Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Feb 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously, that’s all changed now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we better off with fewer female coaches?

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

Here’s the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, be a better coach!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An abrupt change of direction

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

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

Yup. That happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to move on

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

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

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

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

The characteristics of a good assistant coach

There’s an article from the basketball world on the characteristics of a good assistant coach. I know as volleyball coaches – especially in the US – there is a tendency toward animosity when it comes to that other sport we have to share our court space (and sometimes our players) with. Coaching is coaching, though, so I recommend you give it a read. It’ll be quick, I promise.

You’ll note that top of the list is loyalty. I’ve written about this myself before – most recently in Assistant coaches acting unprofessionally. Loyalty also topped the list when I asked one of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards I interviewed about that he looked for in his assistants.

To quote the above post:

“Assistant coaches need to understand that it is the head coach’s program and they are there to help the head coach succeed. You need to support the head coach in all decisions and help them fulfill their vision for the team. Everything you do is to help the head coach and the program succeed.”

I firmly believe that head coaches also have a reciprocal responsibility to their assistant coaches. This is especially true for those who are early in their careers. Think about it, though. Is your head coach likely to do positive things for you if you aren’t supporting them and their efforts? Would you in their shoes?

There are two other key characteristics of a good assistant coach mentioned in the piece. One is anticipating the head coaches needs. The other is not simply being a “yes” man. The personality of head coaches vary, of course, in terms of how much push-back they are willing to accept. You need to walk the line between providing constructive thoughts and ideas and being argumentative.

You also need to keep in mind that the head coach has the final call and not pout when you don’t get your way. As an assistant, I’ve had my share of times when I disagreed with what a head coach did. Sometimes it made me angry. What I didn’t do, though, was act out or undermine the head coach in any way. It wouldn’t have done anyone any good.

The bottom line is that, in terms of your own career prospects, the better you help the team and head coach look, the better you will look to future employers. If you bring discord to the team it’s not going to help in that regard – even if you think you’re “right”.

Is a degree worth 6 years experience?

I like to keep an eye on the US college job market to see how things are going and who’s moving where. See the job listings page for some of the sites I monitor.

In scanning through a job listing for an NCAA Division I assistant coaching position I noticed something curious. This particular one had the following as part of the job criteria:

Bachelor’s Degree and 3 years’ volleyball coaching experience or High School diploma/equivalent and 9 years’ volleyball coaching experience

This surprised me. I can’t recall ever seeing something like it before. A college degree is considered equivalent to six years of coaching experience? Wow! How much is a Master’s degree worth? I’ve got one of them. And how about a PhD? Got one of them too. 🙂

Coaching professional volleyball – advice wanted

coaching professional volleyball

In the last few days I’ve had a pair of coaches ask me for advice on on starting a career coaching professional volleyball. One of them is an avid reader of this blog from Canada with both youth club and college level experience. The other is a current US college coach who it sounded like he came to hear about me by reading my article in the latest AVCA magazine.

First of all, seeing as I’m currently only in my first year coaching at the professional level in Europe, I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is about breaking in and making a career of it. Hopefully we can get some folks with more experience than myself to contribute to the discussion.

For now, though, I’ll share my own perspective on getting into coaching professional volleyball.

Something very important to understand about the European coaching market – and I’m guessing ones in other areas of the world as well – is that for the most part you’re not going going to see public job postings. In the US, and to a degree Canada and England, it’s pretty easy to find out about available coaching jobs through the list of volleyball job listings sites I’ve compiled. You may find narrowly defined sites – like the one that lists French and some Swiss openings – but you won’t find anything with broad coverage.

So how do you find out about openings?

Networking

Developing contacts in professional volleyball is something I strongly recommend. Networking is directly responsible for me getting my current job at Svedala. I heard about the job through one of my contacts. At the same time, the contacts I have can be useful references for positions I target. Also, they are sources of information on coaching life and careers and intelligence on the job market.

So how do you develop a professional coaching network?

The simple answer is to get out there and meet coaches. Yes, you can use LinkedIn and other online methods for finding people to connect with. Really, though, the best results in terms of creating good links and being able to learn is to get out and spend time with coaches. It’s something you might be doing in going to the AVCA Convention or the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic, or other more regional events. A similar principle applies for looking abroad. Find the coaching events that happen each year (they are often in late Spring/Summer after the season ends).

Also, go spend some time in other coaches’ gyms. Aside from being a good learning opportunity, it gives you a chance to develop a more direct relationship with others. Don’t be shy. You’d be surprised how willing people are to have you visit with them – even those who are coaching professional volleyball!

Research

The other thing you definitely need to do is research. Think of the professional volleyball landscape as being similar to the conference structure in US collegiate volleyball. Some conferences have a very high competitive standard with lots of funding. Some conferences are at the other end of the spectrum entirely. The rest are at different points in the middle. In my post Professional volleyball country league rankings I talk about how they compare from at least the level of play perspective.

Use your coaching network to help in this research. One of my contacts in Germany was very helpful in giving me an idea of what coaching in Sweden would be like. He’d coached in Finland for several years, so knew the way of things in the Scandinavian countries.

Your research should help you narrow your target coaching market down based on your coaching credentials, where you might want to live, and the like. That then would allow you to concentrate on learning all you can about those leagues and teams – including potentially finding out when coaching jobs open up. It also gives you some specific targets for your networking efforts. After all, who’s better to tell you about your target league(s) than those who actually coach there?

