Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

Four key coaching candidate questions

Mark over at the blog At Home on the Court has a post which talks about questions which get asked in the process of hiring a coach. Or at least management should ask them. Those questions are as follows.

1. Where is the game now, and where is it going?

2. How will your teams play?

3. What is the balance between being competitive now and being competitive in the future?

4. How will you lead?

Notice how all the questions on this list are philosophy ones? Also, they’re pretty forward-looking. They are well worth being ones you can answer without much hesitation if you’re coaching. Granted, there is necessarily some influence in how you respond which derives from the coaching role you are in, or the one you are pursuing. Priorities tend to come down from above for most of us. As a coaching job candidate, though, you should have enough familiarity with the team/club/school you are interviewing at that you can account for those priorities.

I’ll be honest. Coaching philosophy isn’t something that came up much when I was talking about prospective coaching jobs in the past. Mostly it was about knowing if I was qualified and was going to abide by the rules. Read the sorts of volleyball job postings you see at places like the NCAA website and you’ll see what I mean. It behooves you, however, to try to get some idea of philosophy expectations from your would-be boss(es) to make sure a given position is in fact a good fit for your style of coaching. This is part of what you do when asking questions of your own.

Coaching Careers: Your resume/CV

When the women’s college season ends for US teams in November or December, coaching vacancies start to be posted. That’s when resumes begin crisscrossing the nation.

There are different theories on the best formats and styles for resume and CV layout. Things can get quite complicated when you realize that for many coaches there is non-coaching work to consider. Many of us, after all, have things other than coaching full-time in our history. That can make the standard chronological format a less-than-optimal choice.

I know in my case it would be a nightmare. I spent quite a few years working in a professional career. Some of that overlapped my time as a volleyball coach. Some of it happened between volleyball coaching stints. If I just listed things chronologically it would no doubt be very confusing for someone who really was just concerned with my volleyball work. I’ve also done a fair bit of non-coaching stuff related to volleyball. I have to account for that as well in various ways.

So don’t necessarily feel like you are locked in to a standard resume/CV format. Nor should you give too much thought to making your submission eye-catching in some fashion. I’ve been on the receiving end. Fancy formats don’t really mean a thing. You need to do what works to best and most clearly present your qualifications and experience.

And no matter what your coaching experience looks like or how you decide to format your resume, the most important thing is to make sure the prospective reviewer can made sense of it. Resumes tend to get only relatively brief looks, especially on initial review. A confusing one is likely to end up in the “No” pile. A busy reviewer just won’t give it the extra time necessary to sort things all out.

When I say be sure your resume makes sense, I mean you need to keep in mind the person or persons who will be looking it over. Will it be a volleyball person? Or will it be an administrator or Human Resources representative? Even if it is a volleyball person, is it someone who knows the volleyball background you’re coming from?

I once advised a UK coach pursing a US coaching job. As part of that I looked at his resume. His coaching achievements were certainly impressive. Unfortunately, he presented them poorly. Even a volleyball person in the US would have a hard time sorting through them. I myself struggled to follow the threads, and that was with a reasonable idea of the structure of volleyball in the UK. I can only imagine the confusion it would have fostered in the mind of an American university Athletic Director. On my advice, he reworked his CV into a much clearer format. I won’t say that was the reason he was able to land the job in US he ended up getting. It was more than CV format, of course. I have no doubt, though, it helped make his candidacy more understandable.

The bottom line is that as you build your resume (and write your cover letter) you need to think in terms of the like reader and how you can make things most clear and understandable to them.

Inspire your players, but be yourself

As I mentioned previously, one of the sessions I attended at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention back in 2013 was titled “If I knew then…”. It featured a panel of some very high profile coaches – specifically Russ Rose of Penn State (just crowned national champions), John Dunning of Stanford, and Terry Liskevych of Oregon State (and formerly the US National team). They answered a series of moderated questions. It was a fun session with a lot of laughs, but there were also some real nuggets worth passing along.

Be yourself

One of the major themes was that coaches need to be themselves. I also wrote about them from the Creating a Culture of Success and When Winning is Your Job panels. In this case, one of the specific points made was that a coach needs to learn within their own personality. I think John Dunning said something to the effect of “Be curious, but be you.” In other words, continuously learn, but make sure you incorporate new things which mesh with your personality and coaching style. Or at least things which can be adapted to it. Don’t try to mix in stuff which goes against the grain. Obviously, this is not meant to tell coaches to be closed-minded. Instead, it cautions against just picking up any new exciting idea that they come across and trying to make it work for them (see fancy new drill syndrome).

Related to “Be you” was the thought that a coach should find a place where they can do that. Basically, you need to find a school or club or whatever where where you can express your personality. This, of course, isn’t just sound advice for coaches, but for the working world as well. We are all much more satisfied when we can be ourselves. We do not work well when forced to operate in a constrained way or against our nature. This does not mean we shouldn’t put ourselves in challenging positions. We just need to do it in a way that is aligned with our values.

Inspire Them

The big theme at the end of the seminar was the idea that a coach must inspire their players. This is a necessary function of non-participant leadership in any organization. By that I mean the coach is not an active participant in the actual work of the team. They do not train or play volleyball, except in player-coach situations. As a result, they cannot take a “lead from the front” or “follow me” kind of approach to team and player motivation. The coach needs to inspire the desire to grow and succeed in their players.

