In the last two posts I compared professional volleyball to NCAA Division I volleyball on the basis of seasons and resources. In this post I want to look a bit more narrowly at the coaching aspect of things, at least based on what I saw during my three weeks hanging out with teams in Germany. Again, I don’t really claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of things based on just a few weeks experience, but I have a few impressions. I’d love for those with more exposure, particularly on the professional side of things, to share their views.
As I noted in my first post in this series, the competitive season for professional volleyball is longer than the one for NCAA teams. Preseason starts at roughly the same time in August, but play can carry on into May. The collegiate players train during Spring term as well, but have winter break, Spring Break, and May exams (generally speaking), so while the coaches in both categories have a similar length overall coaching period, the professionals will almost certainly spend more time in the gym during that span.
Both sets of coaches have lengthy periods during the year out of the gym – generally April/May to August. NCAA coaches continue to have recruiting requirements in that time frame (as noted in the next section), and of course there are always administrative duties for both groups.
Both professional and college coaches are required to scout and evaluate potential additions to their teams (and to decide which players to attempt to retain). To do so, both watch a lot of video and are in touch with any number of contacts to help identify prospects and gather player information. NCAA coaches spend a fair amount of time during the January to July period on the road attending Juniors tournaments. Because they are still in-season, my impression is that professional coaches probably don’t do quite so much of that, but they are better able to bring players in for trials, which NCAA rules prohibit in Division I. Both sets of coaches watch a lot of video.
Naturally, there are differences between working for a professional sports organization and working for a university. I suspect, however, they are not as great as one might think. Much of managing a team – scheduling, equipment, travel, etc. – is pretty constant, no matter the context. Yes, there will be some differences in how things operate, but not major ones. Coaches in both cases have to deal with management above them, deal with players transitioning in and out of the team, interact with fans and sponsors/donors, and all of that.
Language is generally not an issue for NCAA coaches. They may occasionally have a player who struggles with English, but a certain level of fluency is usually required for college admission, so it’s not really a problem. Communication issues come from other areas, such as differences in where the players are from, background, etc.
Professional coaches have to deal with the latter, but also have language considerations. It seems like English is the common tongue for most professional teams, but it’s far from the case that every player speaks it or speaks it well. The result seems to be a multitude of languages being spoken between players, between coaches, and between players and coaches – and even club management.
For example, when I was at SC Potsdam the coaching staff spoke Italian amongst themselves. The primary on-court language in group situations was English, but both Italian and German were frequently spoke in 1-on-1s and smaller group situations. I was told club management speaks very little English, so business at that level is done in German. At TV Bühl the coaches speak Spanish together, and there was a bit of Spanish and Portuguese spoken in 1-on-1 player situations, but otherwise English dominated, even among club management. Most players didn’t know much German (but were taking lessons). One player, however, spoke little English, instead requiring translation to French by one of his teammates.
So basically, decent English is generally necessary for professional coaches to work with their teams. The extent to which they need to speak the local language varies, but I think generally it does behoove a coach to learn it. The same could actually be said of NCAA coaches who work in strongly ethnic communities.
Salary & Income
I was told that in Germany head coach annual salaries are generally in the €30s (call that about $39k-$50k, £24k-£32k), with assistants in the €15k-€20k range (about $20k-$26k, £12-£16). This may not sound like all that much, but it’s important to keep in mind that coaches are generally provided with housing and a car by the club. That’s worth quite a bit. It’s commonly suggested that people pay roughly 1/3 of their take-home pay on housing alone, and it’s pretty easy to imagine a car being another 10%.
Let’s say a coach takes home 70% of their salary after taxes, etc. Someone making €35k would take home €24.5k. Housing would be worth about €8k, with the car another €2.5k, so that coach in Germany would have an effective take-home pay of just over €35k, which would be about €50k pre-tax. This equates to about $65k (£40k).
