Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

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.

I now coach a professional volleyball team!

This morning I signed my first professional volleyball coaching contract. I’m officially now the head coach of Svedala Volleybollklubb, which plays in the top women’s division in Sweden. This is the job I referred to in last week’s log entry.

If you asked me back in the 2000s when I was coaching NCAA volleyball whether I would ever coach in Europe, let alone Sweden, I probably would have laughed. Admittedly, I was kind of ignorant about the global volleyball world at the point (not that I’m some all-knowing font of information now). Even when I started the job search back in December I wouldn’t have given very good odds of ending up in Sweden. One thing I figured out a long time ago, though, is life can take you in the least expected directions.

This job is a definite “who you know” development. One of the coaches I spent time with last summer knew the Svedala coach of the past two seasons who had decided to move on. It was through this connection that I found out about the opening and was given the details for applying. It took a few weeks for things to play out. I exchanged a number of emails with the club’s sports director, who is also manager of the team I’ll coach, has been the assistant coach recently, and once coached the team himself.

The process started on May 5th with my initial indication of interest. It didn’t really get going until May 16th, though. That was when I was given an indication of the club’s situation and designs. I was asked to outline my coaching philosophy. Being the naturally curious sort, I asked loads of questions about the club and Swedish volleyball more broadly. On May 24th, as part of being in the top 3-4 candidates under consideration I was provided with an outline of the contract terms. More Q&A followed, of course. I was then offered the position on June 1st and accepted on the 2nd.  Believe it or not, I didn’t have so much as a phone interview in the whole process.

Per the contract, these are my responsibilities:

a) Participate fully in the efforts of the Club to reach the play-offs.

b) Actively lead the elite team’s practices organized by the Club.

c) Participate in sponsor related events organized by the Club.

d) The coach should also be prepared to participate in other club activities and be a part of the total coaching team at the club.

e) Be part of the Club’s general work in the community

f) Wear specified sportswear with sponsor information during training, games and other arrangements conducted by the Club.

g) Be prepared to mentor other coaches in the Club

h) Not use any drugs specified by the Swedish national Volleyball Federation (Svenska Volleybollförbundet) and FIVB to be considered as drugs or doping substances.

As you can see, not only will I be responsible for coaching the club’s top team, I will also be tasked to work with the coaches from the club’s lower teams. Naturally, there are the usual public relations efforts as well.

The club’s responsibility to me is as follows:

1. Structured support surrounding practice and matches.

2. Medical support in volleyball related circumstances.

3. Health and Care insurance at least compatible with national standards

4. Accommodation in Svedala.

5. A round trip flight ticket to Sweden (Copenhagen Airport).

Plus my monthly salary, of course. As I mentioned in my comparison of professional vs. NCAA coaching, in Europe it is standard for club’s to provide accommodation and transportation to coaches (and players). Sweden is a lower level league and Svedala is a small club, so I definitely won’t be getting rich off the salary. If you work things back out, the equivalent pre-tax salary is probably about in line with that of a low level NCAA Division I head coaching job. And like those lower level programs, the resources at my disposal will be limited.

I have actually already started performing duties for my position. I am going to begin a new coaching log for 2015-16 to document things along the way. Look for my first entry soon. I’m definitely looking forward to the new challenge. I’ve never been to Sweden.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – June 5, 2015

The only news that matters is that I was offered the professional job I talked about getting short-listed for previously. And I accepted the offer. The club is Svedala in Sweden. Once the details are finalized I will talk about things more specifically – probably next week.

In the meantime, for those who might be interested, below is a list of all the volleyball coaching jobs I applied for in the last six months. Some of them I knew I had no shot at, but put my resume in because it got my name out there for potential future consideration. Other positions no doubt were already filled before they were even posted. So while the list below is long – perhaps depressingly so from a job-seeker’s perspective – only part of it is jobs I was actually ever really in potential consideration for on some level. Those in red are ones I either got a rejection note from or otherwise found out the job was filled.

NCAA/NAIA Head Coach (NCAA Division I unless noted)

NCAA Assistant Coach (Division I unless noted)

Non-US head coach

Opportunities in Irish volleyball coaching?

I had the following email hit my inbox. It’s not something I have a lot of information about, so I’m posting it here in hopes that maybe some folks out there better informed than myself can offer their suggestions, insights, etc.

