Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 17, 2015

Got yet another rejection note from Cornell, this time for the assistant job. Also found out the UNC Charlotte assistant position has been filled. That’s actually the first assistant job I went after, but the head coach left in the middle of that process, which naturally put everything on hold.

I applied for a Division I assistant position in the Southeast.

I applied officially for the Division II head job in the Northeast I mentioned last week. Interestingly, I got a note from the Athletic Director later on the day that I applied letting me know the posting had finally gone up. Perhaps a bit of interest based on initial contact?

Also applied for another Division II head coach position. This one is in the upper Midwest.

Another Division I head coaching position has opened up due to a coaching retirement. I haven’t seen an official posting for it yet. No doubt it’s filling will create another cascade of coaching moves.

Had some advice from a contact in Europe that taking a coaching position at a second division Swiss club – as I talked about last week – probably would prove very limiting. The potential for progression, advancement, and/or growth in some fashion are all definitely factors in any decision I would make with respect to a coaching job – in Europe or anywhere else.

The same contact also pointed me toward a new coaching vacancy in the German women’s Bundesliga – the top professional league in that country. He said my training and development as a volleyball coach in the land of Karch could generate some interest. 🙂  I’ve put some of my other contacts in Germany to work to learn more about what the club might be after and my prospects.

Preparing to be prepared

In his Volleyblog column that was published in the Fall 2014 edition of Volleyball USA Karch Kiraly talks about staying positive in the face of disappointment and adversity. A lot of the focus is on looking forward rather than backward, but there’s one part where he talks about preparation. At that point he mentions something he heard from a military prospective. First, you develop a plan. Second, you develop contingency plans for if/when the initial plan goes awry. The latter is critically important because, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” as Helmuth von Moltke stated. To put that in volleyball terms…

Your plan will probably go out the window on the first serve.

Our plans can get foiled at many different levels. It can happen in a match. It can happen in a season. Bigger picture, it can happen in a cycle (recruiting cycle for collegiate teams, Olympic cycle for national teams, etc.). The point is, it’s not enough for us to have a plan in place. We also need to have plans to be able to react when part of the primary plan breaks down. This is especially true in situations where a quick decision will have to be made – like I talked about in the Sub Six post. You need to know the decision you’ll make in advance so when the time comes it’s basically automatic rather than done in a panic. This requires thinking about all the different things that could potentially arise.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Don’t just plan. Prepare.

It’s not enough to have a contingency plan. You need to have prepared for it’s implementation in advance. Let me provide an example.

Your starting setter sprains an ankle. What do you do? If you’re like most teams, you’ll put in your second string setter, though in some cases your second best setter might have a different primary position (something I dealt with a while back). Seems like an easy call, but the next question is how prepared your team is for that change. I don’t just mean the setter coming in, though that’s part of it. I mean everyone. Have you given that setter enough reps with the starters for everyone to feel comfortable together? Or is the setter change going to freak everyone out?

If you’ve worked your second setter into the first team, or otherwise mixed players around in training, then the transition likely will be relatively smooth. The players will know what to expect and adapt accordingly. If you always did strict A-team/B-team splits in training, though, you could have a problem. Something to think about as you develop your training plans.

This is one of those things that separates great coaches from good ones. They are able to make good decisions when things are going against them because they’d prepared themselves to do so.

Developing players to become coaches

One of our responsibilities as volleyball coaches is to encourage and nourish the development of the next generation. For some of us that will involve getting out and doing coaching education – like running coaching clinics in our areas or mentoring younger coaches. In my case, and others, it includes things like blogging and developing educational material. For all of us, though, it starts closer to home with our players.

Role model
First and foremost, each an every one of us needs to be aware at all times that we are role models for the potential future volleyball coaches among those athletes on our teams. This is something that can be easily forgotten in the heat of battle, so to speak. The question we need to always be asking ourselves, though, is whether we are acting and presenting ourselves in a way we would like to see emulated by those of our players who eventually do go on to be coaches in their own right.

Develop Thinking Players
I personally think we should be developing players who can think and problem solve on the court. These types of players understand what we’re trying to accomplish so they can train and play with intention and purpose rather than just acting mechanically by doing what they’re told. They are also able to find solutions to challenges in the heat of battle at times when the coach has little direct influence. Thinking, problem-solving players also have the foundation for going on to become coaches in their own right some day.

We should always be on the lookout for players with the potential to become good coaches. That means watching how they act and listening to what they say beyond just in terms of how it relates to their on-court performance or interaction with teammates. We need to look for the players who see the big picture, who understand what they are trying to do on the court, and who are students of the game. Leadership qualities are good too, but that doesn’t mean just team captains.

Every chance we get we need to put our prospective future volleyball coaches in a position to work with younger players. Within a team that could be something as simple as having a senior player working with a rookie. More externally focused, it means getting them involved in coaching at the youth club level, or in camps, or at player clinics. This isn’t just a good way to help develop future coaches either. Just about any player can benefit from being a teacher for a while.

As coaches, the future of our sport is in our hands. It is up to us to keep it moving forward – not just by learning and developing in the present, but by preparing those who come after us to do the same. This is especially the case where volleyball is still a lower tier sport and very developmental, but it applies across the board.