Given that the German professional leagues rank in about the middle of the pack among, the implication is that coach pay is probably a bit lower on average in lesser leagues and higher in the bigger ones.
How does this compare to NCAA salaries? In 2010 the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) conducted a salary survey, the results of which were published in the February/March 2012 edition of Coaching Volleyball magazine. The graph below is shows the distribution of Division I volleyball coach base salaries.
The article reports that the average salary is $73,426, with a median of $69,079, so not far off the numbers from above on an equivalency basis. The lowest was about $37k, with a high in the $140s. What these numbers don’t account for is performance bonuses, camp, sponsorship, and other income which can significantly increase a coach’s total compensation. A number of threads on VolleyTalk (here, here, here) address the subject. The suggestion is that coaches in the upper echelons of the sport can do quite well for themselves. Assistant coach salaries parallel head coach pay in terms of variation based on conference differences, though obviously an order of magnitude lower and without the same kind of upside.
I would imagine professional coaches also have additional income opportunities. I’m not sure to what degree, though.
I was given the impression that coaches in the professional ranks don’t tend to spend a great deal of time with any one team. There are certainly a few who do, but that is the exception. Essentially, it’s like any other professional sport in that regard. NCAA coaches probably don’t move around quite so much, but it isn’t like long tenures at a single school are the norm there either. Most coaches in the AVCA survey mentioned above were in their current positions less than 10 years.
I’ve already talked a little about how similar coaching at the professional level is to coaching at other levels in the Being reminded of the coaching similarities post. Going beyond that, I think the biggest thing for me that came out of spending time with the two professional teams was seeing the amount of relative youth there was in the squads. Certainly, there are the mature, experienced players as well, but because players are being developed out of youth club programs rather than coming out of a collegiate structure, there are also a number of younger athletes (even down to 16). The result is that in some cases there’s not a lot of difference in terms of age, maturity, experience, technical ability, etc. between professional players and those competing in the NCAA.
And in terms of the actual coaching on the court, just as you’d expect going from gym to gym watching NCAA coaches, there are any number of different styles and philosophies among professional coaches. Given that they come from a more diverse set of backgrounds, the professionals are probably a bit less homogenized in style than those in the NCAA, but in neither case are you going to see the same sort of coaching approach in every gym.
Here’s a major area of difference between professional and NCAA coaches. In the US it is essentially forbidden to fraternize or even socialize with players. A big factor is the drinking age being 21 which means only a minority of members of a team will be old enough to drink, which is certainly not the case in Europe. Many schools have strict no-alcohol policies where school-related activities are concerned and generally speaking coaches are expected to maintain a professional relationship with their players at all times. Needless to say, romantic/sexual relationships between players and coaches are an absolute no-no (it’s usually viewed from a sexual harassment perspective).
While European coaches are also expected to be professionals, the player-coach relationship is somewhat more relaxed (or at least can be, depending on personalities involved). That isn’t to say coaches are often out partying with their players, but they will have a drink with them. Personally, this was something I struggled with when I first came to England. The idea of socializing with my players was really uncomfortable, though over time I was able to relax a bit. You will also find the occasional romantic relationship between player and coach, though I can’t imagine it’s something very common.
As a last point, I should note that professional team rosters seem to turnover quite a bit. At an NCAA school you’d expect roughly a quarter of the players each year to leave and be replaced. At TV Bühl there was only one player back from the prior season, and it had been fairly similar the year before (though they were moving to reduce that level of change moving forward). I think the year-over-year change for SC Potsdam was something close to half the team. Obviously, when you have that kind of squad change from year-to-year it changes certain ways you coach.
It should be noted that American players seem to be among the least likely to stay in one place for any length of time. One coach suggested to me that a desire to see new things and have new experiences tends to be part of the motivation. That said, non-American players move around a lot too. For the most part, players salaries are not particularly high, which tends to increase the motivation to make a move for better pay.
OK, so those are my impressions. Like I said at the beginning, I’d love to hear from those with more exposure, a different perspective, etc.