Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

What are good questions to ask in a coaching job interview?

I wrote previously about questions I was asked in coaching interviews and questions you might hear when you interview for a coaching job. Obviously, you need to prepare for questions like that. You also, however, must be ready to ask questions of your own. In many interviews the final question you receive is, “Do you have any questions for me/us?”

So what types of questions should you prepare to ask your interviewer(s)?

I think there are three main categories of questions you need to consider. Which ones you go with depend on the situation and job.

Demonstrate knowledge of requirements

If you interview for a job that is outside your direct experience, it may be a particularly important for you to focus on demonstrating that you know what it takes to coach at that level. For example, moving up from assistant coach to head coach, or moving between NCAA divisions. Some of what you are asked is designed to assess you at this level. You can help your case, though, by asking good questions.

Show knowledge of the team/program/club

The second type of questions you can ask relates to demonstrating knowledge of the team or program and its history. If you have played and/or coached for the program in the past this isn’t a big deal. The connection will be obvious to the interviewer. If you haven’t, though, you want to demonstrate some kind of knowledge of and/or affinity for it. Much of this will come through in how you answer the questions posed to you. You can, however, reinforce it by how you ask your own questions. For example, you could start a question with something like, “I know in the past ….”.

Get the information you need to make a decision

The final type of questions you want to ask in an interview is the sort that helps with your own decision-making process. You want to develop as complete a picture as you can about what it will be like coaching that team and working in that school, athletic department, club, etc. Many of these sorts of questions overlap with the other types mentioned above. There might be some, though, that are more personal for you.

Some possible questions

Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • What is the program’s funding (scholarships)?
  • What are the roster requirements (min/max)?
  • How many assistants will I have?
  • What sort of fund raising do I have to do?
  • Is there an active booster club?
  • What sort of match attendance does the team get?
  • What is the recruiting budget?
  • Are there specific recruiting limitations?
  • How do we travel?
  • How do we split gym time with basketball when the seasons overlap?
  • What do I get for court time (club coach)?
  • What are the performance expectations for the team?
  • Will we have a dedicated athletic trainer?
  • Will we have a dedicated strength coach?
  • What is the overall coaching philosophy (for assistants or club coaches)?
  • What is my coaching role and administrative responsibility (assistants)?
  • Who is my direct report (Athletic Director, SWA, Technical Director, Club Director, etc.)?

That last one ties in with a bunch of potential questions about your relationship with your future boss. You certainly want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like working with/for them.

This is obviously just a partial list of possible questions. You need to do your research and give some real thought to how you want to present yourself, as well as what information you want to gather for your own purposes.

It’s OK to walk into an interview with a list

The bottom line in terms of questions is that you want to reinforce the things that you think make you a good candidate for the position, and you want to collect information for your own purposes. If you go to the interview with a list of questions you want to ask you look prepared – so long as you don’t ask questions basic research should have answered already. If you ask specific, thoughtful questions you demonstrate a clear interest in the position and the broader organization.

You don’t want to go overboard, of course. If the questions are too much about you, it could turn the interviewer(s) off. Always remember, they are looking for someone they think will fit into their organization. Until you are offered the job, you have to maintain a “what’s in it for them” approach with respect to hiring you.

Hope that helps. If you have any thoughts or suggestions of your own, definitely share. Just leave a comment below.

Coaching as a career vs. just coaching

Volleyball Coach

Matt at The College Volleyball Coach wrote an article in which he answers a reader question about moving into a career in volleyball. He takes a somewhat more negative view on coaching as career than I would. That said, he does make a number of very good points. I’ll leave you to read his comments and suggestions.

In the article, though, Matt brings up the idea of having a career in coaching vs simply coaching. His definition of “career” is not one I share, but it motivated some thoughts on coaching paths. That’s what this post is about.

Career in coaching

To my mind a career in coaching is one where you earn the bulk of your income from coaching. For most people that means being employed full-time by some organization. In the US that usually means a college or university. The other way people make coaching a career is by putting together several different jobs to earn a living. They might do something like combine coaching for a school with coaching for a club, and maybe doing individual lessons. Basically, they add together a bunch of part-time coaching jobs to make a full-time income.

I don’t count club directors in here. Even if they do coach one or more teams, they generally make much more from their administrative roles than their on-court work. But I’m fine if you want to lump that in with coaching as “volleyball income”.

Coaching just to coach

The alternative to having a coaching career is to just simply coach. It could provide a part-time income in addition to a regular job. Maybe it’s just volunteer. Either way, there is no expectation or requirement that volleyball be one’s main source of income.

