Archive for Volleyball Coach Development

New assistant coach working with former teammates

The following emailer seeks some advice. I present the text of their note here, with my reply below, in hopes of generating some discussion. I know there are a number of current and/or former collegiate assistant coaches who read the blog. Hopefully, we can get something going based on different kinds of experience.

I recently graduated in December and was offered to be the assistant women’s volleyball coach. I am in an awkward transition from being a student athlete to now coaching my former teammates. I have coached club volleyball for the last 5 or 6 years, but I have never coached at the college level. I am a member of the AVCA and submitted an application to receive a mentor, but they are unable to match me just yet. Do you have any advice by chance? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

It can definitely be a challenge to have to coach former teammates. I did a bit of it back when I was doing some coaching after high school. Mainly, though, I was a drill facilitator rather than someone providing real coaching. Though I did push to try to develop a quick attack. Unfortunately, the head coach wasn’t really interested in pursuing it (much to my frustration!)

If you’re working with a head coach who has a pretty strong presence with the team then things probably won’t be too difficult for you with respect to your former teammates. They will just see you as being Coach’s helper more than actually being someone who’s telling them what to do. That’s not a bad thing. It makes it really easy for you to take a learning approach.

Provide information

Either way, though, I think the key for you developing a good working relationship with them is taking a “providing information” angle on your interactions. By that I mean try to avoid coming off as telling them what to do. That could be tough for former teammates to take. Instead, try to think of the sorts of things you wanted to hear from your coaches – scouting information, stats on their play, video of what they’re doing, encouragement, a kick in the butt at the right time, etc.

Professional relationship

Potentially the biggest challenge will be developing a professional relationship with your former teammates. You can have a friendly relationship with them, but you can’t be their buddy anymore. You’re their coach now. Yes, assistant coaches tend to be closer to the players in that regard, but there are boundaries which you have to establish and maintain. You need to be able to view them objectively and work with them without personal entanglements which can create all kinds of problems.

Definitely talk with your head coach about this stuff. They should be able to help guide you.

Be loyal

And one last thing. A coaching staff is like a set of parents. It should always present a unified front to the team. That means you do not contradict the head coach or another assistant in front of the team or when speaking with any of the players. And you never do anything which might damage another coach’s standing with the team – or anyone else, for that matter.

Here’s some additional advice on being a good assistant.


Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 27, 2015

I applied for a Division II head coaching job in the middle part of the country. I also put in for a Division I assistant job in the Northeast. Of considerable interest is the head job I put in for which would be for a brand new volleyball program.

On the jobs I won’t be getting front is the Eastern Illinois head job, which I never really thought I’d have much of a chance at.

I will spend the weekend in Berlin at the men’s CEV Champions League Final 4 hanging out in the VIP area between matches. I’m hoping to make some additional contacts who can help out in the job search process.

Off to Berlin for the Final 4!

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

VolleyCountry posted an interview with former USA national team setter LLoy Ball a while back. In it, Ball shares his intention to coach professionally one day. The article title suggests he will be a combination of all his former coaches. 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 his desire to eventually coach professionally in Europe. These days he coaches a lot at the youth level. When asked what his coaching style would be like, Ball’s response was

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 all probably want to take as we develop our own coaching style. We want to pick the best of what we have seen from other coaches and combine them. We inevitably at the start of our coaching careers are something of a composite of our own coaches and those we see in action. It’s not always easy to pick out the very best elements of each. This is especially so since not many of us played for some of the top coaches in the world. We can all aspire to it, though. The trick, as I talked about in that prior post, is remaining flexible and adaptable.

I am interested to see how Lloy does if he indeed goes 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?

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).

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.

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.

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?


Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 20, 2015

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.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 13, 2015

Daniel Webster, the Division III program where they posted for a joint men’s and women’s coach to which I applied, has hired. This was a pretty quick turn around, at least from the posting date, which is a little surprising given the men are currently mid-season. I was thinking this wouldn’t be filled until after the season ended. Makes me think maybe they had their person in mind already.

Miami has filled their assistant vacancy. Likewise with Arkansas State and Eastern Michigan. The College of Charleston will be filling their position with a former player, from what I was told.

I applied for one Division I head coach position in the south and one Division II assistant job in the west this past week. I also applied for another assistant job at a school where I previously applied for the head coach vacancy.

