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

Lots of success at your current level is one way to put yourself in a position to make the jump. 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 or turning a losing team around. It could be reaching conference tournaments or having lots of players earn individual honors. These sort of things will let prospective employers at the next level up know that you are more than competent. They will see 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. Let’s consider 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 show 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. For example, 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. There you will get some idea of the sort of work you’ll be required to perform. They will also prepare you 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 assist 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 point of apprenticing 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. That’s 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 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.

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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.

3 comments

  1. Kelly Daniels says:

    John,
    Just as you already know there is an exception to every rule. I know the current Univ. of Kansas Head Coach Ray Bechard went from NJCAA directly to NCAA DI. From Coach Bechard online bio:
    Bechard came to KU after spending 13 years as the head coach at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan. After a stellar coaching career at BCCC, Bechard was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1998. In 13 seasons at Barton County, Bechard posted a career record of 716-60 (.923 winning percentage) and coached 23 Academic All-Americans. He completed his career at BCCC with the highest all-time winning percentage among junior college/community college coaches and ranked fourth all-time with 716 career wins. Twice (1990 and 1993) Bechard was named the AVCA National Junior College Coach of the Year, and he was selected the AVCA District IV Coach of the Year 12 times.
    I love your article and hope others aspiring to coach at the next level take it to heart. I was fortunate that I had a successful athletic career that got me started coaching at the NAIA level. I then went on to club ball and have coached at the NJCAA and NCAA DIII levels during my time. You bring very good info that aspiring coaches should adhere. Thanks for your posting!

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Kelly – Sounds like Coach Bechard would be a good addition to our list of prospective Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviewees. 🙂

      • Kelly Daniels says:

        I would think so John. My take is that he recruit really well and then mold them into outstanding athletes as well as people. I don’t know Coach Bechard on a personal level, but know him well enough to know he’s an outstanding person and a great role model not only for his athletes, but coaches as well. I know athletes that he’s recruited from our club love the heck out of him.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.