Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

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.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 15, 2015

The new week of applying for jobs started with a submission for a volunteer assistant opening at a school in one of the Big 5 conferences. Also put in for a non-volunteer assistant position at another similar level program, and for a mid-level Division I assistant job as well.

I put in for the head coach position at an NAIA school. It’s not exactly in a part of the country that I probably would have named if asked for a target region, but it looks to be relatively attractive country. The position is full-time, but only 10 months, so the pay is on the low end. It does look like a situation I could make better, though.

One of my US coaching contacts (as opposed the German ones I’ve mentioned frequently) actually suggested there might be an opening at one of her former programs. That would be a Division I assistant position in the southern part of the country. As it turned out, though, the position was already filled, just not yet announced.

Someone on Twitter also pointed me at a vacancy with Volleyball England. They are in need of a Cadet Boys National Team coach. Interesting to consider, but it’s a volunteer position. I would need an actual paying job somewhere else to be able to take it on.

On the didn’t get list goes the head job at Augustana (Division II).

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 8, 2015

All things together, it’s been an active week on the job front.

At the head coach level, I applied for a Division III head coach position in my old stomping grounds. It’s a job I’ve gone back and forth over for a few different reasons. Decent program in a place I might be inclined to settle in for the long haul should I decide to go that direction. Probably not a great position if I’m thinking in terms of a career progression. There’s also an income tradeoff question relative to non-volleyball options. In the end I decided that I can always say “No thanks” if I end up not liking the situation or whatever.

I found out another Division III program in the Northeast is opening up due to the head coach retiring. It’s in the category of elite academic institutions, which makes it quite interesting for me. I sent a message to the outgoing coach asking about the job. She and I used to cross paths from time to time. I’m waiting on a reply.

At the assistant level, in the last week I applied for a pair of Division I assistant positions in the Southeast, and for a Division II assistant position in the Southwest. I also put in for a Division I position in the Northeast in the same conference one of my reference coaches. I was hoping he would get some insight into things for me before I applied, but it sounds like instead he was looking to pitch me. Kind of awkward when I hadn’t submitted my resume yet, which I then had to quickly do. 🙂

Never did hear back following my phone interview, so it was no surprise to find out that SMU went with someone else for assistant coach. No real complaint as he looks a pretty solid choice.

Also on the didn’t get list is the Division I assistant jobs at North Dakota State and Southeast Missouri, and the Division II assistant gig at Western Oregon. Also the Division III head job at Knox College. and the Division II head position at Newman University. The latter stimulated some online chatter (including from the contact to told me of the opening) as new coach hired has only high school and club coaching experience – and only a handful of seasons at that.

Internationally, a contact of mine in Germany put me in touch with an Australian coach he knows in Sweden who has recently stepped down from the professional women’s team he’s been leading. Said Aussie encouraged me to connect with the club about the position, so I’ve sent an email. Got a note back from the team manager saying there’s a fair bit of interest and that he will get back in touch when they decide on the direction they want to take.

Mentality: Coaching Career vs. Simply Coaching

If you read 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 at one point 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 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 the University of Exeter in England 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 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?

When I started looking for a full-time coaching job in the latter part of 2014 and into 2015, I found myself thinking mainly about resume implications. It was less about teaching and problem-solving. Questions like “How will this job set me up for the next position?” went through my mind.

Partly, this is a function of going after at least as many assistant coaching jobs as head coach positions. I was to the point where I have the knowledge and experience to be a head coach in my own right. I knew I might, 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 have been able to take a head coaching position at a lower level. I could then look to move up from there. In either case, I’d need to be in a place where I could be part of enough success to be taken seriously (or potentially attract interest) with regards to an upward progression.

For example, there was at the time a head coaching vacancy in my home state. There were a number of potential positives to a job like that. If, however, I was thinking in terms of it being a stepping-stone job then it was probably not a good situation. It was not just being a pure coaching job (has additional admin duties). Also, the program was 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 was no spring chicken, which was a consideration in situations like that.

All I really wanted…

In an ideal world I would have found myself a head coach job in a place I wanted to live. It would be in a program where there was 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. I don’t need to constantly move to “better” programs. However, I do 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 wanted to be able to teach and problem-solve – as I did at Exeter.

At the end of the day…

In the end, I did land myself a head coaching job – at Svedala in Sweden. I liked the location, though my living arrangements left something to be desired. Unfortunately, I realized early on that it wasn’t a long-term solution in terms of being able to influence club progress. I couldn’t push things forward in a broader sense beyond the on-court stuff. Even still, it was a good experience.

I was back in the job market in 2016, albeit briefly. Joining Midwestern State University as an assistant looked like a good chance to be in a rebuild situation. That was the problem-solving element I was after. It was also a path back into US college volleyball in a place where the sport is a big deal. That was also of interest to me, but at the same time was something with future considerations. It’s a lot easier to get a future job coming from a higher level than a lower one. So it combined finding a good situation for what I enjoyed and having an eye toward the future.

We’ll see what that means for my future.

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 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.