Of course that isn’t to say you don’t spend lots and lots of time coaching. Some of the coaches we’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards are only part-time coaches. It’s the love of the sport which motivates them, not the need to earn an income. That isn’t to say those who having coaching careers aren’t motivated by love of the game. It’s just that they also have other considerations involved.

So let’s break it down. What are the pluses and minuses of one vs. the other?

Full-time income from part-time work

Obviously, the big thing that motivates people to pursue coaching as a career is the idea that you can make a living doing something that you love. Isn’t that what we’re all after?

That’s all well and good, but it’s not as nice as it sounds. Nothing ever really is, right? 🙂

First let’s look at the coach who cobbles together multiple different coaching jobs into one living income. That usually means you get to focus mainly on coaching – the stuff that happens on the court. It’s probably about as close to “pure coaching” as you’ll get because you’re spending the majority of your time on-court.

Sounds great, right?

It does, until you think about the downside. First, you probably won’t be making all that much money. That’s fine if you’re young and single. Start adding a family into the equation and it becomes more of a challenge. Second, you’ll probably always have to be hustling. It could be very seasonal. This isn’t a very stable situation in most cases.

Full-time coach

Now lets look at the case where you get the majority of your income from one job. Let’s look at the situation for a college coach in the US. As Kevin Hambly commented in an interview with The Net Live, you actually spend only a small fraction of your time coaching at the college level.

During the season you spend a couple hours on the court each day. Outside of the regular season you spend, on average, even less time on-court. All those other hours that add-up to a full-time job have to be filled with something to justify your wages in the eyes of the university. That means recruiting, meetings, monitoring player academic performance, fund-raising, scheduling, travel planning, teaching for some, and a long list of other administrative and organizational work. In other words, a whole lot of stuff that isn’t coaching.

Things are a little different for coaches of professional teams. There a lot of the administrative work college coaches do is handled by team managers and the like. Still, they have to do things like sponsor events, meeting with the media, and plenty of other stuff that isn’t strictly coaching.

On top of all this, volleyball coaching careers aren’t particularly lucrative. It’s a pretty small minority of top coaches who make really good money. Most are much more modestly compensated and some are pretty poorly paid. Plus, coaching can be a very unstable career. There aren’t many who stay for a long time in one position – either by choice or by force. This requires a career oriented mentality, which is different from a pure coaching one.

Part-time coaching

In contrast to coaching as a career, most part-time coaches don’t have the same off-court demands. There will almost always be some kind of administration to be handled, but it won’t be as much. For example, if you coach Juniors the vast majority of that stuff tends to get handled by the club. The bulk of your time is spent at practice and in matches. Clearly, you’ll need to have something else to pay the bills, but you’ll be closer to “pure coaching”.

Time is one of the potential issues with this sort of coaching. Since you’ll probably have a full-time job alongside volleyball is squeezed into your limited free time. That means you must feel like you get something valuable from it, especially if it means lots of time away from friends and/or family.

Then there’s your level of coaching obsession. You may very well find yourself thinking about line-ups and practice plans when you should be paying attention to your day job. The boss probably won’t like that much. 🙂

The bottom line

The bottom line is you have to look at things from your own situation. You need to consider the pluses and minus. I’ve been in both situations. I have coached part-time and I’ve coached full-time. Both have their attractions and both have their negatives. Each is rewarding in its own way.

Looking back on my job search thinking

Volleyball Coach

I recently found myself reading the post I wrote at the start of my 2014-15 job search. It was interesting to revisit my thinking at that time.

This was December 2014. It was my third year at Exeter. I had in mind the completion of my PhD and likely the end of my time in England. There wasn’t much chance I’d be able to stay there in a primarily coaching capacity. The timing was such that my main focus was on US college coaching jobs. They were the ones opening up at the time, though I also had professional jobs in Europe in mind. I had to wait until later to go after them.

I definitely expected to end up back in college volleyball at that time. While I knew it would be a challenge given my long time away, I felt like I had a decent set of credentials. I could go back as an assistant coach, but I figured at that point I was better suited for a head coach position. When it came to looking at a professional job, I thought it would be the other way around. I figured I’d probably need to be an assistant somewhere first to learn the ropes in that structure.

It’s funny how things played out!

Expectations vs. Reality

Although I applied for a long list of both head and assistant positions, I barely got a sniff at any US coaching jobs at that time. There was one phone interview for a school in Texas (coincidentally). That’s as far as it went, though. It was such a poor response that I very seriously thought about non-coaching jobs.

