Looking back on the 2015-16 season

The professional leagues in Europe have finished their seasons. The NCAA has crowned a set of men’s champions, and its first one in sand. Around the world national teams have come together to get going on their Summer’s work. I suppose it’s time for me to look back on the last year from my own coaching perspective.

At about this time last year I was in an uncertain situation. My PhD funding at the University of Exeter was quickly running out and my path forward was unclear. I applied for many college coaching jobs in the States, but got just one phone interview. I also put in for a handful of jobs with clubs in Europe. It was to the point I was very seriously beginning to look at jobs in the financial world. That’s where I worked before shifting to Exeter in 2012.

As you probably know, I ended up being hired to coach the Svedala club in Sweden. You can read my coaching log for my time there here. I’d heard good things from people I knew who coached and/or played there, so I was looking forward to it. Needless to say, things didn’t end up quite the way I was expecting. I have since moved on to an assistant coaching role at Midwestern State University (MSU).

As you can imagine, I’m not nearly as stressed out now as I was this time last year! 🙂

Unhappiness in Sweden

I wrote shortly after leaving Sweden about how without realizing it I was at least somewhat unhappy in my time there. Or at least I was less happy. My feelings about the experience are certainly mixed.

I had an exchange with a coaching friend a while back about how I should feel about being let go by Svedala. In particular I wondered whether I should hope they did well or poorly following my departure. He said I was well within my rights to hope they totally went in the tank. That would clearly show the club was wrong to get rid of me. 😉

I actually couldn’t go quite that far, though. I sincerely liked the players – even if my feelings about the club were somewhat less positive. There’s no way I would wish poor results on them. As I reported, they finished 4th in the playoffs after ending the regular season 3rd in the standings.

Could I have done it better?

I won’t lie. There’s a part of me that feels like I could have at least gotten them into the finals. And if we made it to the final, I feel like Svedala had a better chance of beating the team who won than others did. Who knows, though? Maybe they would have finished 4th regardless of who coached. I can take at least some credit for signing three players who were selected to the all-star team. The squad lacked depth and breadth beyond those three, however. The club lost a couple of domestic players after the prior year, and couldn’t replace them.

I’m definitely curious as to what changed after I left. I haven’t heard a single word since my last match in Sweden from the manager. He took over after my departure. I’ve been in touch with a couple of players since, but stayed away from questions about the team. It wouldn’t have been right. The only squad difference was that one of the players who quit because of a new job during the first half of the season came back part-time. That was actually something I’d already arranged with her, though.

One thing that did annoyed me was that the Svedala manager’s name was submitted for Coach of the Year. He’s probably the one who put himself in. Regardless, it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, he didn’t get it.

So what do I feel like I could have done better?

Honestly, I think the biggest thing was being more engaged as a kind of broad thing. At times it was a struggle for me to motivate myself to get in and provide the feedback I should have provided in training along the way. I just wasn’t as invested as I needed to be. That probably most played out in being more quiet than I should have been – in practices and during matches.

I’ve said before that I quickly realized at Svedala that the situation wasn’t the sort of longer-term developmental project I really wanted. I decided fairly early on that I was probably going to be one-and-done. That certainly influenced my investment level, which I probably should have recognized and fought to avoid happening.

This is a lesson that I plan on taking with me moving forward.

And on the positive side?

Beyond that, I certainly had the opportunity to continue developing my practice planning skills. In particular, I had to do a lot of creative work in terms of trying to find ways to challenge players of different capabilities at levels appropriate to each in a situation where I had a varying number of players – usually fewer than one would like.

Of course I also got more experience working in a different culture. You could say two cultures when you factor in that we played against Danish teams and in Denmark several times. That expanded upon my coaching at Exeter.

In terms of what I’m proud of, very high up is being able to develop the confidence level of our two Swedish pin hitters. It was one of my top coaching priorities at the start of the year. Both of them were in need of a major boost at the start of the year. I’m not saying it was an immediate improvement. Nor will I suggest there weren’t bumps in the road along the way. By mid-season they were both much improved, though.

I think I’d also have to say I’m proud of being able to maximize what we had in the squad. Obviously, we didn’t always get the results we could have gotten. We developed a way of playing that suited well the players we had, though. I was complimented on the team’s style of play a number of times, including by one of the most respected coaches in the country. Clearly we were doing something right!

The bottom line is that it was a worthwhile experience, even if the way it ended rankled.

And moving forward?

There are already things I’ve taken from the Svedala experience with me in to working at MSU. Mainly that has been in the area of developing practice plans through the Spring season. As we get into pre-season in August, though, there will be other areas. Squad integration, team management, scouting, and the like will come to the fore.

Of course, should I find myself in a coaching job hunt again, the Svedala experience will play a big role. I definitely learned some things that should help me find a good fit. One could say that’s already the case in my MSU job. More broadly, my time coaching at that level will combine with the exposure I’ve had to German professional volleyball the last couple years to give me a better understanding of things should I pursue projects related to European volleyball.

The bottom line is every experience has value in some fashion – if you let it.

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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