Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – June 5, 2015

The only news that matters is that I was offered the professional job I talked about getting short-listed for previously. And I accepted the offer. The club is Svedala in Sweden. Once the details are finalized I will talk about things more specifically – probably next week.

In the meantime, for those who might be interested, below is a list of all the volleyball coaching jobs I applied for in the last six months. Some of them I knew I had no shot at, but put my resume in because it got my name out there for potential future consideration. Other positions no doubt were already filled before they were even posted. So while the list below is long – perhaps depressingly so from a job-seeker’s perspective – only part of it is jobs I was actually ever really in potential consideration for on some level. Those in red are ones I either got a rejection note from or otherwise found out the job was filled.

NCAA/NAIA Head Coach (NCAA Division I unless noted)

NCAA Assistant Coach (Division I unless noted)

Non-US head coach

Opportunities in Irish volleyball coaching?

I had the following email hit my inbox. It’s not something I have a lot of information about, so I’m posting it here in hopes that maybe some folks out there better informed than myself can offer their suggestions, insights, etc.

John,

I have enjoyed your Job Search Log. While our personal needs and goals are  quite different, I am hoping you have run across things that might help.

As an Irish American on both sides I am curious to know if there are any opportunities to coach in Ireland? I am about to retire from a career at the Boeing Company with a pretty good Pension and Retirement Fund. So while a pure volunteer position wouldn’t work, I don’t require a full time living wage. 

I have coached 3rd through 12th graders at schools, Boys and Girls Clubs and USAV Clubs. I would be interested in coaching teams at any of those levels or working with camps or clinics.

Do you have any ideas about how to start looking?

Thanks!!

Jim

Teams from universities in Northern Ireland sometimes compete in the U.K. BUCS championships. My first season coaching the Exeter guys saw us play one of them (would have been another my second season, but that one forfeit). That team had a coach, but I don’t know his status. My guess is the Irish universities across the whole island are similar in structure to the ones in England, which probably means not much in the way of resources for things like paid coaching in most cases.

As for other levels, I have zero knowledge. If it’s like England then there are a number of Juniors clubs, though coaching those teams probably pays little, if anything. School volleyball the way Americans think of it probably doesn’t exist at all, though there may be certain competitions.

As I said at the start, though, hopefully someone much better informed than myself can give Jim some proper answers.

Managing team cultural and language diversity

The topic of managing diversity came up in some of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. There are really two types of situation where this situation arises. One is the case where the coach is of a different nationality or cultural background from the players. An example of this is a national team where the head coach is not from that country. The other case is a team made up of players from multiple cultures. You see this a lot at the professional level where teams and staffs comprise players from potentially many  countries.

Both Paulo Cunha (Portugal) and Vital Heynen (Belgium/Germany) talked on this subject in their interviews. In particular, Vital shared one way he seeks to avoid cliques developing, which this clip speaks to.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

At Exeter I didn’t have to deal with the language thing all that much. The players I coached generally spoke pretty good English. No surprise given we were in an English-speaking country. Also, the players were from so many different countries (like 25) that there wasn’t a lot of overlap. Often, developing their language skills was part of the motivation for the foreign players being in England. In my last season, though, there was a Spanish speaking group who tended to use that for conversations between themselves (in general terms, the Spanish players I coached were the ones who most struggled with English). Sometimes the Chinese players also used that language speaking together.

Also, when I was with German professional team SC Potsdam last year there were clear German and Italian language cliques (the coaching staff was Italian and spoke that between themselves). At TV Bühl, the other German team I visited with last year, the coaching staff spoke Spanish among themselves, but English was the clear team language.

More volleyball coaching education this week

This should be an interesting week.

On Wednesday I head off to Kettering. I haven’t been there since last summer when I helped out with England Girls Juniors and Cadet trials. This time around the focus will be on coaching development. Nominally, I’m attending the FIVB coaching seminar on Outside Hitting and Serving. There is also a setting seminar going on at the same time. It was a tough choice picking between the two. I ended up going with the hitter one because I’ve spent less time focused on those area in my coaching career than on setting. Also I’ll get to heckle my Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew, who is presenting the seminar. Sue Gozansky, is running the setter one.

After the FIVB seminar, on Sunday, will be the Volleyball England annual Coaches Conference. Sue and Mark will both take part in that as well to talk about team aspects. There are also a couple of technical seminars and it looks like one on strength and conditioning. This is the official agenda.

During the week I’m hoping to have time to get Sue’s interview for the Wizards project recorded, and maybe a couple of others as well. Honestly, being able to interact again with my fellow coaches is at least as big a motivation for me as the educational sessions. Look forward to a report.