As you probably know, I ended up getting a professional job as a head coach in Sweden. I didn’t really understand at the time I wrote that old post how few assistant coaching opportunities there were for non-locals (or at least non-EU). Outside of the very top leagues (and clubs) the only real opportunities were as head coach for foreigners, and I didn’t have the right passport. I also wasn’t very well connected to hear about potentials positions.

Of course things didn’t play out exactly as I planned in Sweden at Svedala. The team had one of the club’s best seasons, but I was cut loose early in the second half of the campaign. Fortunately, I already had some pokers in the fire, and was shortly thereafter hired at Midwestern State where I am now. I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d end up an assistant in Division II, but that’s where I am.

Interestingly, the Midwestern job wasn’t the only one for which I was offered an interview. I also got called about doing one for a Division III head coaching position. By that time, however, I had already started at MSU.

What did line up

In that old post I talked about the sort of position I wanted, given the opportunity. It was one where I could build something – or at least be part of doing so. That’s something which never changed. It remains true today. It’s a big reason why I am at MSU. The situation here is all about rebuilding a program. I may not be the head coach, but I still have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

You can follow my progress in that regard via my Coaching Log entries.

 

Why coaches and teams part ways

Volleyball Coach

There’s an interesting post on the German coaching blog Volleyball Freak. It takes on a subject which you don’t often hear discussed – when a team and a coach should part ways. There is a bit more to the article in terms of how to handle things, but I’ll focus on the Why? side of things.

Let’s have a look at the list.

Poor Training

This comes at things from two perspectives. One is the preparation of the coach in developing a good practice plan – one which addresses identify developmental needs. The other is whether the players are satisfied with the sessions. You may think the two are linked, and to a degree they are. You can, however, have a situation where the players agree with the direction, but not with the execution.

For example, the team and the coach agree that work needs to be done on serve reception. They disagree, however, on how exactly what to do. This issue came up when I coached at Svedala. Some of the players wanted to just do reps, while I wanted to try to make things as game-like as possible.

Poor coaching during the match

Did the coach use an appropriate line-up? Were substitutions logical? Did timeouts get called at reasonable times, and were the coach’s comments useful? How was the coach’s demeanor on the sideline? Persistent problems in any of these areas can lead to a coach losing their position.

Unreliability

This one should be pretty clear. The team needs to know what to expect of the coach. This applies to all facets of the player-coach relationship and interaction.

Interpersonal Problems

This can be a tough one. The coach has to work with several different personalities, and sometimes one or more of those don’t mesh well with their own. As coach you ideally work well with all the players, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

This becomes a major issue when the conflict is with a team leader. If the coach can’t find a way to resolve the personal differences they can easily lose the team. That’s a bad situation all around.

Too high/low demands

The most often observed example of this is the coach’s competitive expectations not mismatched with those of the players. Usually, that’s an overly competitive coach in a situation where the players are more interested in having fun and being social. It can go the other way too, though.

Inadequate communication

This one is huge. It’s probably the biggest cause of player/coach issues because it leads to the problems outlined above. There are a couple of different ways communication is inadequate. One is simple lack of communication – the coach doesn’t talk enough to the players individually or the team collectively. Another is the coach’s communication is ineffective in that they can’t get across what they want the players to take away.

The relationship of trust is disturbed by other reasons

Sometimes things happen external to the player-coach interaction which negatively impact that relationship.

The list above is very much a list of team/player-coach issues that can develop. While in some situations the team decides its coach – which was my case coaching in England – in many circumstances there is an organizational aspect to the hiring (think university, professional club, etc.). In that case there will of course be considerations related to how the coach interacts with the players. There will also, however, be additional considerations based on other relationships and expectations.

In other words, if you want to keep your job as a coach you need to keep multiple constituencies happy. Sometimes you have to realize that attempting to do so conflicts with your own philosophy and beliefs, and you should leave rather than compromise them.

Finding professional coaching opportunities

Volleyball Coach

When you’ve done something that most folks in your community haven’t done, but might be interested in doing, you tend to get questions about it. In my case, I’m one of a very small number of American coaches with experience coaching in a professional league in Europe. As a result, I periodically get questions about how to go about doing that – like this one:

Hi John,

Can I just bother you to ask about where a coach can find professional coaching opportunities in Europe? In particular, I was wondering how you got your job at Svedala last year – if there is an application to do like here in the UK or there in the US, or if it is thanks to links with other coaches. So mainly what is the process to become a professional coach in Europe?

Many thanks,

Matteo

First, let me direct anyone interested to the Coaching professional volleyball – advice wanted article I wrote. It talks about a lot of what I think you need to know, understand, and be prepared for when looking at professional coaching in Europe.

How does one get a professional coaching job?

