Mentality: Coaching Career vs. Simply Coaching

If you followed 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 the other day 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 three years ago 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 Exeter 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 the University of 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?

Now I find myself thinking mainly about resume implications and less about teaching and problem-solving. Questions like “How will this job set me up for the next position?” go through my mind.

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

For example, there’s currently a head coaching vacancy in my home state. While there are a number of potential positives to a job like that, if I’m thinking in terms of it being a stepping-stone job then it’s probably not a good situation from the perspective of it not just being a pure coaching job (has additional admin duties). The program is 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’m no spring chicken anymore, which is a consideration in situations like that nowadays.

All I really want…

In an ideal world I would find myself a head coach job in a place I want to live in a program where there is 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 by constantly moving to “better” programs. I do, however, 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 want to be able to teach and problem-solve – as I did at Exeter.

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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