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Coaching as a career vs. just coaching

Volleyball Coach

Matt at The College Volleyball Coach wrote an article in which he answers a reader question about moving into a career in volleyball. He takes a somewhat more negative view on coaching as career than I would. That said, he does make a number of very good points. I’ll leave you to read his comments and suggestions.

In the article, though, Matt brings up the idea of having a career in coaching vs simply coaching. His definition of “career” is not one I share, but it motivated some thoughts on coaching paths. That’s what this post is about.

Career in coaching

To my mind a career in coaching is one where you earn the bulk of your income from coaching. For most people that means being employed full-time by some organization. In the US that usually means a college or university. The other way people make coaching a career is by putting together several different jobs to earn a living. They might do something like combine coaching for a school with coaching for a club, and maybe doing individual lessons. Basically, they add together a bunch of part-time coaching jobs to make a full-time income.

I don’t count club directors in here. Even if they do coach one or more teams, they generally make much more from their administrative roles than their on-court work. But I’m fine if you want to lump that in with coaching as “volleyball income”.

Coaching just to coach

The alternative to having a coaching career is to just simply coach. It could provide a part-time income in addition to a regular job. Maybe it’s just volunteer. Either way, there is no expectation or requirement that volleyball be one’s main source of income.

Of course that isn’t to say you don’t spend lots and lots of time coaching. Some of the coaches we’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards are only part-time coaches. It’s the love of the sport which motivates them, not the need to earn an income. That isn’t to say those who having coaching careers aren’t motivated by love of the game. It’s just that they also have other considerations involved.

So let’s break it down. What are the pluses and minuses of one vs. the other?

Full-time income from part-time work

Obviously, the big thing that motivates people to pursue coaching as a career is the idea that you can make a living doing something that you love. Isn’t that what we’re all after?

That’s all well and good, but it’s not as nice as it sounds. Nothing ever really is, right? 🙂

First let’s look at the coach who cobbles together multiple different coaching jobs into one living income. That usually means you get to focus mainly on coaching – the stuff that happens on the court. It’s probably about as close to “pure coaching” as you’ll get because you’re spending the majority of your time on-court.

Sounds great, right?

It does, until you think about the downside. First, you probably won’t be making all that much money. That’s fine if you’re young and single. Start adding a family into the equation and it becomes more of a challenge. Second, you’ll probably always have to be hustling. It could be very seasonal. This isn’t a very stable situation in most cases.

Full-time coach

Now lets look at the case where you get the majority of your income from one job. Let’s look at the situation for a college coach in the US. As Kevin Hambly commented in an interview with The Net Live, you actually spend only a small fraction of your time coaching at the college level.

During the season you spend a couple hours on the court each day. Outside of the regular season you spend, on average, even less time on-court. All those other hours that add-up to a full-time job have to be filled with something to justify your wages in the eyes of the university. That means recruiting, meetings, monitoring player academic performance, fund-raising, scheduling, travel planning, teaching for some, and a long list of other administrative and organizational work. In other words, a whole lot of stuff that isn’t coaching.

Things are a little different for coaches of professional teams. There a lot of the administrative work college coaches do is handled by team managers and the like. Still, they have to do things like sponsor events, meeting with the media, and plenty of other stuff that isn’t strictly coaching.

On top of all this, volleyball coaching careers aren’t particularly lucrative. It’s a pretty small minority of top coaches who make really good money. Most are much more modestly compensated and some are pretty poorly paid. Plus, coaching can be a very unstable career. There aren’t many who stay for a long time in one position – either by choice or by force. This requires a career oriented mentality, which is different from a pure coaching one.

Part-time coaching

In contrast to coaching as a career, most part-time coaches don’t have the same off-court demands. There will almost always be some kind of administration to be handled, but it won’t be as much. For example, if you coach Juniors the vast majority of that stuff tends to get handled by the club. The bulk of your time is spent at practice and in matches. Clearly, you’ll need to have something else to pay the bills, but you’ll be closer to “pure coaching”.

Time is one of the potential issues with this sort of coaching. Since you’ll probably have a full-time job alongside volleyball is squeezed into your limited free time. That means you must feel like you get something valuable from it, especially if it means lots of time away from friends and/or family.

Then there’s your level of coaching obsession. You may very well find yourself thinking about line-ups and practice plans when you should be paying attention to your day job. The boss probably won’t like that much. 🙂

The bottom line

The bottom line is you have to look at things from your own situation. You need to consider the pluses and minus. I’ve been in both situations. I have coached part-time and I’ve coached full-time. Both have their attractions and both have their negatives. Each is rewarding in its own way.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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