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Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

Mentality: Coaching Career vs. Simply Coaching

If you followed my coaching job search log you may have noticed that at times I talked about the career implications of certain types of jobs. I realized with a degree of sadness the other day that thinking in terms of a full-time volleyball coaching career led me down a path very different from the one that got me back into coaching three years ago in the first place.

Let me explain.

The back story

I left coaching after the 2006 NCAA Division I women’s season following six years at Brown University. Aside from the last one – which was rough because of bad team chemistry – they were generally fulfilling years. Might have been fun to win a few more matches. In terms of the work I did, though – both at Brown and in the broader community and context – I was content. The problem was finances. I was flat broke and the assistant coach job I was in was only technically part-time. I left coaching to return to my former career in finance to make a living and get myself out of the big hole I was in. That took five years.

Over that period, I followed NCAA volleyball, but intentionally stayed away for fear of getting sucked back into coaching. I needed to focus on my finances. It wasn’t until 2011 that I actually attended a match again. I was at a conference at UCLA and they happened to be hosting Stanford. I figured it would be crazy not to take advantage of the timing. Later, I went to watch Harvard host Princeton at the invitation of the Princeton coach, who was a fellow Ivy League assistant during my Brown days.

By that point the PhD idea was firmly rooted and I was in the application process. When I first visited Exeter in February 2012, a visit to a local club training session was on the agenda. I figured connecting with the local volleyball community would be a good way to socialize myself beyond the academic environment. I didn’t have a specific plan in mind at the time, but figured coaching would feature in some fashion. The idea of coaching the university teams developed months later based on exchanges I had with a fellow American already involved.

Coaching with no expectations

There was no agenda when I started coaching at the University of Exeter. In fact, the original plan was that I would “help out”. Things quickly went beyond that, of course. My point, though, is that I wasn’t thinking at all from a coaching career perspective. I was just thinking that I would like to get back involved in coaching volleyball again after my break from it.

Coaching in Exeter – both at the university and during my stint with the Devon Ladies (see my bio for details) – was about the two things that most motivate me. One is teaching and helping players develop. The other is problem solving – finding solutions to the continuous challenges presented. I talked a bit about this in Coaches coach. It wasn’t about my resume.

How is this going to look?

Now I find myself thinking mainly about resume implications and less about teaching and problem-solving. Questions like “How will this job set me up for the next position?” go through my mind.

Partly, this is a function of going after at least as many assistant coaching jobs as head coach positions. I’m to the point where I have the knowledge and experience to be a head coach in my own right. I may, however, have to re-enter the full-time coaching ranks lower down in order to eventually get that kind of opportunity down the road. Alternatively, I may be able to take a head coaching position at a lower level, and then look to move up from there. In either case, I’ll need to be in a place where I can be part of enough success to be taken seriously (or potentially attract interest) with regards to an upward progression.

For example, there’s currently a head coaching vacancy in my home state. While there are a number of potential positives to a job like that, if I’m thinking in terms of it being a stepping-stone job then it’s probably not a good situation from the perspective of it not just being a pure coaching job (has additional admin duties). The program is a fairly good one regionally, but in a relatively weak part of the country. It would be a long, slow progression to try to move up from there to the type of position I’d like to have. I’m no spring chicken anymore, which is a consideration in situations like that nowadays.

All I really want…

In an ideal world I would find myself a head coach job in a place I want to live in a program where there is a good working environment and enough support for me to be able to develop and progress things. I am not inherently ambitious from the perspective of wanting to climb the proverbial ladder by constantly moving to “better” programs. I do, however, need to see an opportunity to keep moving forward where I’m at. Once I get to the point where I feel like I’ve done the most I can there, then I would feel the need to move on.

Beyond that, though, I just want to be able to teach and problem-solve – as I did at Exeter.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 1, 2015

I recently had an exchange with the German coaching contact I’ve mentioned in these log posts before on the difference between job application approach between Germany and the US. In the latter case the resume is the major focus. Cover letters are generally encouraged to be brief and to the point, and to focus on addressing the indicated position requirements. In Germany, though, the resume (CV) is less central and fit is more a factor from the outset. I suspect that is because for coaching jobs there you don’t have the usual formal application process seen in US institutions with their online forms and all that.

Although the US process may be more rigid, the exchange we had did serve as a reminder. As coaching job applicants we are selling ourselves to whoever it is that’s looking to hire. That means we should be focused not on ourselves, but on them. How can we help them achieve their objectives. The first step in the process is trying to identify those objectives, which isn’t always easy given very boilerplate job postings. This is where having contacts helps big time.

I also had a note from another contact – a former NCAA Division I head coach who has stepped away from coaching, but continues to work in volleyball. He made the following comment:

This has been a tough year for jobs; I have many friends which have had zero luck, even though they are very qualified and good people.  I am not sure why, but it is just one of those things.  I think you would be well served to build your resume internationally via the professional clubs at this point.

