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Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

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 one of his At Home on the Court posts. 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?

Heading for Texas!

I’ve shared this news with some folks already. Here’s the official and full announcement for everyone who reads this blog, though.

On Tuesday I was offered the Volleyball Assistant Coach position at Midwestern State University, which I accepted. Later today I’ll be ending my stay in Long Beach, where I’ve been since early February after my departure from Sweden, and heading to Wichita Falls, TX. That’s a bit under 2 hours drive northwest of Dallas. Oklahoma City is slightly further than that to the north.

Midwestern State Volleyball (MSU) is an NCAA Division II program competing in the Lone Star Conference (LSC). The conference is part of the South Central region. You can see the full set of Div II regions and the top 10 rankings for each here. The full 2015 set of rankings for the region can be found here (PDF). Angelo State, also from the LSC, was top. They ended up reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament (full bracket PDF). Tarleton State and Texas Women’s also both made the field, though both fell in the first round. To get a sense for the level of play, give a watch to the 2015 LSC tournament championship match.

Why Midwestern State?

As you will see in the regional rankings, MSU ended up 25th out of 34. The squad finished 0-16 in the LSC, making it two years in a row ending the season at the bottom of the league standings. In other words, I’m heading into a program that needs a lot of work. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! As I’ve said before, I want to be in a program building situation, as I was when coaching at Exeter University in England. This is exactly that kind of opportunity.

That said, you can only turn something around and properly build a program if there’s something to build. MSU has only once made the NCAA tournament in its history. That was back in 2007. If you look at the other teams at the school, though, you’ll see a lot of conference titles and tournament appearances. That tells you there is the commitment to athletics and the resources available to be successful. When I sat with the Athletic Director during the interview process he told me he’s pretty much sick of volleyball not performing. He clearly wants a winning team.

Now, a question which might come to mind is whether there’s something about MSU that hinders volleyball’s competitiveness. I haven’t seen anything about the school or the athletics which would seem to be an issue. Volleyball is fully funded (8 scholarships, the max allowed in D2), just like all the other sports. The Dallas area is a fertile recruiting territory and LSC is a strong league, making for good competition. That leads me to believe that with the right coaching, recruiting, and organizational work we should be able to build a competitive program.

I’m not the only one to think that. Ruth Nelson, who I interviewed for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, was the one to point me in the direction of MSU. That was back in January. She told me at the time that she thought within a few years this could be an Elite 8 caliber program.

Why assistant coach?

Given that I’ve been a head coach for the last four years, it’s natural to ask the question as to why I would take an assistant job. It might not be as much of a surprise, perhaps, if I were to take an assistant job in the upper levels of Division I, but I can understand how doing do in Division II might be a surprise. It must seem to many like a step backwards.

I did look at head coach jobs, and applied for ones I thought potentially interesting. At the end of the day, though, it was about the situation and not the title. The priorities I had were 1) to be somewhere I could have an impact on the program’s path forward, 2) to be in a location where volleyball isn’t a minor sport, and 3) being somewhere I would have the opportunity to pursue my other interests and activities.

To the first point, my new boss at MSU only has 3 years as a collegiate head coach (just one season at the school) and has a relatively inexperienced pair of other assistants (GA and volunteer). She was looking for someone with a stronger background that she could bounce ideas off of and problem-solve with at a higher level. She was also looking for someone with strong organizational skills to help carry the off-the-court load. It was this combination of things which saw Ruth encourage the two of us to connect (this is why networking is so important folks!). She felt like we’d make a good team to drive the MSU program forward.

To the second point, Texas loves volleyball. It is a huge sport in the state, with Dallas being one of the big hubs. Obviously, it doesn’t have the history of the West Coast, but it’s still got a pretty good pedigree. In 1988 Mick Haley led the University of Texas team to the first NCAA championship won by a non-West Coast team and that program has been a consistent top contender ever since (another title in 2012 and seven other trips to the Final 4). That’s encouraged a ton of kids to play high school and club ball across the state. Unlike my prior coaching stops, I’m not going to have to go very far to find good volleyball. In fact, Dallas will be hosting one of this year’s World League stops for the US men’s national team.

As for my final point about being able to pursue other activities, a big part of that is just being back in the States where I think there is probably more ability for me to connect and develop opportunities. That’s not so say I won’t continue to do things internationally, though. I definitely will. I’ll leave discussion for all this stuff to future posts, though. 😉

Final thoughts

At the very end of my interview process at MSU the A.D. sat down with me for a few minutes. We’d already met and talked the day before, but he wanted to leave me with something to think about. That was to make sure MSU was a good fit. I can understand why he had that on his mind. Arguably, I’m WAY overqualified for a Division II assistant coaching job. He wants someone who is going to be committed to the program, not someone who will quickly find themselves feeling like they should be somewhere else. I got it.

From my own perspective, there were a few key things I was looking at when evaluating MSU (or anyone else). Did I think there was an opportunity to be successful (support, etc.)? Could I get along with my immediate co-workers (volleyball staff)? How was the overall working environment? Did I like the location?

The first three things were to my mind answered very positively. It was the last one that was the big question. I’ve never lived anywhere like Wichita Falls. I have no point of reference for that, and a couple days visiting doesn’t really tell yo what it’s like to live in a place. After doing my research into things like housing options and stuff, though, I started feeling like I could be reasonably happy there.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee in any of this, but it’s a good starting point. That’s all we can ask for.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Mar 4, 2016

Late last week another interesting Division I head coach job was posted for which I put in my application. Strong academic institution, which one would think might find some extra appeal in a candidate with a doctorate. Also an attractive part of the country from a living perspective, though perhaps not as great in terms of the strength of the local volleyball.

I also put in for an assistant position with one of the Power 5 conference teams in Division I. I’ve seen a number of assistant jobs post, but for the most part I steered clear of them. None really offered anything that I thought would be appealing. This case was a little different, though. It struck me that I might be in a position there to apply my experience and connections to the program’s benefit. Of course jobs at that level that get posted often are already filled, effectively, so it might have been a waste of time.

As for Texas…
I got a call on Tuesday basically asking me if I’ll accept the job if offered. My answer was “Yes”. Obviously, though, that comes with the assumption the offer is a reasonable one. The expressed hope was that things could be sorted out to be able to get me that offer later in the week, but the Athletic Director was out of town, so delays were anticipated.

There was also the question of setting the hire date. I said I could basically start right away. For sure the desire would be for me to be on campus when the players return from Spring Break and begin their Spring team training. Actually, getting there ahead of that for planning and organizational purposes would be ideal – not to mention giving me a chance to get my living circumstances sorted out before things got busy.

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. 🙂