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 29, 2015

Scratch the Angelo State and Idaho State assistant positions from the list of prospective new jobs.. Likewise for the Robert Morris (Chicago) head job. Also, the head coach position at German club Münster was filled by a coach unexpectedly nabbed from another club.

I applied for an NCAA Division III head coach job in the Northeast. It is a position which includes teaching responsibilities. I’ve avoided those types of jobs to-date, largely because they seem to require P.E. type degrees, which I don’t have. This one, though, seems to want someone able to teach about coaching, which I’m better equipped to do. It’s also at an academically high level school, which appeals to me.

Around about the time I was finalizing last week’s log entry, I got an email from a German contact about a women’s Bundesliga head job he’d just put in for. That led to an exchange about coaching together. The club in question apparently was put into a scramble by their current coach unexpectedly leaving. Word had it internal candidates had or were going to turn management down in terms of being promoted (which seems now to be the case). It turns out one of those approached was the current assistant who is the father of a player on the team of one of my other contacts in Germany. I joked that if said father did indeed accept the promotion, maybe the child’s coach could get him to hire me in his former position. 🙂

Also referring back to last week’s log entry, I did hear back again from the club who told me I was on their short list to head coach. I was given the basic framework of what the contract would look like. Financially, it was about what I’d been told to expect. The contract period wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated, but not in any way that would impact significantly on my decision was an offer to be made.

 

Mental connection through physical contact and gesture

Former NBA star Steve Nash got some attention a while back for a blog post (unfortunately, the blog has since been closed down). It was on the subject of high-5s, and physical contact between players in general. In it he made the point that such contact helps to connect the players. It indicates approval and congratulations for something well-done. It also provides support after a miscue. Steve makes some excellent points on the impact of this sort of behavior on team chemistry and cohesion. It’s something which we can definitely see evidence for, and should be encouraged in volleyball.

Coach-Player

I want to shift the focus, though, to coach-player contact as I think there are some related ideas. Obviously, there are a number of potential pitfalls in the area of coach-on-player physical contact. This is especially true when crossing gender lines and in adult-child relationships. I’m not going to get into a discussion here on where lines should be drawn and what should be considered appropriate or inappropriate. That’s an involved conversation with considerable cultural considerations. Let’s just stick to clearly non-controversial elements.

A very basic example of this is something I saw a lot coaching outside the US. At the start of a men’s team’s training you almost always see players shaking hands with the coach(es) – as well as each other. I even received handshakes myself as a visiting coach during my times with the professional teams at BR Volleys and TV Bühl in Germany. This wasn’t common practice when I came up, but may be something that’s developed in the men’s game in the US as well in recent years. It’s been a while since I coached guys in the States.

In my experience working with both genders, these handshakes serve a similar purpose for men as the conversational exchanges you see with women’s teams before training. It’s a simple person-to-person and group connection. It’s an indication of respect which helps reinforce the full team dynamic.

High 5s

Returning to the high 5s, as a coach I personally use them and their like to communicate three main things:

Good job

Let’s go

You’ll get ’em next time

One quick bit of physical contact with more than one use! And sometimes one high 5 actually serves multiple purposes. For example, “Good job” and “Let’s go” often get combined in one hand slap.

And you don’t even need actual contact to transmit something to a player through physical means.

Body language is a whole subject in itself. What I’m thinking of here are specific gestures with meaning to given individuals, though. Sally Kus talks about this a bit in her book Coaching Volleyball Successfully. She used a specific 2-part gesture to express the idea of “key dig” to one of her players on the court. Giving a player a clap after a good play, or giving them a “chin up” signal, or any of a number of similar types of things are all non-verbal ways we coaches can get things across to our players and express a connection with them – just as players do between and among themselves.

Building a team vs. building a program

Do you consider yourself a team coach or a program builder?

Here’s what I mean by that. Do you tend to like to think just one season at a time? Or to have a longer-term view in mind?

I personally consider myself a program builder. When I say that I mean what I find the most rewarding aspect of coaching is developing players, teams, and organizations over time and progressively moving them forward. I have to admit to some irony there, though. From a silverware perspective it could perhaps be said that I’m best in a single “season” role:

  • Gold medal coaching the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Bay State Games in my first head coach position.
  • 3rd place in the regional championships with the Metrowest 16-1 girls in my first year coaching Juniors.
  • Reaching Final 8s in my first season with the Exeter University men, which they hadn’t done in anyone’s recent memory.
  • Winning the South West Championship with the Devon Ladies after taking over midway through the NVL Division 1 season. Also, leading them to a 7-1 second half record in helping them recover from a 1-7 start.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I think these achievements aren’t worthwhile. In part they reflect my attitude that coaches coach whatever group they have in front of them. They also suggest I’m pretty good at getting the most out of the available players.