This same person also said the Division I assistant job I had a phone interview for last week would be a good one. I was supposed to hear back on that mid-week, but nothing thus far. Not filling me with positive expectations. I put my resume in for another Division I assistant position this week in what was otherwise pretty quiet on that front.

The jobs I won’t be getting officially include the Holy Cross head coach job, and one of the German jobs I put in for recently. In the latter case, it sounds like they basically already had someone in mind.

Questions from a recent coaching job interview

As I mentioned in this job search log entry, I had a phone interview for a position where I’d applied. In that case, it was for an NCAA Division I assistant coaching job. Some of the questions I got are ones that I’m sure get asked regularly. Others were a bit more specific to my own background. I thought it would be worth sharing them. They are probably good examples of what one can expect. They apply whether the interview is done over the phone or in-person (see also Potential coaching interview questions).

Why <insert team/club/school/etc. here>?

I can just about guarantee you’ll get some form of this question. You need to be prepared with a good answer. It may be a simple fact that you just want a coaching job and they have an opening. You probably don’t want to say that, though. 🙂

This is an opportunity for you to show that you did some research and actually know something about the situation, the job, etc. Once you’ve reached the interview stage it’s likely less about qualifications. They want to see whether you fit with what they want for someone in the job.

What motivates you to coach?

This is very much a question looking to see if your approach to coaching matches their own. This is particularly true when you are after an assistant coach position.

What do you look for when you’re recruiting?

Obviously, you’ll have personnel-specific needs and considerations. What they want is a broader sense of the type of players you would look to bring into the team.

What will you bring?

This is another question which gives you an opportunity to show you’ve done your research. It’s also where you can really do a good job selling yourself to them, but only if you have some idea of their needs. The temptation is to make it all about you. Really, though, it should be all about them and how you can help them succeed.

Why women vs. men?

This one was motivated by my experience coaching both men and women. I’m sure other coaches who’ve worked with both genders will get a similar inquiry. If you’re in this situation, you’ve probably had numerous conversations about the difference in coaching men vs. women. That should mean you are prepared for this question. This could simply be asked as a question of curiosity. It could, however, be to see whether you might be happier coaching the gender other than the one the specific job in question involves.

What do you think about the developments with the respect to the Power 5 conferences?

If you’re not already aware, there has been a move in the NCAA to expand what can be offered to student-athletes. Basically, that means going beyond the standard tuition and room-and-board covered by their scholarships. This is something agreed upon for adoption by the five top and others are determining which way they’ll go (see this Forbes article for a discussion). I was told my answer to this question had no real bearing on the hiring process. It was just a question of curiosity. It serve to see how much I paid attention to the landscape and gauge my thought processes, though.

Do you have any questions?

You should always have some questions you want answered when you’re in an interview situation. If for no other reason, you should look to judge for yourself whether the position is a good fit. This is also an opportunity to show that you are really interested, have done your homework, and know what’s sort of things are important. In my case, most of the things I would have asked were covered in our discussion through the prior Q&A process. There was still something I could ask, however, to get an idea of the head coach’s management style.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 24, 2015

Last week I mentioned a position opening up in Germany’s top division on the women’s side. One of my coaching contacts told me a bit about the club and strongly encouraged me to go after the job. Another contact asked around on my behalf and told me they were looking to move quickly, so I went ahead and got my CV in. We’ll see if anything develops. If nothing else, it doesn’t hurt to have my name out there. It’s a relatively large club, so there might be other opportunities.

That same contact also pointed me toward a pair of other clubs in search of new coaches – both on the women’s side. One finished near the bottom of the Bundesliga, but should be able to stay up. The other has earned promotion this year. In the latter case, the current coach apparently doesn’t feel up to coaching in the top flight, so is stepping down to assistant. Potentially an awkward situation for someone new coming in, but it doesn’t bother me. I actually see it as an opportunity to have someone on-hand who would be able to quickly get me up to speed on the team, the club, and the overall system. A different coaching friend in Germany – one with a high profile – emailed the club manager on my behalf.

Back in the US market, I put in for a pair of assistant coaching jobs in Division I. I actually got my first phone interview for one of them! Had that last night. It seemed to go pretty well. Sounds like the head coach is looking to move quickly, so I’ll know if it’s going to go anywhere fairly shortly. I plan on writing a post about the interview questions I got, as I imagine they are probably fairly common ones and therefore may be of interest to others going through the process.

I also gave some hard consideration to a combined men’s and women’s Division III job in the Northeast. As I’ve mentioned, I like the idea of that kind of position at that level, but this particular situation doesn’t look to be a good one. It’s a very small school (if both teams had full rosters it would represent like 5% of the student body!) with what I suspect is limited support.

