Tag Archive for club volleyball

Developing young coaches in a club

While coaching in Sweden, board members of my employer club brought me into a conversation. Svedala has it roots in youth volleyball. In many ways it was still primarily a youth-oriented organization. It was facing one of the issues I think every youth/juniors club has. That’s attracting and retaining coaches to run training and manage the teams in competition.

The question posed to me was how to develop more coaches internally. In particular, how do you encourage older and/or more experienced players to be more active as coaches. The three Americans in the Elitserie team I coached all coached the younger players. It was part of their contract. Periodically, other members of the team also helped out at training as well.

The foreign players, though, turnover frequently at clubs like Svedala. They needed a more stable core group of coaches in the club. The board members asked me for ideas on how to facilitate creating such a cadre.

How do we create coaching cadre?

My main suggestion was to make it a regular feature that members of the older teams at least help coach younger players. For example, Elitserie player could help with the second team, the second team could help with the next oldest age group, and so on down the chain.

To my mind, there are multiple benefits to this kind of arrangement. Obviously, increasing the number of coaches is one of them.

The other benefit is providing the younger players with role models in their development. We want younger players to develop a connection with the older ones. It encourages them to be more involved as spectators at the older team matches. It also encourages them to try to be like their “heros”.

A further plus to having older players coach younger ones is that it makes them better players. The process of teaching is a great way to learn. I know I found that myself in my own coaching (when I was still young and fit enough to be an active player), and I’ve heard others say the same thing on numerous occasions.

On top of all this, creating a structure where players coach players can help to develop a stronger collective sense of club and community.

How do we implement that?

The follow-up question is how then to implement something along those lines. I like the idea of having a master coach who is in charge of directing training overall. The other coaches, who presumably are only in their early stages of coaching development, would then operate under that person’s supervision in running training sessions – and potentially in coaching teams during competition.

I think either way there needs to be some kind of coach development process in place. You can’t just throw a 15 year old in to coach a bunch of 12s and expect them to immediately know what to do. Guidance and support is required.

Above and beyond all of this, there needs to be a concerted effort toward coaching talent identification. I personally am always on the lookout for players who seem to have the right mixture of temperament and talent to eventually move into the coaching ranks. We need to foster these individuals in their development.

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.

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.

The youth club volleyball model

A while back, Oliver from www.volleyblog.net asked me a question about club volleyball. I gave him a response of my own. I told him I would also post it here to the blog to see if I could get the thoughts, experience, and opinions of others. Here’s Oliver’s question:

Here in Germany [club volleyball] is financed by a monthly fee by the members which is normally between 10 and 20 Euro/month. Which means that a normal club can not pay it’s coaches adequately. Do you know how English and American clubs finance themselves and if they do by monthly fees asked from the kids/their parents how much it is?

England

In England the situation seems quite similar to the one described for Germany. Volleyball is largely a participation sport rather than something with an aspirational aspect to it. By that I mean people play it to play it. It’s not to try to earn a university scholarship or with the thought of one day playing professionally. That’s not to suggest no players have those higher level motivations. There are certainly those in the national system and at the various academies who definitely have higher aspirations. It’s just that volleyball is very much a developmental sport in England. There is no real professional league and the availability of university scholarships is limited, though on the rise (see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball).

The point is that there isn’t a great deal of incentive to “invest” in juniors volleyball from the perspective of families looking at there being some kind of financial pay-off down the road (scholarship, professional contract). That tends to limit how much they are willing to pay in club fees and related expenses (travel, etc.). At the same time, the lack of professional clubs means little in the way of money coming down from the top to work on developing players. Clubs can and do get grant funding. Volleyball England has its own programs aimed both at participation and youth national team development. It’s not like there’s a ton of money flowing through the system, though.

I honestly don’t know the fee structure for clubs in England. Many of them operate as combined youth/adult operations (meaning mixed teams). I only operated in that system at the adult level, and only relatively briefly. I think they were paying about £250 for a season – meaning September to April. That basically covered facilities and admin expenses (travel was extra). As you can imagine, that doesn’t provide much in the way of funds to pay coaches (I was a volunteer). Hopefully someone better informed will contribute to the conversation.

U.S. structure and fees

In the States the situation is a bit different. While there isn’t the professional aspect, there is a strong university system. That level features lots of scholarship money, improved financial aid packages, and admissions considerations (for more information about US collegiate volleyball see Inside College Volleyball). This gives players and families something to aspire to and a reason to spend money on junior volleyball. At the top level of club volleyball where teams are competing for championships and players are being scouted by Division I university teams the annual fees are in the $1000s.

Granted, many kids who play high school volleyball won’t go beyond that. For them the “investment” incentives are low. As a result, there are plenty of clubs operating at a low level of cost and commitment. When I was involved in junior volleyball in the Northeast there were teams for which the kids paid as low as $250 for the season (January to early May). They trained once a week and played in five day-long tournaments. There were also teams where the cost was around $1000. They incorporated 2-day inter-regional tournaments into their schedule and might get a second day of training each week (December to late May or maybe early July). Generally, that fee was inclusive of hotel costs, and potentially travel as well, depending on the method used. These days there are club teams with costs $5000+.

U.S. club coaching pay

The result of this is that funds available to pay coaches can vary considerably. When I coached in the Northeast, the pay structure seemed to be that the coach got roughly the equivalent of one player’s annual fee. In running my own club I actually introduced an hourly pay structure. We did that to ensure a minimum level of compensation. Coaches got a higher hourly rate based on experience and accreditation level.