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
Having lots of success at the level you’re at is one way to put yourself in a position to make the job. 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, turning a losing team around, reaching conference tournaments, having lots of players earn individual honors, and stuff like that. These sort of things will let prospective employers at the next level up know that you are more than competent – 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. If you’re looking to make 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 be able to provide 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, like 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 in order to get some idea of the sort of work you’ll be required to perform and be prepared 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 assistant 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 whole point of the apprenticeship approach 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 simply 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 of 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.

Accepting external criticism

In the You might be surprised if you give them a chance post I referenced an email I received from a coach who visited the site. This was a coach who working in a disadvantaged area. That post could potentially be interpreted as picking on that individual, so I sent them an email to make sure they knew I wasn’t specifically singling them out. Rather, the post was the result of a couple of different things coming together. The reply I got was the sort I think we all should have when presented with something potentially critical of our coaching.

Thanks for the warning!!!  I may indeed have responded defensively if you hadn’t!  Maybe not as I have a sense of where you are coming from – but better safe than lose someone!

And I agree with you!  So many of the problems we face are direct result of low expectations of girls from parents, school, and community.  And it is huge.  I need to be ultra vigilant of my own expectations and message!  I hear “Can’t” as “Won’t try” or “Never’.  They need to hear me believe that they are capable of getting better every day.  While I could say that what I really meant was we don’t do some higher leverage things well enough yet – what I said was “Can’t”.  At some level that reflects a letdown in my own values.  I will keep working on it!

This has unlocked a flood of thoughts about clarifying my philosophy, priorities and approach to the program.  You have shown me that I am holding us back by not introducing that philosophy of play from the first time they walk through the door.  Or earlier!

Far from being angry – I am very grateful for you pushing the right button!!

This sort of thing is exactly why I developed the blog and enjoy writing it. Hopefully someone like the coach I kind of picked on in this post has a similar type of reaction! 🙂

The point is, criticism can be extremely valuable to us all – at least the constructive kind. Not only should we be accepting of it, we should even consider actively seeking it out.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – Apr 10, 2015

The first rejection notice of the week came from Wake Forest where I’d put in for an assistant position. The second came with respect to an assistant job at West Virginia. Also found out the Northwestern State head job has been filled. Same with the Buffalo job. That one is raising some eyebrows as the new coach has very little coaching experience, even as a collegiate assistant.

I applied for another Division II head coaching position. It’s the one in the upper Midwest I mentioned as set to open up in last week’s update.

I sent in my resume for a Division II position in the Northeast which had not yet been posted. A contact of mine from the area suggested they would be going after a female candidate, which hardly comes as a surprise. I also suspect their recent success with a “30-under-30” type coach may encourage them to try to find another young candidate. Won’t get anywhere if I don’t try, though.

I put in for what looks to be a combined men’s and women’s coaching position at an NAIA program in the upper Midwest, and for an upper level Division I assistant job in the same part of the country.

I also put in for a Division I assistant position in the South. It’s a combined indoor and sand program. I suspect the job requirements were somewhat crafted to fit the qualifications of an incumbent coach the way it reads. Interestingly, part of those qualifications are based on him spending a year in England.

A friend of mine from the German professional ranks pointed me at a clubs-seeking-coaches website, and in particular a 2nd Division Swiss club looking for a new coach. I sent the president an email with my resume. Why not? I actually heard back – believe it or not. The job would entail coaching both the first team and the Juniors. The indicated compensation would be 800 Swiss francs per month along with paid housing and public transit pass, plus six restaurant meals per week, which I’m told is reasonable for the level. There’s a concern about my lack of EU citizenship, though. I’ve heard in general that shouldn’t be an issue, but it could be a cost hurdle for this particular club.

A different coach in Germany pointed me at another Swiss club in need of a coach. This one is in the top division, with a pretty good history of success. Might be a tough sell, but it never hurts to put my CV out there.

Yet another German contact suggested there might be an opportunity or two in Germany coming up in the coming weeks. There’s a potential question of my coaching certification level, however.

Best volleyball coaches – nominations wanted

As some readers are aware, roughly in parallel with my volleyball coaching I’ve had a career in the financial markets. My coaching in England the last three years has been on the back of working on a PhD in Behavioral Finance, which can be thought of as combining financial markets with psychology. I actually authored a book on trading that was published back in 2006.

In that arena there is a series of books by a gentleman named Jack Schwager, the first of which is titled Market Wizards. They comprise a collection of interviews with some of the world’s elite traders. These books are widely considered among the best, most educational and inspiration ever published in financial market circles. (As and aside, I actually interviewed Schwager not long after the first book came out.)

I’m not entirely sure what triggered it, but some combination of thoughts and ideas sparked a fusion in my head a couple weeks ago. It occurred to me that a similar sort of book would be really awesome from a volleyball coaching perspective.

Thus was Volleyball Coaching Wizards born.

Only, my partner Mark Lebedew and I will be taking things to a higher level. The conceptual framework of interviewing the best of the best remains. We’re just going to build on the original in a couple of ways.