On the professional front, I committed to going to the CEV Champions League Final 4 in Berlin. Part of it is just to go to an event I might otherwise not have a chance to see, being hosted by a club I’ve visited a couple times now. There is definitely an eye toward doing some networking as well, though. I expect some of the professional coaches I know to be there. Hopefully I can meet a few more. I went with the VIP ticket to help facilitate that.

Thinking about volleyball recruiting

It occurred to me the other day that I had yet to really take on the subject of recruiting on this blog in any meaningful fashion. At I haven’t least from the coach’s perspective (see Inside College Volleyball for a different angle). The realization came on the back of having to give serious thought to my own recruiting track record and how I present it following some feedback I recently received in the job hunt process. Recruiting is a massive part of coaching collegiately in the US. Really, in some fashion or another is a feature of competitive volleyball at just about any level. As much as we might all like to think our great coaching is why we win, having quality players is a big part of the equation. Identifying, attracting, and retaining them is thus an important part of coaching successfully when you get paid to win.

My plan is to run a series of posts covering different aspects of recruiting. To that end, I’d love to hear from you. What aspects of recruiting do you want to learn more about? What do you feel like you need to be better at in recruiting? Do you have any personal insights into recruiting you’d like to share? Maybe you’ve got a story?

I’ve got the framework of an idea for how I’ll take on the subject, but input and contributions are very welcome. Feel free to leave a comment below. Alternatively, you can email me through the contact page or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks in advance.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 6, 2015

Only one head coach application submitted this week. That was for a job in the Northeast.

I applied for another of what looks like a 2nd assistant position. This is for a program where the 1st Assistant moved on to take one of the head coach jobs I applied for, but obviously didn’t get. I took a slightly different approach with my initial contact to the head coach there. We’ll see if it pays off. I followed that up with applications to a pair of stronger conference teams for their assistant vacancies which also look like they would be 2nd assistant positions, but at that level there is often less of a distinction.

I also applied for a Division II assistant position in the Northeast. That’s the first non-Division I assistant job I’ve put in for up to this point. It’s full-time, though I don’t know if there are any additional duties attached, which can be the case at that level. Nothing was indicated in the job posting. The program has been pretty consistently strong and regularly in the NCAA tournament.

I got a rejection note from Cornell for their head coach position. They’ve elevated their assistant, who had already been given the interim tag. Also got a head coach rejection note from West Virgina, which I never really expected anything out of anyway. East Carolina has filled the assistant vacancy that I submitted for and I received a polite “you’re not on our list” email with regards to Utah.

Upon request, I finally was able to get some useful feedback this week from one of the schools to which I applied for a head coach position (but didn’t get). It went like this:

“Perhaps in the future, it would be worthwhile to provide more context about your work with the Exeter club, and to highlight similarities with recruitment there and NCAA D1, high-caliber play, and so on.   Emphasis on continued expansion of US recruiting networks would be important here since we have such a limited pool of international financial aid, though other institutions may be keenly interested in recruiting networks abroad.”

My takeaway is that basically I need to do a better job of translating my experience in England into NCAA coaching terms and give more attention to the recruiting side of things. Not unreasonable. I’ve sent follow-up emails to schools where searches remain active to try to address that, have adjusted my resume, and will incorporate it into future applications.

I had a conversation with one of my German professional coach friends this week. He told me to email a contact of his in Finland, suggesting that is a good place to get a start in the pro game. I did and heard back basically that he’ll keep me in mind.

Also connected with a coach I used to battle against in the Ivy League, and who was a fellow coach in the same Juniors club back when I got started. He coached at one of the schools I’ve applied to, and apparently still is connected with them. Said he’d put in a good word for me.

Saving perhaps the best for last, I finally had someone actually express interest in me! It’s for one of the 2nd Assistant positions in the Midwest I mentioned putting in for last week. The coach emailed me the other day. Officially, they cannot do anything just yet because the posting needs to be active for a certain amount of time before they can begin screening. It’s a start, though.

I made the decision at the end of last week to strip the UK address and phone number from my resume when applying for jobs in the States. I’d already been using my US mailing address in the online application forms – partly because some of them just didn’t handle overseas addresses well – and had begun leaving my address off my cover letters. I also changed my LinkedIn profile to show a US location. I’m hoping this will at least avoid any kind of initial automatic screening out on that basis. I can always explain my situation in an interview.