And like researching potential employers anywhere, going through the process will help you figure out where and how your particular experience and talents match with what a team is looking for in a new coach.

Required Credentials

Let me start by talking certifications, licenses, and the like. In some countries they are required. Germany is an example of this. That isn’t to say a foreign coach must go through the full German licensing program in order to be hired, as there are accommodations, but you do have to jump through some hoops to be granted a German license. In Sweden there is no such requirement. Having coaching credentials from your home country (e.g. USA Volleyball CAP) definitely helps. In some cases they can be used to gain quick certification in the new country – as was my case in England.

The other thing I would bring up is that going the assistant coach route as a first step is likely to be very challenging. In the less well-funded leagues having an assistant coach at all is a luxury in some places. Even in the better funded leagues, finding assistant coaches earning reasonable money can be challenging. Many of them are required to also coach in the club’s youth teams, which may mean having to know the local language reasonably well.

As a result, you’re probably going to need to be thinking of going after a head coach job. That likely means you want to have some solid head coaching experience on your resume before trying to break into coaching professional volleyball.

Other considerations

When I got hired at Svedala I posted the basic terms of my contract here. That should give you an idea of the things to expect in that regard. Obviously, the specific terms and compensation will vary.

Note that I haven’t said anything about citizenship here. Generally speaking, professional clubs are able to arrange for working permits for foreign coaches. There’s an expense, though, so in some cases your status might factor in. This was something I ran up against exploring a Swiss job. If I’d been an EU citizen I may be coaching in Switzerland now rather than Sweden.

The other thing I would say is you need to realize that coaching professional volleyball has some considerable differences with coaching collegiate volleyball. I did a 3-part series on some of my observations which starts here. The most obvious one is the length of the season. In Europe you start play in October (with preseason starting as early as August) and you probably go until April, or even May in some cases. There is a brief holiday break (mine is about 10 days this year). That requires a different kind of thought and planning process.

Final thoughts

I think coaching professional volleyball is definitely something worth exploring if you’re in the right situation for it, though breaking in will require a lot of work. Obviously, it means uprooting your life and moving abroad – probably to a place where you don’t speak the language – and adapting to a whole new set of circumstances. You probably won’t make all that much money, but you’ll gain a lot of useful experience and education.

 

 

A coaching requirement: Passion

In his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, 2016 Olympic Dutch National Team and Turkish club side Vakifbank head coach Giovanni Guidetti spoke a lot about the need to be passionate. He is definitely not the only one of the Wizards to make that kind of observation. He may have done so in the most eloquent fashion to-date, though.

Alexis at Coaches Corner wrote a post on the subject which follows along the same lines. He suggests that passion is a requirement to be a successful coach. Moreover, he says coaching is different from other careers in that regard. In other occupations one can be successful without it.

This actually reminds me of something Alexis’ brother Mark once said. He suggested that non-coaches don’t really have job stress.

I think millions of folks around the world would disagree quite loudly!

Having worked in the non-coaching, non-sports arena for a fair portion of my life, I can say with some conviction that non-coaches definitely experience stress. Similarly, I can say that passion is a part of a lot more that just coaching.

Personally, I think you can be decent in just about anything based on having a reasonable level of proficiency – including coaching. A lot of people do just that. In order to really excel, achieve, and succeed over time, though, you need to have a drive and a motivation to push yourself to a higher level – and to keep doing so. That’s where passion comes it.

Passion is also a factor in keeping you in something for the long term. It sustains your motivation through the inevitable ups and downs. Those who are merely technically proficient are more likely to fall to the wayside when things become challenging. The passionate ones see the tough times as just more motivation to get better.

To answer the question posed at the end of Alexis’ article, what about a #3 option – passion for the sport and passion for coaching? 🙂

Professional volleyball country league rankings

When I took the job coaching at Svedala in Sweden I knew the Swedish league was not generally ranked highly compared to other European domestic leagues. What I wasn’t really sure about, beyond some vague sense, was how they actually ranked. Then I found out.

Mark Lebedew pointed me to the CEV’s club rankings. It is what they use to allocate spots in the Champions League, CEV Cup, and Challenge Cup. They also use them to determine seedings.

There’s a limitation to these rankings, however. They are basically based on performance in CEV competition. If a country doesn’t ever send teams to play in them, they never get any ranking points. As such, they have some limits. The rankings at the top end might be pretty reasonable. Once you start dropping down the list, though, they are going to be less representative of relative levels of play.

In the case of Sweden, clubs generally don’t enter CEV competition. They do not feel the benefit matches the expense and considerable travel. The same mindset is clearly at work in many other countries as well.There are 20+ nations in each gender listed with zero points.

The other thing to consider is just how deep some of these leagues are. In some cases, not very deep at all. They rank high in the CEV table, though, because they have a couple of teams that do really well in those competitions (or maybe just one). This can mask the fact that their domestic league is not really all that good once you get past the first 1 or 2 places.

Needless to say, looking at the CEV rankings isn’t quite as helpful as looking at the NCAA RPI rankings to figure out where the various conferences in US collegiate volleyball rank. It’s at least a starting point, though.

The next question I have is how the different leagues rank from a coaching quality of life and opportunity perspective.