Matteo asked how I got my job at Svedala. It was totally a networking thing. The outgoing coach (an Aussie) was in touch with a coaching contact of mine in Germany (an Argentine). The latter, knowing I was looking, put me in touch with the former. He pointed me in the direction of the club’s manager. Obviously, things went from there.

As to whether there’s an application process for these positions, there is – unless the club already has someone in mind. However, it’s not nearly as formal as for college jobs in the US, however. We’re not talking big organizations like universities here, after all. Think about your local volleyball club. That will give you a pretty good idea of how many people are involved in the decision-making process for hiring a coach.

Matteo mentions being in the UK. I don’t know what his citizenship status is. If he’s EU, though, then he’s definitely got some advantages in landing a professional volleyball coaching job there. Even more so if he’s got language skills. The latter are especially handy for someone thinking to be an assistant coach because of the additional duties for coaching lower level (youth) teams which often come with those jobs.

Network, network, network!

No matter what, though, networking is hugely important. You need it to have people to act as recommendations when putting in for jobs. Perhaps even more so in the early stages of your career, you need it to find out about job openings.

So my strong recommendation to anyone looking to coach professionally in Europe is to get out and meet fellow coaches and volleyball people. And not just meet them. Actually spend time with them so you get to know each other. The contact from Germany I mentioned above is some I actually spent about 10 days with while visiting with his team during the first part of their preseason.

Advice to foreign coaches on getting a job in the US

I received an email from a coach in England. This person asked how someone like him can coach in the States. It’s something I wrote about a while back. Here’s his query, though:

I am just wondering how I go about getting into coach in a programme in America. It is my dream one day to coach out there and I am only 28 so I have a lot of time however I would like guidance on how to get there. Any thing you could help me with that would be great

I will be honest. It’s hard for foreign coaches to get jobs in the US. There are three main reasons.

  1. Visa sponsorship – Many schools simply won’t sponsor and pay the cost of a foreign coach’s visa to work in the US. Frankly, there are usually more than enough domestic applicants. They need not bother look abroad. And even if they are willing, it may not last. One of my U.K. coaching contacts ran into this issue. He got a job coaching at a college in the States. During the year the school said it would not renew his visa for a second year, though.
  2. Recruiting experience – Recruiting is a HUGE part of college volleyball coaching in the US. Foreign coaches simply don’t have any experience with this. That’s both in terms of the American youth volleyball system and the rules which govern recruitment.
  3. Cultural differences – There are some meaningful differences between how things operate in US volleyball and how they work elsewhere in the world. The social interaction between coaches and players – or lack thereof – is top of that list.

Now, some of this stuff is overcome with experience. One can learn about recruiting and the cultural of college athletics (not just volleyball) by getting an opportunity to actually be part of a program in the US. There are two ways a foreigner can get their foot in the door that potentially get around the visa problem.

  • Graduate Assistant (GA) – I’ll admit I don’t know a ton about the grad assistant hiring process. Most colleges and universities, though, deal with international students all the time. They have established policies and procedures to sort them out with visas and the like. It is much easier to get a student visa than a standard working one in most cases. That makes this a potential route into US college coaching.
  • Volunteer Assistant – If you’re not an actual employee you don’t need to have a work visa. That makes a volunteer coaching position a viable option for non-citizen. You need to investigate how long you can stay in the States as a tourist, though. I think it’s 90 days, but I haven’t looked it up. It may depend on your nationality.

Obviously, the advantage to the GA position is it’s paid. Plus, you earn a degree that is often sought after for head coach hirings in the US. If you volunteer you have to pay your own way, though there may be some opportunities to earn a bit of money.

The NCAA website is one place to look for postings. There is also an annual job posting thread on the Volley Talk forum (Men/Women) where you can find postings for GA and volunteer positions. For those who don’t know, there are WAY more jobs in women’s volleyball than in the men’s game in the US.

Of course it’s always a good idea to network as much as possible.

The tricky bit in all this is that if you do actually land a GA or volunteer position you have the issue of still needing a work visa to stay on once your time there is done. You will probably need to find a pretty well-funded program to get sustained visa support to the point where you can get your green card.

All that said, for someone from an EU country it is probably far easier to look for coaching work in one of the professional leagues in Europe. Admittedly, though, there probably aren’t as many full-time positions as in the US. Then again, there also aren’t as many folks not needing visa support competing for those jobs either.

How do I get a college assistant coach position?

A reader emailed me the following:

I have been applying for assistant coaching positions for college volleyball but haven’t had any luck. What step will you advise so I can get my feet wet. I was considering on becoming an volunteer coach for a local college.How would you suggest asking for a position as a volunteer coach?

