Archive for Volleyball Coach Development

Being a sponge

In a recent email exchange with a coaching contact in Germany, I made the comment that I’m ready for my vacation to end. He laughed that he couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind would want a holiday in Southern California to come to an end (it’s basically middle 70F/24C and sunny every day, some days warmer). He’s probably right, but I’m ready to get on to whatever comes next. It’s now been a month of relative inactivity, which is long enough.

Of course, I haven’t exactly been doing nothing. I’ve been active in the job market. I’m working on developing an online course. I’ve also conducted several interviews for Volleyball Coaching Wizards. In fact, just last night I interviewed Terry Pettit, legendary Nebraska coach. The Wizards work has kept me in developmental mode.

I’ve written before about the value of watching other coaches in action in terms of helping to affirm what you’re doing. Obviously, that’s great for learning new stuff and gaining a different perspective on things. It’s highly recommended.

For me – and I suspect my project partner Mark Lebedew would agree – conducting these interviews has served a similar role. Some of them get me thinking about things in a different way. Some of them give me ideas for ways of dealing with different situations. Some of them help to affirm my coaching philosophy.

A common recommendation from the Wizards to developing coaches is to be a sponge. During this time away from coaching that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 26, 2016

I got an update from the coach at the school in Texas that the hope was they’d be ready to make an offer soon – perhaps early next week.

Back in Europe?
Since the Texas position remains in limbo for the moment, I’ve stayed active in the job market – even to the point of applying for a potentially interesting non-volleyball position. I was in touch with one of my contacts in Germany on Sunday who asked me whether I would pursue a job in Europe. My response was that if nothing interesting developed on this side of the Atlantic over the next few weeks (basically until clubs started winding down their seasons and positions begin opening up), then I would consider it. The situation would have to look really good and interesting, though.

Camping
I’ve had a few conversations with one of my other coaching contacts in Germany about running a Summer camp over there. It’s something he’s interested in doing, though he has concerns about handling the logistics. In any case, the situation with his club is muddled at the moment. Things need to settle out before we could make any plans, which probably means we’re talking 2017. I have an idea for something Stateside that I’d want him involved in this Summer, though. Hopefully, more on that later. 😉

Other positions
I saw a posting for a potentially interesting job back over the weekend – a joint men’s and women’s position at the Division III level. There’s a definite appeal to being somewhere with both genders. It was a dynamic I really liked while coaching at Exeter. In this case the situation also involves building a program from scratch (men’s), which is the sort of challenge I’d like to take on. The problem is coaching both means you’re in-season almost the whole school year. That wouldn’t offer much opportunity to do some other things. Plus, it’s in a region I’m not overly keen on at this particular moment, and is a religiously oriented school, which likely wouldn’t be a good fit.

There was another head coach job for a religion-based school that I bypassed, and a couple others where I just wasn’t interested in the part of the country and/or the situation. I’m at the point where if I am going to be serious about a job, it needs to offer some things above and beyond just the opportunity to get paid for coaching volleyball. It’s kind of like when I decided to do my PhD in England. That had a lot to do with having a new type of experience and being able to grow in new ways as an individual.

A pair of other head coach jobs, though, were interesting enough for me to send off my resume. One was in Division I and the other in Division III. Very different parts of the country, and different from the other jobs I’ve applied for thus far. I’m not saying that either would necessarily be my dream job, but they made me want to have the discussion.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 19, 2016

Following up on last week
I started the new week with some follow-up correspondence. As you may recall from my last entry, the Athletic Director at the school asked me to give some real thought as to whether the position would be a good fit for me. From a volleyball and coaching perspective, and from an overall work environment point of view, everything looked good to me – at least as best you can judge these things based on a couple of days. The big question mark in my mind was whether I’d enjoy living there. It’s the type of environment I’ve never lived in before, both in terms of climate and culture.

Since the interviews, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering that question and doing a bunch of research. As strange as this may sound, I looked at housing costs and car prices and general cost of living considerations. That’s obviously not the same as being feet on the ground and experiencing day-to-day life, but it definitely helped me feel more comfortable about the prospect of living there. Maybe I won’t be a huge fan of the climate or the environs, but I at least feel like I can carve out a pleasant existence there, which is key. I struggled with that in Sweden, which probably fed my apparent unhappiness there.

I should also note that I also had a few email and text exchanges with the head coach there after I left and over the weekend. Not really job-related stuff, though.

