shot in this case and not hitting aggressively when playing not to lose is one of intent. The smart hitter realizes their chances of scoring when in a bad hitting position are low and the chances of losing the point are high, so they opt for the course that gives the team better odds. The tentative playing-not-to-lose player is just scared and not thinking at all about what is more likely to lead to a point.

Coaching the difference
Ensuring your players fall into the to-win rather than the not-to-lose category can often come down to you. Are you training them from the perspective of doing what is most likely to produce a successful outcome? Are you encouraging them to take appropriate risks? If so, your teams will tend to have the right mentality. If, however, you have a gym environment where mistakes are punished then you’re more likely to see your team tighten up and play with fear when it’s crunch time.

Training beyond technique and tactics

vbgraphic

I’ve talked about making how your training focus as a volleyball coach should be on making things as game-like as you can within the context of what you’re trying to do and any limiting factors which apply. The point was that while the ideal is to make everything replicate actual game situations, sometimes you are forced work in a less game-like fashion.

In this post I want to extend that and specifically look at times when technical and/or tactical training – which are the primary focal points of most games and drills – is not necessarily the main priority. Chances are, the two ideas in that regard which come to mind will be fitness and mental toughness. I’ll leave the former aside from a separate discussion, and focus on the latter here.

When I use the term mental toughness here I’m referring to characteristics like persistence, focus, being able to quickly put errors behind you, overcoming adversity, dealing with frustration, and the like – not just individually, but as a group. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I put together training sessions specifically designed to challenge players in one or more of these regards. The idea is that just as we want to train players technically and tactically for what they are going to have to deal with in match conditions, we should do the same with respect to the mental part of their game.

Think of it as game-like training for the brain. :-)

How do I accomplish this? In a couple few different ways.

Over-speed
This involves making things happen more quickly than they normally would happen in a match. Scramble is an example of this. As soon as a ball goes dead the next ball is being introduced. This forces players to immediately turn their focus to what’s coming next. That helps train them to get passed the last play and to develop the “What am I supposed to do next?” focus required for things like covering hitters where the tendency is to just watch as a teammate plays the ball.

Slightly too hard
I mentioned before the idea of aiming for 2 out of 3 good repetitions in training. Sometimes you want to make things a little bit harder than that and put players in a position where they actually get frustrated because the balls they have to play are extra challenging or the complexity of the situation is greater. I don’t mean making things impossible. I just mean pushing it to the point where the players aren’t as successful as they are used to being so their frustration level creeps up. Not only does this sort of thing happen in matches, but getting them frustrated in training allows for the opportunity to encourage problem-solving.

Team targets
A major part of good team chemistry is the way players support each other in collectively achieving an objective. It’s fairly straightforward for players to deal with their own success or failure, but much more complicated when factoring several interconnected parts. Having group objectives like 25 good passes in a serve reception drill or 10 pass-set-hit sequences in a cooperative exercise like the hard drill where lapses in focus and/or poor execution can force them to have to start over puts everyone in the same boat. It forces them to deal with not only the consequences of their own performance, but those of their teammates.

Adding the fatigue factor
Everything is less fun when we’re tired. Fatigue can also bring emotions to the surface, especially when we’re frustrated. By adding an extra physical element to something which already pushes mental buttons, like with team targets above, we can surface potential problems and set about trying to put things on the right track. The continuous cross-court digging drill is one I sometimes use in this context. It’s a drill which gets harder the longer it goes on, so players simply have to fight through it. Lots of both individual and collective mental toughness development potential.

Sacrificing game-like elements
The sacrifice you tend to have to make when you do the four things I talk about above is that you may have to reduce the game-like aspect of things. The cross-court digging drill is a perfect example. It involves coaches hitting balls over the net from boxes. There is very little randomness to it. Players are not being given the opportunity to read the set or the hitter, position around a block, etc. The movements do break-up the block elements, but they aren’t particularly game-like.

If I told you I used this drill to teach defense then you would be justified in arguing there are better options. In this case, however, the drill is one focused on the mental side of things, with digging hit balls simply facilitating that. I’m not suggesting you can’t do mental training in a highly game-like context. The hard drill mentioned above is game like, but also very mentally challenging. That’s obviously the ideal. I’m just saying that there are times when you may have to sacrifice game-replicating elements for your purposes because of your specific priorities at the moment.

As game-like as possible

Volleyball-Holding

In response to my post Going beyond maximizing player contacts, one of the readers made the following comment on LinkedIn.

