Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

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 identified developmental needs. The other is whether the players are satisfied with the sessions. You may link the two, and to a degree that’s true. 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, experience overcomes some if this stuff. 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. That 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 (note that I talked about volunteer and grad assistant options as ways in for foreign coaches into the US as well).

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 the date of my first MSU assistants meeting it conflicted with team practice.

How do you prove your value as a coach?

In what was nominally about coaching motivation, Mark Lebedew 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. This ties in with our perspective of our broad coaching motivation.

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.