The thing is, though, what I look back on and remember with the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment are not the above. Instead, top of the list is the Exeter women finishing 3rd at Final 8s. Also, the club ranking 3rd overall in the UK for volleyball in my second season. In both case that was building on the foundations laid in my first season. Significantly, that was without any scholarship athletes.

Also on that list is building the RI Blast Juniors club program (now called Blast Volleyball) into the dominant program in my home state – a position it still holds. Not only does the club provide playing and training opportunities for lots of kids beyond high school volleyball, and give younger kids a chance to play the sport that didn’t exist before, it helped change the whole volleyball culture there.

Although it’s not coaching per se, this blog can be put in this category as well. I’m quite proud of how it’s grown and developed and now has a positive impact on volleyball coaches all over the world.

These things are always near the top of my mind while considering professional coaching. When I visited German club TV Bühl the first time in 2014 they had only one returner from the prior year. That’s basically starting from scratch. This can be the reality of certain types of clubs. Compare that to BR Volleys where they only had a handful of roster changes and you can see how different things can be from club to club.

I would venture to say that many professional coaches in that environment tend to think more from a season perspective than a program-building one. This is not just a reflection of roster turnover. They have less responsibility beyond the on-court product than the likes of college coaches in the American system. From that perspective, they are probably more in line with coaches in the US Juniors system, which is comparable to the pros in terms of structure.

Just my impressions. Feel free to share your own feelings.

Learning from college transfer developments

This article discusses the increase in volleyball transfers in NCAA volleyball. It cites numbers saying they went from 95 in 2010 to 267 in 2013. That’s a pretty big increase. I don’t know if it’s yet at the level where there needs to be serious concern (it’s probably about 5% of all Division I players). It does suggest an evolution in the sport at that level which it would be good to understand, though.

One of the main culprits often mentioned with regards to transfer numbers is the shift toward earlier and earlier commitment. How can we expect a 15 year-old to know what they’ll want as a 19 year-old?

In the article, John Cook from the University of Nebraska also suggests that the current generation of athletes is less emotionally connected with their teammates. He says that’s because they interact so much via technology rather than face-to-face. This makes it easier for them to transfer. I’d be curious to know if there’s any research as to whether that’s actually true.

Something else which could be a potential source of rising transfer rates is coaching turnover. As much as players are encouraged to pick a school based on academics and other non-sport considerations, the reality is that the coach matters. Coaching changes, therefore, can alter a player’s level of satisfaction. Further, sometimes new coaches come in and clean house. They want to “bring in their own players”. Or, as in the Hugh McCutcheon case, there can be a cultural change some just don’t want to go along with.

Add into the mix the tendency for the recruiting process to operate as two sides trying to sell themselves. That’s instead of truly looking for a good fit. Coaches pursuing players put their best foot forward. Players in pursuit of schools do the same. That leads, in some cases, to one or both sides not really taking the time to look at things on a deeper level. That’s where the actual satisfaction level once a player is on campus comes into effect.

We can never completely avoid transfers. They’re going to happen for any number of reasons – many of which are case-by-case. What we should do, though, is to look for the broader patterns of commonality and see if there are detrimental underlying factors which need addressing. In some cases there won’t be. In some cases there might. Even for those not involved in US college volleyball, these sorts of things can help increase understanding with regards to player recruitment and retention.

Dealing with performance expectations

Alexis at Coaches Corner posted a piece on the subject of performance relative to expectations. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek idea is the best way to go is to do slightly better than expected. The bottom line observation he made was “….the best thing to do is to lower expectations and exceed them.”

Of course that’s easier said than done. Certain coaches seem to be masters of it. I remember Lou Holtz always talking down his team’s prospects when he led Notre Dame football. It’s kind of a funny thing because especially these days in at least American sports there is the feeling that we should be bolstering our athlete’s confidence, not deflating it with hedging type language in the public arena. That, though, is potentially where conflict can arise between what’s good for the team and what’s good for the coach. After all, if the team doesn’t perform to expectations then it’s the coach who will most likely suffer the career consequences.

Coincidentally, part of what I had Mark Lebedew talk about in his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview was handling external expectations in pro coaching. I’m sure it’s not much different from other levels in that regard. This clip from that interview is what he had to say.

Of course you will have your own internal expectations as well. I wrote about those previously from a season and tournament perspective. The best seasons are the ones when you actually beat your own expectations. 🙂