In terms of the positions I won’t be getting, the LIU Division I head job is filled. Ditto for the UConn and Illinois Division I assistant coach jobs, and the Northwest Oklahoma State (NAIA going Division II) and Rockford Division III head jobs. Also got a “you’ve not been selected for an interview” email from North Dakota State with respect to an assistant position there.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 17, 2015

Got yet another rejection note from Cornell, this time for the assistant job. Also found out the UNC Charlotte assistant position has been filled. That’s actually the first assistant job I went after, but the head coach left in the middle of that process, which naturally put everything on hold.

I applied for a Division I assistant position in the Southeast.

I applied officially for the Division II head job in the Northeast I mentioned last week. Interestingly, I got a note from the Athletic Director later on the day that I applied letting me know the posting had finally gone up. Perhaps a bit of interest based on initial contact?

Also applied for another Division II head coach position. This one is in the upper Midwest.

Another Division I head coaching position has opened up due to a coaching retirement. I haven’t seen an official posting for it yet. No doubt it’s filling will create another cascade of coaching moves.

Had some advice from a contact in Europe that taking a coaching position at a second division Swiss club – as I talked about last week – probably would prove very limiting. The potential for progression, advancement, and/or growth in some fashion are all definitely factors in any decision I would make with respect to a coaching job – in Europe or anywhere else.

The same contact also pointed me toward a new coaching vacancy in the German women’s Bundesliga – the top professional league in that country. He said my training and development as a volleyball coach in the land of Karch could generate some interest. 🙂  I’ve put some of my other contacts in Germany to work to learn more about what the club might be after and my prospects.

Coaching volleyball at a higher level

For those volleyball coaches with an ambition to have a career in the sport there almost inevitably comes the point where they ask the question, “How do I make the jump to a higher level?” Their are two primary ways to do this.

Success at your current level
Having lots of success at the level you’re at is one way to put yourself in a position to make the job. This needs to be the type of success you can document and highlight – that will impress someone. That’s things like win and championship counts, turning a losing team around, reaching conference tournaments, having lots of players earn individual honors, and stuff like that. These sort of things will let prospective employers at the next level up know that you are more than competent – that you know how to be successful.

Success by itself, however, is not enough. A different level means different challenges. It’s not just about working with higher caliber athletes. It’s also about greater demands across the board. If you’re looking to make the jump from high school or Juniors volleyball to college coaching, for example, recruiting will likely be the biggest new challenge. You’ll need to be able to provide evidence that you can bring in the type of student-athletes needed to compete.

There may also be other administrative and organizational demands as well, like community outreach, academic monitoring, scheduling, video exchange, scouting and statistical analysis, and running camps. Look at job descriptions for the level of play you’re aspiring to in order to get some idea of the sort of work you’ll be required to perform and be prepared to explain how you are equipped to do so (see the volleyball coaching job listings page for links to posting boards where you can find position descriptions).

All of the above goes not only for head coaches, but for assistants as well.

Apprentice at the level you’re targeting
The other way to elevate your coaching level is to find a place where you can break in at the bottom with an eye toward working your way up over time. This could involve being a volunteer coach for a program, or otherwise taking on a position lower than the sort you’re targeting. For example, you might be a head coach at a lower level, but need to assistant at the next one. Or you could be a 1st Assistant at the lower level and have to take a 2nd Assistant position to make the jump up.

The whole point of the apprenticeship approach is to get your foot in the door and gain important experience working at that level. Let’s consider NCAA Division I volleyball. It is much easier for an Athletic Director or Head Coach to hire someone with Division I coaching on their resume than someone from Division II or lower simply because they know the candidate has knowledge and experience relevant to the position. They know the rules and how things work. Bringing in someone from a lower level – except in a relatively junior role, like 2nd assistant – means taking more of risk. This is why it’s often easier for a Division I assistant coach to get a head coaching job at that level than an experienced, successful Division II head coach – or someone from overseas as I talked about in this post.

As with any other type of apprenticeship, though, you want a suitable program, not just any old one. The right program will be one where you can gain the requisite experience and which will put you in a position to move up the ladder. Unfortunately, that often means a program which is likely to have some level of success that you’ll be able to put on your resume. In other words, latching on with a poorly supported team in a weak league probably isn’t going to do much for your career.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 10, 2015

The first rejection notice of the week came from Wake Forest where I’d put in for an assistant position. The second came with respect to an assistant job at West Virginia. Also found out the Northwestern State head job has been filled. Same with the Buffalo job. That one is raising some eyebrows as the new coach has very little coaching experience, even as a collegiate assistant.

I applied for another Division II head coaching position. It’s the one in the upper Midwest I mentioned as set to open up in last week’s update.