John,

I have enjoyed your Job Search Log. While our personal needs and goals are  quite different, I am hoping you have run across things that might help.

As an Irish American on both sides I am curious to know if there are any opportunities to coach in Ireland? I am about to retire from a career at the Boeing Company with a pretty good Pension and Retirement Fund. So while a pure volunteer position wouldn’t work, I don’t require a full time living wage. 

I have coached 3rd through 12th graders at schools, Boys and Girls Clubs and USAV Clubs. I would be interested in coaching teams at any of those levels or working with camps or clinics.

Do you have any ideas about how to start looking?

Thanks!!

Jim

Teams from universities in Northern Ireland sometimes compete in the U.K. BUCS championships. My first season coaching the Exeter guys saw us play one of them (would have been another my second season, but that one forfeit). That team had a coach, but I don’t know his status. My guess is the Irish universities across the whole island are similar in structure to the ones in England, which probably means not much in the way of resources for things like paid coaching in most cases.

As for other levels, I have zero knowledge. If it’s like England then there are a number of Juniors clubs, though coaching those teams probably pays little, if anything. School volleyball the way Americans think of it probably doesn’t exist at all, though there may be certain competitions.

As I said at the start, though, hopefully someone much better informed than myself can give Jim some proper answers.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 29, 2015

Scratch the Angelo State and Idaho State assistant positions from the list of prospective new jobs.. Likewise for the Robert Morris (Chicago) head job. Also, the head coach position at German club Münster was filled by a coach unexpectedly nabbed from another club.

I applied for an NCAA Division III head coach job in the Northeast. It is a position which includes teaching responsibilities. I’ve avoided those types of jobs to-date, largely because they seem to require P.E. type degrees, which I don’t have. This one, though, seems to want someone able to teach about coaching, which I’m better equipped to do. It’s also at an academically high level school, which appeals to me.

Around about the time I was finalizing last week’s log entry, I got an email from a German contact about a women’s Bundesliga head job he’d just put in for. That led to an exchange about coaching together. The club in question apparently was put into a scramble by their current coach unexpectedly leaving. Word had it internal candidates had or were going to turn management down in terms of being promoted (which seems now to be the case). It turns out one of those approached was the current assistant who is the father of a player on the team of one of my other contacts in Germany. I joked that if said father did indeed accept the promotion, maybe the child’s coach could get him to hire me in his former position. 🙂

Also referring back to last week’s log entry, I did hear back again from the club who told me I was on their short list to head coach. I was given the basic framework of what the contract would look like. Financially, it was about what I’d been told to expect. The contract period wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated, but not in any way that would impact significantly on my decision was an offer to be made.

 

Building a team vs. building a program

Do you consider yourself a team coach or a program builder?

Here’s what I mean by that. Do you tend to like to think just one season at a time? Or to have a longer-term view in mind?

I personally consider myself a program builder. When I say that I mean what I find the most rewarding aspect of coaching is developing players, teams, and organizations over time and progressively moving them forward. I have to admit to some irony there, though. From a silverware perspective it could perhaps be said that I’m best in a single “season” role:

  • Gold medal coaching the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Bay State Games in my first head coach position.
  • 3rd place in the regional championships with the Metrowest 16-1 girls in my first year coaching Juniors.
  • Reaching Final 8s in my first season with the Exeter University men, which they hadn’t done in anyone’s recent memory.
  • Winning the South West Championship with the Devon Ladies after taking over midway through the NVL Division 1 season. Also, leading them to a 7-1 second half record in helping them recover from a 1-7 start.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I think these achievements aren’t worthwhile. In part they reflect my attitude that coaches coach whatever group they have in front of them. They also suggest I’m pretty good at getting the most out of the available players.

The thing is, though, what I look back on and remember with the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment are not the above. Instead, top of the list is the Exeter women finishing 3rd at Final 8s. Also, the club ranking 3rd overall in the UK for volleyball in my second season. In both case that was building on the foundations laid in my first season. Significantly, that was without any scholarship athletes.

Also on that list is building the RI Blast Juniors club program (now called Blast Volleyball) into the dominant program in my home state – a position it still holds. Not only does the club provide playing and training opportunities for lots of kids beyond high school volleyball, and give younger kids a chance to play the sport that didn’t exist before, it helped change the whole volleyball culture there.