First, we’re not just going the book route. These days the internet and audio/video delivery offer much greater opportunity for distribution than Schwager had when he published his first Wizards book. The specific plan is still a work in progress, but for us a book (probably multiple books) is only one of the ways we plan on sharing content from the interviews we do. We also want to use audio and video, and every other available platform, to be able to reach volleyball coaches everywhere.

Second, we’re going deeper. There are great volleyball coaches at all level of the sport and all over the world. Certainly, we’ll be looking to interview the big names in coaching – international and elite collegiate coaches everyone knows. We also, though, want to interview coaches much less well-known but who are still great coaches in their own right.

I’ve already been in touch with a number of my contacts around the world about the project and the response has uniformly been extremely positive. I think this is something that has the potential to be really special.

All of this means Volleyball Coaching Wizards is likely to be a major undertaking, though. I can easily see us doing more than 100 interviews just in the initial phase. I would expect to add additional interviews over time as new coaches distinguish themselves.

We’d appreciate your help

At this early stage you can help us out big time by bringing great coaches you know of to our attention. In particular, we want to hear about lower profile coaches. It’s easy enough to pick out the the likes of great international coaches based on medals won, top US collegiate coaches based on wins and being in the AVCA Hall of Fame, etc. To an extent, the same is true for US high school coaches. What about Juniors coaches, though? Or university, high school, and club coaches outside the US? Those are the folks we most need the help identifying.

The best way to submit a great coach for potential inclusion is by filling out the nomination form.

You can also help by spreading the world. The more folks we have providing Wizard nominations, the better the pool of candidates will be. So like the Facebook page, follow the Twitter feed, send your friends and coaching colleagues to VolleyballCoachingWizards.com, and whatever else you can think of to get people connected to the project. Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

And definitely feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, etc. about the project in general with us.

College volleyball is not the end of the line

At USA Volleyball they express a philosophy. They tell coaches in the various educational programs that we should never be a player’s last coach. In the context of youth volleyballers, that’s a pretty easy mentality to take. At its most altruistic, coaching at that level is about bringing kids into the volleyball tent and keeping them there. From what can sometimes be a more materialistic perspective, the focus is on developing players for collegiate recruitment – or in the case of much of the the world outside the U.S., progress up the club ranks in a professional structure. The problem comes when you reach what many people view as the pinnacle of the sport in America – the college game.

College volleyball is not the end

Yes, there is the national team. The vast majority of college coaches, though, don’t give much thought to even that. After all, only players from the top programs make it into the national program. Basically, they just expect their players to graduate and go get a job in the real world.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s a whole bunch of former US collegiate players who have gone on to play overseas after graduation. USA Volleyball reports that more than 300 American players file for international transfer certificates (required to play outside your own country). About 2/3rds of them are women.

For some of them it’s about continuing their education and using their volleyball skills to pay their way. I coached against a few of those players in my time coaching BUCS in England. Former Stetson University assistant coach Scott Tunnell is an example of this sort of player. A handful of universities in the UK activity recruit former US college players with Master’s degree scholarships. Not a bad way to continue your education and get an experience living and playing abroad.

Of course the headline players are the ones who go on to play in top foreign profession leagues. The New York Times has been the highest profile news outlet to pick up on the story. Volleyball Magazine had an article on the subject and I came across an interesting piece on Facebook as well. And Americans are not the only ones going this route. Canadians are in on the party as well.

It isn’t only the household name volleyball players going pro, though. A former player of mine from my Brown coaching days played on teams in Belgium, Holland, and England. Brown is hardly the sort of program anyone would expect to produce professional volleyballers, but she went on to have a great experience playing abroad.

It’s not just about going pro overseas

On top of the international opportunities, we cannot forget domestic beach volleyball, USA Volleyball indoor club play, and any potential pro league that might develop. The point is college coaches shouldn’t be looking at their programs as the final stop in their player’s coaching journey. We need to maintain that USA Volleyball philosophy of not being a player’s last coach.

One of the more rewarding experiences of my coaching at Exeter was having a Danish exchange student who spent a semester with the team tell me at the end she enjoyed her volleyball so much that she was going to try to find a way to keep playing when she got back home. We should all be aiming to have that kind of impact on our athletes. If nothing else, the better their experience with us the more likely they’ll be to support the program – and the sport in general – in the future!

Surrendering self-interest for the greater good

Phil Jackson makes an observation in the introduction to his book Sacred Hoops which, paraphrased, goes like this:

Creating a successful team requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

This is so true. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum with this sort of thing. One year when I coached in NCAA Division I certain players were more focused on their dislike of others and on trying to make them look bad than on the team effort or their own development. Not surprisingly, that was a horrible season.

On the flip side, the 2013-14 Exeter women’s team fully committed collectively to one objective – reaching Final 8s. Were there some personal frictions? Absolutely. You aren’t going to have 14 players who over the course of a 6-month season agree on everything and always get along perfectly.

I think as coaches we probably all know this on one level or another. We know that we have to try to foster the team orientation. One of our big challenges is trying to get our players to do that. Let me ask a question, though…

Are you sacrificing your own self-interests for the good of the team?

Ponder that and let me know what you think.