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.