New application
On Monday I put in for a head coach position in Division I. Very different part of the country in this case My qualifications should be more than sufficient in multiple ways, but there is at least one potentially important factor which doesn’t work in my favor.

On Tuesday I also put in for another head coach position. This is for a Division II program in yet another different part of the country. I was in part motivated to do so by the fact that I think I crossed paths in England with the current assistant coach.

One that could be interesting
I also found out on Monday about a job in England that under a different circumstance I might go for. This one isn’t a coaching position, but rather is meant to work at the sub-senior national team level to coordinate the efforts of the senior academies, among other things. Seems like a position that could really help grow and develop the game there. Here’s what got posted by Volleyball England:

Working with partners in the University sector to establish a network of accredited talent development environments for players exiting junior academies including the delivery of existing Senior National Development Programmes for Indoor and Beach.

Coordinating the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme for Volleyball acting as the key point of contact for partner institutions and athletes.

Working with partners to develop senior domestic and international competition opportunities in Indoor and Beach ensuring that they meet the needs of developing talented players. 

We are looking for a candidate whose skills and experience include: 

  • Firsthand experience of talent pathways either as a participant, parent, coach or supporting staff.
  • Experience of managing projects/ partnerships with multiple external stakeholders.
  • Knowledge of sports agencies and stakeholders that contribute to the provision of performance sport in the UK (UK Sport, TASS, Sport England etc.).
  • Ability to meet deadlines, systematic approach to tasks with efficient time management skills including the ability to work under pressure. 

Unfortunately, my lack of UK/EU citizen ship and the fact that the completion of my PhD means the end of my student visa (and the potential to extend it now) makes me an unlikely prospect.

Other options
I of course kept my eye on the postings and considered which ones might be a good fit for me. Honestly, I’m being very picky. I won’t be rushing into things, especially since the recent completion of my PhD gives me options in other directions. I will seriously explore them if I don’t find something I really want to take on in the full-time coaching arena.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 12, 2016

Monday’s Interview
I mentioned in my last update that I was returning to the States to interview for an assistant coaching job at a Division II program. It was actually a multi-day process. It started on Sunday when I was picked up by the head coach for the ride to campus and eventually lunch before getting dropped off at the hotel. We talked about a lot of coaching topics, as you might imagine.

Monday was the high intensity day with not just one interview, but several. My initial schedule looked like this:

10am: Tour of campus
11am: Meet with HR
12pm: Lunch with volleyball staff
1pm: Meet with women’s basketball coach
2pm: Meet with Senior Women’s Administrator
3pm: Meet other coaches on campus
5pm: Dinner with Athletic Director

The lunch was with the current 2nd/Grad Assistant and the Volunteer Assistant coaches.The SWA is actually the former head coach.

That last entry was a real surprise. I’d never have expected a dinner meeting with the A.D. for an assistant coach candidate.

A couple of other meetings with administrators actually got inserted along the way. One was the Associate A.D. and another was with the head of the department through which I would teach were I to land the job. Not surprisingly, I answered the same questions several times (especially “Why here?”). Long day, but it gave me a lot of exposure to the school and especially the Athletic Department.

You’ll notice no player meetings scheduled. The head coach debated my getting together with them as a full group after their morning strength and conditioning session vs. doing it in smaller groups on Tuesday when they came in for their on-court training. She ended up going with the latter because she thought the players would be more open and conversational in the smaller group situation.

Tuesday’s meetings
The result of the player meeting decision was that I met the team in groups of 3 and 4 on Tuesday after they got done with their small-group practices. The head coach had told them to look me up, so they had questions related to my experience – in particular what it was like coaching in Sweden. The groups were comprised of different mixes of players (one was all freshmen, one was all juniors, one multiple classes), so the other questions they asked and what we talked about varied.

In between the meetings I took a detour over to the business school. I spoke with the head of the Finance department about maybe doing some adjunct teaching. This would be in addition to the teaching requirement for this job – a volleyball activity class each semester.

After another lunch with the head coach, my final meeting on Tuesday was a follow-up 1-on-1 with the A.D. Basically, he just wanted me to think about whether the job and locale was a good fit. Made it sound like if I thought it was, then they would think so too. At least one more interviewee is scheduled to visit campus in about a week’s time, so there will be some time before anything could move forward.

Rest of the week
On Wednesday I flew to California. I’ll be hanging out in Long Beach for a while – probably until my next step is decided. Top priority – getting some rest after all the travel and getting my internal clock set to the right time zone!