I sent in my resume for a Division II position in the Northeast which had not yet been posted. A contact of mine from the area suggested they would be going after a female candidate, which hardly comes as a surprise. I also suspect their recent success with a “30-under-30” type coach may encourage them to try to find another young candidate. Won’t get anywhere if I don’t try, though.

I put in for what looks to be a combined men’s and women’s coaching position at an NAIA program in the upper Midwest, and for an upper level Division I assistant job in the same part of the country.

I also put in for a Division I assistant position in the South. It’s a combined indoor and sand program. I suspect the job requirements were somewhat crafted to fit the qualifications of an incumbent coach the way it reads. Interestingly, part of those qualifications are based on him spending a year in England.

A friend of mine from the German professional ranks pointed me at a clubs-seeking-coaches website, and in particular a 2nd Division Swiss club looking for a new coach. I sent the president an email with my resume. Why not? I actually heard back – believe it or not. The job would entail coaching both the first team and the Juniors. The indicated compensation would be 800 Swiss francs per month along with paid housing and public transit pass, plus six restaurant meals per week, which I’m told is reasonable for the level. There’s a concern about my lack of EU citizenship, though. I’ve heard in general that shouldn’t be an issue, but it could be a cost hurdle for this particular club.

A different coach in Germany pointed me at another Swiss club in need of a coach. This one is in the top division, with a pretty good history of success. Might be a tough sell, but it never hurts to put my CV out there.

Yet another German contact suggested there might be an opportunity or two in Germany coming up in the coming weeks. There’s a potential question of my coaching certification level, however.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 3, 2015

Attending the CEV Champions League Final 4 last weekend was a bit of a bust in terms of developing direct new job-related contacts – at least from an immediate term perspective. There is the potential for longer-term impact, however.

I got a rejection email from San Francisco with regards to their assistant coach vacancy, as well as for the UT Martin head coach position. I should note that in the latter case the rejection email was sent simultaneously to a number of coaches and they didn’t bcc the recipient list, so now we all know who applied and got shot down.

Also found out that the Lake Erie (Division II) head job has been filled – by a guy with a name an awful lot like mine! The Marist head job has also been filled.

A new contact on LinkedIn actually informed me of a Division II head job in the middle part of the country that has just opened up. The posting hasn’t gone up on any of the boards I follow, so I had to go to the school’s employment section to find the listing. I’ve applied for it, along with another Midwestern position for a program getting ready to be full Division II.

I’ve also seen that a Division II job in the Northeast has also come open, along with another in the upper Midwest. Neither has posted officially at this point. In one case there’s an on-going search for a new Athletic Director, which could slow things down.

I also applied for another Division I assistant job – one at a fairly high level.

New assistant coach working with former teammates

I recently received the following email seeking some advice. I present it here, with my reply below, in hopes of generating some discussion. I know there are a number of current and/or former collegiate assistant coaches who read the blog. Hopefully, we can get something going based on different kinds of experience.

I recently graduated in December and was offered to be the assistant women’s volleyball coach. I am in an awkward transition from being a student athlete to now coaching my former teammates. I have coached club volleyball for the last 5 or 6 years, but I have never coached at the college level. I am a member of the AVCA and submitted an application to receive a mentor, but they are unable to match me just yet. Do you have any advice by chance? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

It can definitely be a challenge to have to coach former teammates. I did a bit of it back when I was doing a little coaching after high school, but mainly I was a drill facilitator rather than someone providing real coaching. Though I did push to try to develop a quick attack, which is something at that stage the coach wasn’t really interested in pursuing (much to my frustration!)

If you’re working with a head coach who has a pretty strong presence with the team then things probably won’t be too difficult for you with respect to your former teammates. They will just see you as being Coach’s helper more than actually being someone who’s telling them what to do. That’s not a bad thing. It makes it really easy for you to taking a learning approach.

Either way, though, I think the key for you developing a good working relationship with them is taking a “providing information” angle on your interactions. By that I mean try to avoid coming off as telling them what to do. That could be tough for former teammates to take. Instead, try to think of the sorts of things you wanted to hear from your coaches – scouting information, stats on their play, video of what they’re doing, encouragement, a kick in the butt at the right time, etc.

Potentially the biggest challenge will be developing a professional relationship with your former teammates. You can have a friendly relationship with them, but you can’t be their buddy anymore. You’re their coach now. Yes, assistant coaches tend to be closer to the players in that regard, but there are boundaries which you have to establish and maintain. You need to be able to view them objectively and work with them without personal entanglements which can create all kinds of problems.

Definitely talk with your head coach about this stuff. They should be able to help guide you.

And one last thing. A coaching staff is like a set of parents. It should always present a unified front to the team. That means you do not contradict the head coach or another assistant in front of the team, and you never do anything which might damage another coach’s standing with the team – or anyone else, for that matter.