“Reminds me of why I never even thought about teaching defense by standing on a box and hitting the ball at the defenders. How do you learn to read the block, the approach, the set location, and the hitter’s elbow position and arm swing by a coach standing still, tossing a ball a couple of feet, maybe, to himself to hit? Besides, who gets the most practice in that setup? The Coach, do you really need it? Same reason so many coaches are great servers, they get more practice than the players in lots of the drills. John Kessel has that saying about “The game teaches the game best!” I subscribe heartily to that sentiment and it would appear in the article that Mr. Forman agrees.”

I want to clarify something, since there has been a presumption about my volleyball coaching philosophy made here.

There’s a niggle I get when it comes to “the game teaches the game” in that taken to its logical conclusion we should just have our kids play all the time. That isn’t what Kessel means, but there can be a tendency for a message like this to be diluted in transmission. The last word in the quote above – best – is often left out when volleyball coaches speak of this philosophy, or coaching style, or whatever you want to call it. That one little word is important, though.

Why do I say that? Because “… best” give us the flexibility we need to adjust things to our circumstances. We just simply can’t always have our players playing, for one reason or another, either because of limitations or because of what we’re looking to accomplish. In those cases we perhaps cannot make things as game-like as would be ideal, but we have to try to make them as game-like as we possibly can.

Let me provide some examples.

Individual Training
Sometimes you’re only working with a single player. You obviously can’t play in this circumstance – unless you have a bunch of coaches or helpers available, which is rarely the case. You just have to try to offset the tendency for this to result in very block-oriented training (meaning just repeated skill execution).

The comment above about coaches hitting from boxes reminded me of some of the work I did while visiting with German professional men’s team TV Bühl back in August. We had one of the opposites in for some individual work on his defense – his footwork in particular. The drill was a simple one. One coach was on a box hitting from 4 and I was on another box hitting from 2.

I think we all can agree this isn’t the ideal. As the commenter above notes, there’s no block or set or approach to read (I would argue the elbow and armswing elements remain, however). The attacks are at least coming from over the net and at an appropriate height, though, which is more game-like than having a coach standing on the ground on the same side.

The fact that we were mixing up where the attacks were coming from made for slightly less block-oriented training. I don’t remember whether we had him doing anything before or after digging. Adding in something like serving first and then attacking a ball afterwards would have helped add game-like elements and make things less block. We just wouldn’t have wanted to fatigue the athlete too quickly, though.

The idea in a case like this is to look at the situation and see what you can do to as closely replicate game type situations as possible within the limits you have. You aren’t going to be able to make the full sequence game-like, so focus on things around the key area of attention. In the defense footwork example here, we would ask the question what the player does immediately before having to react to the set positionally and immediately after digging the ball.

Harder reps
Sometimes in our training we want to put our players under more pressure than they are likely to get from their teammates in training. This might be to prepare for an upcoming opponent or simply to work on extending their abilities. Examples of this would be harder attacks or tougher serves. These are cases where having a coach hit/serve the ball rather than players offers a training advantage which may offset the reduction in game-like elements and/or player reps, at least when used in a limited fashion.

Alternatively, you may want to put players or the team under a certain kind of pressure or a frequency of pressure they don’t get much of in simple training game play. Two examples of this are Scramble and 22 vs 22. In both games the coach is able to introduce balls which challenge the players in ways that perhaps they are not getting in game play, or that they need specific work on, and at a faster tempo.

Limiting player reps
Let’s face it. In some cases we simply can’t have our players doing all the reps we want in a given game or drill, either because of the fatigue factor or because of overuse concerns. The latter, in particular, was a big consideration when I was coaching at Brown. I know it was also a factor in some of what the SC Potsdam women’s German professional team did when I was with them during their preseason training (they didn’t do any jumping until my last day there). Using coaches to hit or serve is less game-like for sure, but you have to consider the trade-off. Better the coach gets a few extra reps than the players end up injured.

That said …
I do agree with the commenter about coaches getting more reps than their players. There are some situations where this can’t be avoided, but I personally try to set things up such that if I’m initiating a ball in to a game or drill there will be multiple contacts after my toss/hit/serve – preferably at least three. If you can do that you will generally be creating more random training elements and less block, which is the idea.

In Training beyond technique and tactics I extend on the discussion with respect to times when you’re not actually mainly training volleyball-specific skills.