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 5, 2016

Leaving Sweden
As you are probably aware, on Monday my contract with Svedala was terminated. I had already decided several weeks ago that I wouldn’t look to sign with Svedala for another season, so all the early exit did was move up my time line.

Coaching in Sweden was a worthwhile experience and I have absolutely no regrets about making that move. I just want to be somewhere I can do more program building – to have aspirations beyond “Do as well as you can this year”. That wasn’t looking like it was going to happen at Svedala – at least not within a reasonable time frame. It’s kind of the nature of the club’s current structure, and also Swedish volleyball more broadly. Just a personal thing at this point in my career. Nothing against either the club or volleyball in Sweden, there are a lot of people doing a lot of good work there.

Leaving professional volleyball
In January I further decided that continuing in European professional volleyball probably wasn’t going to be my path forward. The season is a long one and, as was the case when I was coaching at Exeter, I found my mind wanting to shift to other things around January. Perhaps that’s something that developed during my time coaching college ball in the States. At least at Exeter the feeling was moderated by my volleyball time commitment only being a couple of days, giving me more scope to do some other things. Obviously, with a professional club it’s at a higher level and intensity than that.

Along with the attention factor in my decision was my desire to be able to do things like go to the AVCA Convention and/or the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic and other similar sorts of events. Because both of those in particular happen during the professional season, they aren’t doable in a professional coaching circumstance. If I were coaching back in the States it would be a different story, and with the added benefit of still being able to attend similar European events. Plus, as weird as this might sound, I always liked the recruiting side of things – getting out to different places, meeting people, and all that.

Being back in the States would also likely considerably boost my visibility and connectivity with the coaching community there and lead to opportunities I might not otherwise have. I could potentially get involved with national team programs, though I have some contacts in Europe that might allow me a similar opportunity overseas as well. Importantly, having a lesser in-the-gym and team travel commitment during part of the year will provide me more scope to work on my other projects, including academic research and publishing related to my PhD.

My path forward
The conclusion that I came to was that I should look to do one of two things – either look for a college coaching job back in the States or take a non-volleyball primary job and coach on the side. Given my new PhD credential, one possibility would be to find a teaching job and coach locally. I could also return to working in the finance industry, though that would likely have higher time demands, making coaching a bit more of a challenge.

Before Monday’s developments, it didn’t make a lot of sense applying for the US coaching jobs getting posted. No doubt those would want to be filled quickly to have people in place to be at work recruiting and the like. I figured I would probably have to wait until late February to start putting in applications where the hiring time line would more mesh with my need to stay in Sweden through April when my contract ended (coinciding with the end of playoffs). I did keep an eye on the market, though.

Obviously, that’s all changed now.

An early application
That said, I did apply for a job in December. It was the assistant position at a school where I have a connection. I hadn’t really intended to do so. I know the coach there from our days as competing assistants, and it would have been about working together with her as much as anything else. I didn’t figure the time line was going to work with my Svedala commitment, though. She encouraged me to apply – probably for HR purposes – which I did, but they clearly needed someone in more quickly.

Had I known how things were going to unfold, maybe the situation would have been different and I could have been a more realistic candidate. That job has since been filled.

A path unexpected
One potentially interesting development did come up in January, though. A contact from the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project put me in touch with an NCAA Division II coach looking for an assistant. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have considered going for that kind of job, but my contact knows what I’m thinking and knows the coach in question well. She was of the belief that we would make a good team in a program with a lot of upside potential. Also, the position would offer me the flexibility to continue to pursue my other projects, which would be harder at a higher level program. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to talk.

I ended up having about an hour-long conversation with this coach last week. I’d already been talked up by my Wizards contact (something which always makes me a bit nervous), and the coach was impressed with what she’d read on this site. Her other assistants were young and relatively inexperienced, so she wanted to bring someone in at a higher level both in terms of organizational skills and knowledge and experience. She said she really wants someone she can bounce ideas off of and talk about things with at a higher level, as well as obviously carrying part of the administrative load for the program.

I think we both came away with positive thoughts about the conversation. I officially applied for the job the next day. She said she had two others she was looking at seriously and that initial interviews were likely to happen the following week or so. We’d talked about using Skype for that, since I wouldn’t really be able to go there any time soon. This was all with the understanding that I wouldn’t be able to start until May.

