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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.

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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