Prowling the volleyball coaching job market

I mentioned on social media last week that I started the process of seeking a full-time volleyball coaching after an eight year hiatus.

Actually, technically I wasn’t full-time in my last NCAA coaching position as it was a 2/3 equivalency. That fact was contributory to my absence from coaching for almost six years. I was broke and had to go back into my former profession in the financial markets where I could make a lot more money to get my finances cleaned up.

It took me about five years to finally pay off all my personal debts (and then a couple more for my credit rating to be fully restored). During that time I literally forced myself to stay away from volleyball aside from watching the occasional match on TV. I was afraid it would suck me back in and upset my financial reclamation efforts. Given how quickly the coaching bug got hold of me again in England, that fear was justified!

Why now?

I timed my plunge back into the full-time coaching market for now based on a couple of factors.

First, my PhD funding runs out in August. I need to be done with my doctoral work by then. That actually means submitting my dissertation at latest in February because there’s up to 3 months from then to my defense (Viva) and potentially up to another 3 months to make corrections before final submission. I personally targeted December/January for initial submission, which now looks to be January.

Second, this time of year is when a lot of coaching jobs in the States open up because it’s the end of the women’s collegiate season (the Division I championships will conclude next weekend). Now is when contracts are not renewed, coaches resign or retire, etc. Schools are particularly eager to fill head coach vacancies relatively quickly. They want to have someone in place to recruit and work with the team through the Spring semester.

The options

As I mentioned above, I’m funded through the Summer. As a result, there’s no actual need for me to rush into things. I can be patient from that perspective. In fact, there are really three potential career paths at this point.

With a PhD I can obviously go the academic route. I could also return to the financial industry. Either one of those choices would be quite lucrative, and I have not entirely ruled either out. The reason coaching volleyball tops my list, though, is the lifestyle suits me better. I’m physically fitter and healthier as a coach. And of course I find it very rewarding. I probably won’t make as much money in coaching, but I think my overall situation will be better.

Within coaching there are a couple of ways I can go. The most obvious is a return to the States and rejoin the collegiate coaching ranks. The other is to enter into the professional volleyball arena. I gained some nice exposure to back in August (see Three weeks in professional volleyball). I am considering both options. Unfortunately, the European professional season runs until March/April. That makes it less than ideal from the perspective of parallel job searches.

Head vs Assistant Coach

At this point I think a head coaching job is probably the best option. Given my experience, how my coaching has matured, and where I’m at in my life generally it seems to make the most sense. To the latter point, I’m no Spring chicken. My long-term finances must be on my mind at this stage. I can’t afford a lengthy period of low pay. My lifestyle isn’t particularly lavish. I don’t require a large salary from that perspective. I do need to be able to save toward retirement, though.

In the US it would be no problem to take over a program as head coach. I spent 7 years in Division I. During my time at Brown I was involved in all aspects of running the program (which is what happens with a small coaching staff). Every position is different, of course. I am confident, however, that even after the time away I’ll be able to work effectively in that system once again.

My expectations in that regard are realistic, though, I think. I can’t imagine I’m a strong candidate for a head coach position in one of the big conference schools. I wasn’t an assistant at that level and don’t have NCAA head coaching experience. Not that the postings for those jobs list those credentials. The candidate pool will certainly reflect it, though. My prospects are better in the more middling and lower ranks of Division I, or in Division II.

I won’t rule out the assistant coach route, though. In the States it would be all about the situation. I have no problem being a long-term assistant in a good location with an enjoyable working environment. In terms of something that was meant to improve my credentials as a potential head coach, however, I would have to confine myself to looking at only upper level positions. A middling or lower level one wouldn’t do much for me, either in terms of my resume or my own development as a coach. Been there, done that. Professionally, being an assistant would definitely be developmental with regards to that system.

What am I looking for?

On a certain level beggars can’t be choosers. That’s my volleyball coaching candidacy at this stage. From a professional perspective, I’m largely an unknown quantity, though my US coaching helps. From an NCAA job perspective, being away from that system for a while now doesn’t help. I have head coach experience in England, with a good bit of success to boot. Alas, I don’t know how that will be judged. I also have potentially useful international contacts, but that is something which might only matter to a relative few.

From my own perspective, I’d like to end up at a place where I can build something – or help build it if in an assistant role. That means I am somewhere the opportunity to work toward success exists. It doesn’t bother me to start at a low point and work up from there. I just need to see how thing can growing and improve over time. A place where management was happy with the status quo and unsupportive of my trying to elevate things is not what I am after.

I told friends I wish the opportunity existed for me to stay with the Exeter University volleyball program. We’ve already had considerable success. This is especially true compared to the relative difference in support received by our competition. There’s plenty more to do. I can see so many ways to make it stronger – to make it potentially one of the truly elite programs in the U.K. That is the sort of situation I want to find moving forward. Unfortunately, the opportunity for me to stay in Exeter doesn’t exist, so I have to try to find something similar elsewhere.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John recently compelted 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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