Clearly, with things changing on my side, my availability to interview on campus suddenly opened up. As a result, I’m headed there this weekend to interview on Monday. That will end my time in Sweden.

Services in demand
And I haven’t just gotten interest from the States. Yesterday morning I had someone email me about potentially taking over some coaching for a club in Norway. It was a tentative idea that wouldn’t have been a sure thing, but it was good to know that others value what I have to offer.

Are we better off with fewer female coaches?

OK, I know the title of this post is controversial in it’s very composition. Before you jump all over me for suggesting such a thing, let me explain where the thought came from. I’m not actually making a statement of opinion, just presenting something to ponder.

Here’s the background.

We’re once again in the middle of the annual coaching merry-go-round with respect to US college coaching jobs. Inevitably, that brings with it another round of discussions as to the relatively low proportion of females coaches there are in a primarily female sport (I’m not calling volleyball a “girls'” sport, just talking based on the participation numbers – at least in the States). On the forums you can easily find arguments about whether athletic departments are and/or should be favoring female coaching candidates over males who are perceived to be more experienced or better credentialed.

As long as I’ve been involved in coaching there has been a running question, debate, exchange, etc. about how to attract and retain more women in coaching. I’ve written about it before.

In recently reading yet another forum thread on the subject I found myself pondering the thought, “Are we actually better off with women not staying in coaching?”

I am, of course, not making anything like the statement, “A woman’s place is in the home”. I am also not in the least suggesting that women are inferior to men as coaches. A married professional coach I know frequently comments that he is only the second best coach in his household. 🙂

I am also not suggesting that the sport of volleyball is better having fewer female coaches. Personally, I think the best situation for any coaching staff is to have both genders included. Such staffs incorporate a wider set of perspectives than single-gender ones, which is a good thing.

Instead, the question that went through my mind was whether society as a whole was better if women take what they learn from being athletes (since we’re talking mainly of former players here), and potentially early-career coaches, and putting them to use in non-coaching roles. We’re talking about skills like teamwork, leadership, and the like which can be effectively applied in a broad array of positions and activities. That’s one of the reasons we encourage participation in sports, right?

So as a society, are we better having women put those skills to use in non-coaching positions? Certainly, there will be many who argue that by comparison sports is a trivial, frivolous endeavor – that people should focus on more worthwhile things with their time and talents, especially from a career perspective.

Of course this presumes there is more value in having more women in non-sports roles than is the case for men. I’ll leave that discussion for others to argue.

And then there’s the question of who is leading the way in terms of helping these women develop through the process of being athletes and early-career coaches. Is the gender of those in those roles consequential?

On a related note, I sometimes see the suggestion that players prefer coaches of a certain gender. I’d love to see an actual study done that is able to factor out preconceived notions of leadership characteristics.

Anyway, feel free to discuss and debate among yourselves. 🙂

Well, be a better coach!

I once had a phone conversation with a men’s coach at an NCAA Division II school. The women’s program at the school was looking for a new head coach. I was in the market and thought about applying. Not surprisingly, he’d been fielding a bunch of calls and emails from people potentially interested in the job.

No real surprise there. Folks wanted to get a feel for the program and the job.

This coach told me that he’d talked with a number of coaches who come from Division I. In hearing what sort of funding and support the program had, they often responded with the equivalent of, “I can’t win in a situation like that.” You see, they only had half the number of scholarships allowed.

My response upon hearing this was to think to myself, “Well, then maybe you should be a better coach.” Actually, both of us said that out loud in our conversation.

This men’s coach managed to get his team in conference title contention each of the prior four years. Clearly, the available resources were enough to win if you know how to make good use of what you’ve got. This sort of thing is a big issue I have with the way a lot of lower level programs go after assistants from upper level ones.

If you’ve just coached at a top tier program, then you’ve probably had all kinds of resources available. These are things you don’t have when you start sliding down the RPI scale or move into lower divisions, though. It really can be a whole different world. That’s in terms of the caliber of athletes, the money for recruiting, and the amount of coaching and administrative support, among other things.

For example, I heard about a former top level player who started her coaching career at a top level program. She then took a head coach position much lower down. She want from private jets to driving a 12-passenger van. That’s not something coaching at the top level prepares you to deal with.

Plus, in some cases the administration doesn’t really care if you win or not. That’s a foreign concept for a lot of people used to high competitive conferences.