In many ways you can be think of it the same way as a company CEO or president. They don’t do the day-to-day work, but they set the tone. Part of that inspiration, said someone on the panel – I think it was Russ Rose – is teaching the players to see more, to understand more, and to win.

Big rewards from seeing fellow volleyball coaches in action

During the course of just over three weeks in 2013 I spent a total of eight days watching various teams go through their training, and two other days taking in matches. It was a fantastic experience. I made some positive new connections. It reinforced some old relationships. And it was great for reconnecting me with US collegiate volleyball after several years away.

As you might expect, sitting in on 13 different training sessions from 5 different collegiate teams (URI, USC, Long Beach State, CSU San Marcos, and UCLA in that order) saw me get some ideas for drills and training methods. I posted several in the Drills and Games categories.

Drills and game ideas can be found in many different sources, though. For me it was more interesting to see a couple of different things. One of them was how certain aspects of the game had changed in the prior few years. In particular, it was clear to me that there had been an evolution in jump float serve mechanics. The changes in the use of the libero was interesting to observe as well, among other things.

The other was seeing the ways the various programs operate and the different types of managerial styles. Teams have different levels of resources allocated to them, and that can play a part. For example, USC has a fantastic training facility and loads of staff on the one end. CSU San Marcos, on the other hand, had to play its home matches at a local high school. They also only had a part-time assistant coach. Some head coaches are more supervisors and big picture overseers. Others are very hands-on in training, either through requirement or personal coaching focus. I also saw variations in the way warm-ups were handled, practice uniforms, and generally the vibe of the teams in training (though that was largely subtle).

Needless to say, I jotted down quite a few notes. I also recorded several bits of video to help me recall things and to provide visual and auditory support to my players of the things I was trying to teach them.

Actually, the most rewarding time was getting to talk with the coaches. Some of them were folks I already knew, and we had all sorts of good conversations. Even those I was meeting for the first time, however, were generally quite willing to chat about what they were doing and answer questions. Some even shared things with me on related subjects with no prompting whatsoever.

I definitely recommend this sort of experience from a lot of perspectives, including a mentorship type of angle along the line of I wrote about in Making Mentorship Part of the Process. In fact, it may be something which can lead to finding yourself a good coaching mentor. Even if that’s not the case, seeing other coaches in action – particularly well-experienced ones – can get you seeing things from different perspectives. That’s never a bad thing.

So get out there and do it! You don’t need to make a 3-week trip like I did to learn some new things. Just find a good coach in your area and see if they’d be willing to have you come along and observe. Chances are they’ll say yes.

Getting a US collegiate volleyball coaching job

A U.K. coach asked me for advice on getting a collegiate volleyball coaching job in the States. It is no surprise that someone with professional coaching aspirations wants to explore the U.S. job market. There are, after all, something north of 1000 college volleyball programs. They provide a great many opportunities for one to get paid to ply their trade. Not that all coaches are overly well-paid, mind.

Different structure, different rules

Landing one of those jobs isn’t an easy thing to do, though. It’s a big challenge for someone with little exposure to the U.S. system, players, etc. The structure is quite different, for one. The U.K. the system is a club model, but in the U.S. school teams are run by the universities and colleges. That means coaches are school employees rather than engaged by a club. This has implications for coach behavior. The expectations of institutions of higher learning regarding employee interaction with students are very strict (especially since most are government funded). Relationships must be professional. Just the hint of impropriety is enough to get a coach sacked. Moreover, it makes it hard for them to get another job.

For example, it is generally unacceptable for a coach to drink with their players. In most cases, said players are under-aged to begin with. In any case, most schools have rules against alcohol being included in any school-related activities. And forget about going out with players socially outside of the school environment. As I’ve experienced first-hand in my coaching experience in England, the expectation is quite different.

Anyone looking to hire a foreign coach to a U.S. volleyball program – be it an Athletic Director for a head coach job or a head coach for an assistant position – will want to know that the candidate both understands the system and will comply with the expected behaviors. Their own jobs are on the line should some kind of scandal develop. As a result, they won’t take the risk, even for a strong candidate.

And of course on top of that. any coaching candidate must demonstrate that they can work with and develop American players. There are definitely cultural differences, both in terms of society in general and in volleyball specifically.

So how does one get there?

I chatted with USC Women’s Volleyball coach Mick Haley on this subject. He said there are two ways to go for a foreign coach to demonstrate their worth to prospective collegiate volleyball employers. One is to coach Juniors volleyball. Collegiate coaches pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in the Juniors ranks. That’s where they get most of their recruits. As a result, they know which coaches are doing well developing players and having competitive success. Make a name for yourself as a Juniors coach and it will open collegiate coaching doors.

The other way to go (which potentially could be done in parallel with coaching Juniors) is to work as a volunteer assistant coach for a college team. This would provide the chance to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities in the that environment directly, and to get the understanding of the US system you’ll need. Do well and it could lead to paid employment down the line.

Beyond that, I recommend looking at the job listings you can find linked to from the volleyball coaching jobs page. They will give you an idea of the specific criteria schools are looking for in coach candidates (you’ll notice knowledge of NCAA rules, etc. tends to be high on the list).