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Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

Well, be a better coach!

I recently had a phone conversation with a men’s coach at an NCAA Division II school. The women’s program at the school was in the market for a new head coach. He’d been fielding a bunch of calls and emails from people potentially interested in the job.

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

This coach told me that he’s heard from a number of coaches who come from Division I. In hearing what sort of funding and support the program has (they’re only half funded on the scholarship side), they often responded with the equivalent of “I can’t win in a situation like that.”

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

Considering this men’s coach has managed to have his team in conference title contention each of the last four years, clearly there’s enough to be able 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 (like former players who went right into a Power 5 conference coaching staff) then you’ve probably had all kinds of resources available – ones which you won’t have when you start sliding down the RPI scale or move into lower divisions. It really can be a whole different world. That’s in terms of the caliber of athletes, the money for recruiting and other things, and the amount of coaching and administrative support, among other things.

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 recently 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.

Assistant coaches acting unprofessionally

I heard something really disappointing.

Actually, “disappointing” is probably too mild.

I was chatting with the parent of a player I did some work with in the past. We were talking about a match she was playing in that I was able to see a bit of streaming online. I made a comment about the warm-up routine they were gong through. In response, said parent told me his daughter had mentioned that there was some dissent in the coaching staff. Basically, the assistant coaches weren’t in agreement with the head coach on things.

There’s one firm bit of advice I give to any new assistant coach (for example, here). This goes for whether they work with me or with any other coach. That is that the coaching staff must always present a united front. It’s fine to disagree. In fact, that can be a very good thing. You don’t do it in front of the team, though, or in a way that can get back to the players.

In this particular case, apparently the assistants made their dissatisfaction known to the parents, which naturally trickled down to the team. Totally unprofessional behavior in my opinion. I don’t have a horse in this particular race, but it still pisses me off to hear about this kind of thing happening.

And by the way, the unified front thing applies to head coaches as well.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – July 22, 2015

I’m transitioning from England to Sweden today, marking a number of meaningful changes in my life – not just from a coaching perspective. I think that makes it a good time to circle back for a quick update on what’s happened since I accepted the Svedala position early in June. Just because I’ve already got a new head coaching position, it doesn’t mean the correspondence with schools to which I applied has stopped. In the last several weeks I’ve received rejection emails from:

  • Tennessee (June 12th)
  • Auburn University at Montgomery (June 16th)
  • Miami (June 30th)
  • Jacksonville State (June 30th)
  • Texas A&M International (July 3rd)
  • Smith (July 6th)
  • Angelo State (July 8th)
  • UT Rio Grande Valley (July 16th)
  • UNC Charlotte (July 16th)

As you may recall from my earlier listing of all the jobs I applied for during the process, some of these positions I already knew had been filled. There remain a number I haven’t heard anything about thus far. Though to be fair, I haven’t really been paying close attention – as I’m sure you can imagine.

One of the more interesting developments was that shortly after accepting the Svedala job I found out about a UK university position that was opening up in London. Had the timing been different, I would have at least explored that option. I’m not sure if I would have been considered given my non-UK/EU status, but from a credentials and contacts perspective I have to think I would have at least been in the discussion.

On a separate, but related subject … I’ve found it interesting to think about what life might be like as a professional volleyball coach if I stick with it long-term. The primary coaching commitment is August/September to April. Unlike US collegiate volleyball, the administrative/recruiting demands outside of that are not large. This leaves considerable space and time for doing other things. Coaches seem to fill that with things like clinics and camps and national team coaching.