 

An abrupt change of direction

Little did I know when I finished it that this coaching log entry was the last of the Svedala 2015-16 updates.

I was told the next evening the club was terminating my contract with immediate effect.

Yup. That happened.

That Sunday evening the chairman asked me to a meeting starting an hour before Monday’s training. It wasn’t a surprise. We were the league’s top team the first half of the season and qualified for Gran Prix for only the second time in club history. Recent results were not good, though. We went 1-3 over our initial set of league matches in the second half. Two of those losses were against legitimate contenders  The last one, though, was against a team we beat twice before and should have beat that time.

After that match I had a snide comment thrown my way by a parent (yes, there are parents at the professional level). Then, during the day on Monday a board member basically told me “When the team loses three in a row it’s the coach’s fault.” I didn’t argue.

In a situation like this, it can’t be a shock to be asked to a meeting. I figured it would be a “How will you fix this?” discussion.

The chairman and another board member were there. He didn’t waste any time. They’d decided to terminate my contract. He said it was due to “differences in coaching philosophy and a lack of feedback”. Actually, he looked a bit embarrassed saying that. The other member said something encouraging about my job prospects.

I think the chairman expected a push back. I didn’t. My one comment was it would have been nice to get some indication along the way that the board wanted something different. He admitted the club made some mistakes.

The Sport Director/Manager who hired me, and was my assistant coach, took charge. Apparently, he was meant to be at the meeting, but couldn’t make it because of job requirements. I never heard anything from him.

Time to move on

When I told my friends and contacts in the European coaching ranks, they all found it a strange development. A couple of them suspected performance wasn’t really the issue. They thought it was finances. I suspect that was at least part of it. Honestly, at the time I did not really care. I wished the players well, as they were a really good group, but I moved on.

The fact of the matter was I knew for a while that I wasn’t carrying on with Svedala past that season. I was proud of what we accomplished with a short-handed and relatively inexperienced squad. The situation just wasn’t a good fit for me in the broader scheme, though.

So as much as it stung to be let go, I was not overly upset about it. I just left Sweden a couple months earlier than planned. Of course the sudden development meant I had to scramble a bit to figure out where I could hang out until it was time to take on my next challenge.

See my coaching job search log posts. I was already working from that perspective before all that came down.

Developing young coaches in a club

While coaching in Sweden, board members of my employer club brought me into a conversation. Svedala has it roots in youth volleyball. In many ways it was still primarily a youth-oriented organization. It was facing one of the issues I think every youth/juniors club has. That’s attracting and retaining coaches to run training and manage the teams in competition.

The question posed to me was how to develop more coaches internally. In particular, how do you encourage older and/or more experienced players to be more active as coaches. The three Americans in the Elitserie team I coached all coached the younger players. It was part of their contract. Periodically, other members of the team also helped out at training as well.

The foreign players, though, turnover frequently at clubs like Svedala. They needed a more stable core group of coaches in the club. The board members asked me for ideas on how to facilitate creating such a cadre.

How do we create coaching cadre?

My main suggestion was to make it a regular feature that members of the older teams at least help coach younger players. For example, Elitserie player could help with the second team, the second team could help with the next oldest age group, and so on down the chain.

To my mind, there are multiple benefits to this kind of arrangement. Obviously, increasing the number of coaches is one of them.

The other benefit is providing the younger players with role models in their development. We want younger players to develop a connection with the older ones. It encourages them to be more involved as spectators at the older team matches. It also encourages them to try to be like their “heros”.

A further plus to having older players coach younger ones is that it makes them better players. The process of teaching is a great way to learn. I know I found that myself in my own coaching (when I was still young and fit enough to be an active player), and I’ve heard others say the same thing on numerous occasions.

On top of all this, creating a structure where players coach players can help to develop a stronger collective sense of club and community.

How do we implement that?

The follow-up question is how then to implement something along those lines. I like the idea of having a master coach who is in charge of directing training overall. The other coaches, who presumably are only in their early stages of coaching development, would then operate under that person’s supervision in running training sessions – and potentially in coaching teams during competition.

I think either way there needs to be some kind of coach development process in place. You can’t just throw a 15 year old in to coach a bunch of 12s and expect them to immediately know what to do. Guidance and support is required.

Above and beyond all of this, there needs to be a concerted effort toward coaching talent identification. I personally am always on the lookout for players who seem to have the right mixture of temperament and talent to eventually move into the coaching ranks. We need to foster these individuals in their development.