Although it’s not coaching per se, this blog can be put in this category as well. I’m quite proud of how it’s grown and developed and now has a positive impact on volleyball coaches all over the world.

These things are always near the top of my mind while considering professional coaching. When I visited German club TV Bühl the first time in 2014 they had only one returner from the prior year. That’s basically starting from scratch. This can be the reality of certain types of clubs. Compare that to BR Volleys where they only had a handful of roster changes and you can see how different things can be from club to club.

I would venture to say that many professional coaches in that environment tend to think more from a season perspective than a program-building one. This is not just a reflection of roster turnover. They have less responsibility beyond the on-court product than the likes of college coaches in the American system. From that perspective, they are probably more in line with coaches in the US Juniors system, which is comparable to the pros in terms of structure.

Just my impressions. Feel free to share your own feelings.

Dealing with performance expectations

Alexis at Coaches Corner posted a piece on the subject of performance relative to expectations. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea is the best way to go is to do slightly better than expected. The bottom line observation he made was “….the best thing to do is to lower expectations and exceed them.”

Of course that’s easier said than done. Certain coaches seem to be masters of it. I remember Lou Holtz always talking down his team’s prospects when he led Notre Dame football. It’s kind of a funny thing because especially these days in at least American sports there is the feeling that we should be bolstering our athlete’s confidence, not deflating it with hedging type language in the public arena. That, though, is potentially where conflict can arise between what’s good for the team and what’s good for the coach. After all, if the team doesn’t perform to expectations then it’s the coach who will most likely suffer the career consequences.

Coincidentally, part of what I had Mark Lebedew talk about in his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview was handling external expectations in pro coaching. I’m sure it’s not much different from other levels in that regard. This clip from that interview is what he had to say.

Of course you will have your own internal expectations as well. I wrote about those previously from a season and tournament perspective. The best seasons are the ones when you actually beat your own expectations. 🙂

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 22, 2015

In the last week I put in for another Division I assistant position.

I did some follow up with two of the clubs in Europe I was in touch with about head coach positions where I’ve been waiting to hear back. The manager at one of them responded that there’s been a fair bit of interest in their position, but that I was “…one of the coaches I would like to discuss the position further with.” What followed was an email exchange covering the club’s recent history and ambitions, my coaching philosophy, and some other related topics. I’ll get into more specifics later once things are resolved one way or the other. I was told at the beginning of the week that I’m on the list of the final 3-4 candidates and that I’d hear back around today with “…a little more details and numbers.”

The rejection list adds the assistant job at UAB., the assistant job at Buffalo, the assistant job at Clemson, the head job at Urbana, and the head job at UC Irvine. I knew I had zero chance at the latter.

One of the things I’ve decided recently is that I’m not going to pursue just any position anymore. Not that I’ve put my resume in for every job I’ve come across – though at times it’s seemed that way. I’ve simply decided that there must be a legitimate positive about a coaching job. If it’s a lower level job where moving up the career ladder probably isn’t going to be a real consideration, then the position needs to be in a place I legitimately think I would like to live in, where I think I can do some good things for the program, and where I’ll still have opportunities to pursue my other projects and interests. If it’s a job where I would expect to be able to move up a step or two after a couple seasons, then I’m willing to sacrifice some things.

That could all become moot, though. There’s apparently some interest from my former employer (finance industry) in hiring me back in the London office. I’m fast approaching a point where I’m going to have to make some hard decisions if nothing meaningful develops on the coaching front. I can’t really stay in Exeter any later than the latter part of July because of my housing and PhD funding situation, so I will have to move in the next eight weeks one way or the other. If I am indeed offered that finance job, I will very seriously have to consider taking it as we’re getting to the point of the year where US jobs openings of any consequence will be few and far between.

On the plus side, living and working in London could offer me the opportunity to continue coaching at the UK university level as there are a number of programs in and around the city. There are several National League clubs I could potentially coach for as well. On top of all that, it would also be easier for me to get involved with the national team program if an opportunity were to arise. I do generally like the idea of working to help grown the sport in England, and more narrowly to help develop the country’s volleyball coaches.

We’ll see how things play out.