In response to a follow-up email, she told me her background is as follows:

  • Played first at a Junior College, then at an NCAA Division I program.
  • Was a student assistant at her Division I school
  • Assisted at a junior college for a season
  • Coaches juniors volleyball

In terms of cracking into Division I or II coaching, which is where more full-time positions are available, one of the first things to consider is trying to find a Graduate Assistant position. This offers the advantage of earning a Masters degree. This is very desirable when it comes to getting a head coach job down the line. Obviously, you also gain coaching experience.

An alternative path into coaching is to become a Director of Volleyball Operations (DOVO). This is technically a non-coaching role. It is, however, an opportunity to learn a lot about running a volleyball program that could be handy later. It also lets you learn by observing and having regular interaction with the coaching staff. Such positions can be direct stepping stones into a coaching job with that program.

Volunteer coaching is certainly an option. I would suggest if someone were to go this route, though, that you have a very specific focus in mind. Volunteer coaching can be a path into a full-time coaching position, but only if you put yourself in a good position. That’s probably something worth it’s own article. The main idea is that if you’re going to provide your coaching services for no pay, you should have a pretty good idea of the path forward from there – either with that team or elsewhere.

It’s worth having a look at the annual jobs thread which runs at Volley Talk.

Regardless of which way you look to go, one thing worth doing is getting out and working a bunch of college camps. That will get your exposure to potential employers and help you develop your network, which is a very good thing.

Assistant coach meetings?

While I was interviewing for my current job at Midwestern State I was told that there are regular Assistant Coach meetings. These generally follow the regular Head Coach meetings run by the Athletic Department. Basically, the idea is to ensure that assistants get the information they are supposed to get. Apparently there were some issues with head coaches not passing things along from their meetings.

Imagine that! Head coaches hording information – or simply forgetting to disseminate it to their staff. 🙂

This is the first time I’ve been somewhere that had these sorts of meetings just for assistants. At Brown and Rhode Island there were regular general coaching staff meetings where we went over administrative stuff and developments in the area of NCAA rules and compliance. Maybe that served to ensure information was getting out to everyone.

I’m trying to recall whether there were regular head coach meetings at those schools. For sure they happened periodically. And of course even very senior assistants tend not to be overly welcome at such meetings – no matter if the head coach can’t make it.

That aspect of things aside, I can see the value of having regular meetings for assistant coaches. It’s very easy in college sports for each team to operate in its own little bubble. Even when that doesn’t happen, we tend to operate in different facilities and on conflicting schedules, so our paths don’t necessarily cross readily. Yes, sports that share a facility will naturally tend to interact (like volleyball and basketball), but aside from that, not so much. Meetings like this give the staff a chance to meet and get to know each other a bit.

They can also provide a forum for assistants to talk about things at their own level. I can see the value.

Of course today I got an invite to my first assistants meeting and found out it conflicts with team practice.

How do you prove your value as a coach?

In what was nominally about coaching motivation, Mark included a quote from Shane Battier (basketball) in his latest At Home on the Court post. The first line of it goes:

“There’s not a coach out there who doesn’t want to prove their worth.”

If you want to go further with the motivation subject, I encourage you to go to Mark’s post and follow on from there. You can argue for or against Battier’s suggestion and/or what Mark says in the first line of the piece (has to do with winning). What I want to focus on in this post isn’t the motivation side of things, but rather the “How?” which must necessarily follow on from Batteir’s statement.

How do we as coaches prove our worth?

There is a secondary question which I think must be asked before we can even start to address this one, though?

To who do we need to prove our worth?

For the sake of discussion, let’s exclude anything related to the idea that we don’t need to prove our worth to anyone. I think at a minimum we all want to prove our worth as coaches to ourselves on some level or another.

Generally speaking, there are a few potential constituencies involved in answering the “Who?” questions. Many of us have a current employer and prospective future ones. We all have players on our team, and in many cases parents of players. There may be boosters and alumni. Certainly there are our coaching peers.

No doubt there’s a lot of overlapping interest between these groups – for better or for worse. For example, winning and losing probably factors in for all of them to a greater or lesser degree. Each, though, also has its own perspective on things. For example, if you coach at a college you are going to be judged by your Athletic Director a lot on the things you do off the court, but your players probably won’t care too much about that stuff. They’re more interested in the training and competitive environment you foster.

Unfortunately, for many of us we have multiple individuals or groups we are proving ourselves to at any given time. Sometimes they conflict, which means we have a balancing act to try to keep things going well. At times it means we have to prioritize one group over the others.

So who do you have to prove your value to and how do you do that?

And does this conflict with your own motivation for coaching?