In the last few days I’ve had a pair of coaches ask me for advice on on starting a career coaching professional volleyball. One of them is an avid reader of this blog from Canada with both youth club and college level experience. The other is a current US college coach who it sounded like he came to hear about me by reading my article in the latest AVCA magazine.
First of all, seeing as I’m currently only in my first year coaching at the professional level in Europe, I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is about breaking in and making a career of it. Hopefully we can get some folks with more experience than myself to contribute to the discussion.
For now, though, I’ll share my own perspective on getting into coaching professional volleyball.
Something very important to understand about the European coaching market – and I’m guessing ones in other areas of the world as well – is that for the most part you’re not going going to see public job postings. In the US, and to a degree Canada and England, it’s pretty easy to find out about available coaching jobs through the list of volleyball job listings sites I’ve compiled. You may find narrowly defined sites – like the one that lists French and some Swiss openings – but you won’t find anything with broad coverage.
So how do you find out about openings?
Developing contacts in professional volleyball is something I strongly recommend. Networking is directly responsible for me getting my current job at Svedala. I heard about the job through one of my contacts. At the same time, the contacts I have can be useful references for positions I target. Also, they are sources of information on coaching life and careers and intelligence on the job market.
So how do you develop a professional coaching network?
The simple answer is to get out there and meet coaches. Yes, you can use LinkedIn and other online methods for finding people to connect with. Really, though, the best results in terms of creating good links and being able to learn is to get out and spend time with coaches. It’s something you might be doing in going to the AVCA Convention or the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic, or other more regional events. A similar principle applies for looking abroad. Find the coaching events that happen each year (they are often in late Spring/Summer after the season ends).
Also, go spend some time in other coaches’ gyms. Aside from being a good learning opportunity, it gives you a chance to develop a more direct relationship with others. Don’t be shy. You’d be surprised how willing people are to have you visit with them – even those who are coaching professional volleyball!
The other thing you definitely need to do is research. Think of the professional volleyball landscape as being similar to the conference structure in US collegiate volleyball. Some conferences have a very high competitive standard with lots of funding. Some conferences are at the other end of the spectrum entirely. The rest are at different points in the middle. In my post Professional volleyball country league rankings I talk about how they compare from at least the level of play perspective.
Use your coaching network to help in this research. One of my contacts in Germany was very helpful in giving me an idea of what coaching in Sweden would be like. He’d coached in Finland for several years, so knew the way of things in the Scandinavian countries.
Your research should help you narrow your target coaching market down based on your coaching credentials, where you might want to live, and the like. That then would allow you to concentrate on learning all you can about those leagues and teams – including potentially finding out when coaching jobs open up. It also gives you some specific targets for your networking efforts. After all, who’s better to tell you about your target league(s) than those who actually coach there?
And like researching potential employers anywhere, going through the process will help you figure out where and how your particular experience and talents match with what a team is looking for in a new coach.
Let me start by talking certifications, licenses, and the like. In some countries they are required. Germany is an example of this. That isn’t to say a foreign coach must go through the full German licensing program in order to be hired, as there are accommodations, but you do have to jump through some hoops to be granted a German license. In Sweden there is no such requirement. Having coaching credentials from your home country (e.g. USA Volleyball CAP) definitely helps. In some cases they can be used to gain quick certification in the new country – as was my case in England.
The other thing I would bring up is that going the assistant coach route as a first step is likely to be very challenging. In the less well-funded leagues having an assistant coach at all is a luxury in some places. Even in the better funded leagues, finding assistant coaches earning reasonable money can be challenging. Many of them are required to also coach in the club’s youth teams, which may mean having to know the local language reasonably well.
As a result, you’re probably going to need to be thinking of going after a head coach job. That likely means you want to have some solid head coaching experience on your resume before trying to break into coaching professional volleyball.
When I got hired at Svedala I posted the basic terms of my contract here. That should give you an idea of the things to expect in that regard. Obviously, the specific terms and compensation will vary.
Note that I haven’t said anything about citizenship here. Generally speaking, professional clubs are able to arrange for working permits for foreign coaches. There’s an expense, though, so in some cases your status might factor in. This was something I ran up against exploring a Swiss job. If I’d been an EU citizen I may be coaching in Switzerland now rather than Sweden.
The other thing I would say is you need to realize that coaching professional volleyball has some considerable differences with coaching collegiate volleyball. I did a 3-part series on some of my observations which starts here. The most obvious one is the length of the season. In Europe you start play in October (with preseason starting as early as August) and you probably go until April, or even May in some cases. There is a brief holiday break (mine is about 10 days this year). That requires a different kind of thought and planning process.
I think coaching professional volleyball is definitely something worth exploring if you’re in the right situation for it, though breaking in will require a lot of work. Obviously, it means uprooting your life and moving abroad – probably to a place where you don’t speak the language – and adapting to a whole new set of circumstances. You probably won’t make all that much money, but you’ll gain a lot of useful experience and education.