After emailing with Oliver I reached out to a friend of mine who used to coach in Northern California. The status of volleyball there is much higher than it is in the Northeast. That is reflected in how much club coaches can make. He told me a base rate was $800/mo when he coached, and coaches on the top level teams could make $2000/mo. This obviously implies higher player fees. There may be other sources of funding to clubs, such as sponsorships or camps/clinic earnings. My understanding is that the lion’s share of revenue for most clubs is player tuition, though.

Incentivizing “investment”

After I shared my observations with him, Oliver responded with the following:

In other words: Club volleyball can only succeed on the financial side if it has some extra funding/sponsoring or can serve some special needs beyond the pure sport itself. A university scholarship is one example. I will sit down and collect other possible reasons (applicable at least in Germany) why club volleyball could be worth an extra investment.

I’m not sure what he meant by “succeed on the financial side.” I don’t know if that means bringing in enough to cover expenses or whether profit is the objective. In the US a lot of clubs operate as not-for-profits. No doubt, there are a number which actually are intended to make money for their owners. I think the not-for-profit model is one that can be fairly easy sustainable. That’s even where the “investment” incentive among players/families is low. Developing something that produces a meaningful income in that context is a significantly larger challenge.

What will they pay for?

Let me put aside the idea of sponsorship revenue or some other kind of external income for now. It’s better left to a separate discussion. Instead, I will focus on what would motivate players and their families to pay higher club tuition. What it comes down to is the potential pay-off. Both professional contracts and university scholarships fall into that category. The former is likely the higher prospect for those outside the US. The professional game has developed and university athletics are not particularly strong. The reverse is the case in the US where there’s no indoor professional volleyball of consequence, but the university system is very strong. That said, there are a number of foreign players on scholarship at US universities. So for the right type of individual it’s something that a club could put forth as an aspirational objective for it’s players.

Of course there are always those players and families who aren’t necessarily thinking in terms of investment in the future. They simply want the best experience. That could mean training under the best coaches, playing with the best players, competing in high profile events, winning championships, etc. These things need to be considered as well when pondering the marketing for a club.

Even if you have the perfect sales pitch, though, two major factors will likely determine a club’s success and sustainability. One is population density. It’s much easier to attract a good collection of players if you’re trying to do so where there are lots of people. It’s a lot harder having to try to bring them together across a large geographic region. If nothing else, the added cost of travel for the families is a factor. The other is the income level of the community. It’s a lot easier to get higher tuition from a wealthy community.

Is the US producing enough quality volleyball players?

There was a rather intense debate at Volley Talk on the subject of the volleyball development system in the US. Criticism of the US soccer youth system triggered it. That was by one of the UK newspapers with respect to the system’s ability to produce world class talent. Naturally, someone wondered about the effectiveness of the US system for producing world class volleyball players.

For those not familiar with it, the US system essentially has three primary facets. At the top is collegiate volleyball. US national team players come almost exclusively out of the ranks of former (and sometimes current) upper level Division I schools. At this level, players are virtually professionals. They exchange their athletic services for a potentially very costly education (but that’s a separate debate!). College players generally have a 3-4 month regular season. During that time they train 3-4 days per week and compete two others (single matches during the conference season, 1-2 matches during pre-conference play). During the off-season there is about a month where they can do daily team training. They also are allowed a small number of competition dates. Otherwise, the focus is primarily on strength & conditioning work. A couple hours a week of individual or small group training is mixed in.

Below that is a combination of club and high school volleyball (and middle school volleyball in some regions). The high school season tends to be similar to the collegiate one in terms of length and gym time commitment. Club volleyball takes place in the school off-season. Teams will generally not train more than three times a week and the play is tournament focused. The top teams compete in national level events like Junior National qualifiers and championships. Recruitment to the upper Division I college ranks comes from the top club teams, not surprisingly.

There is no proper pro league in the US at this point. Players who want to go that route have to catch on with a team abroad. The result is that we don’t have youth academies of the sort that have developed in soccer as the teams in MLS work to establish feeder systems. This makes them less reliant on the college system for players. That’s often been seen as a weak point in the chain, since college soccer is not at the level of training and competition players developing in the professional systems in other parts of the world get.

Actually, even where top level professional leagues exist in the US there isn’t an underlying youth academy system. Yes, MLS is going in that direction as it looks to the overseas model. Baseball and hockey both have minor league affiliates through which they can develop younger players, but many of them still come through the college ranks, and generally speaking a player won’t enter these systems until after high school. The NFL and NBA don’t really have the same kind of minor league structure. Football is essentially entirely reliant on college for players. In basketball you’ll occasionally get players like LeBron and Kobe who skip straight to the pros, but most will spend at least some time in college.

The US model therefore sees sports very much linked to education. In England, there’s an element of that in term of BUCS at the university level. The structure is different, though. The school doesn’t sponsor the teams. It’s not a varsity situation. Rather, clubs affiliate with the school. Even that isn’t something commonly seen in Europe. Athletes play for clubs. They don’t play for their school.

The first big question which seems to be coming out of the debate on Volley Talk is whether in fact there’s a problem with the US developmental structure. Then, assuming one thinks that at least there is the potential for improvement, where are the problems and how can you address them.

Of course there is one big overarching question. Should the US volleyball system aim to produce elite international caliber players? Or should participation be the goal? The latter doesn’t preclude the former, but the former can preclude the latter.

Parent decisions on volleyball coaches

An interesting SWVA post derives from a Sports Coach UK piece. The subject was how parents decide about the coaches their volleykids play for, and by extension the clubs they join. The information comes from a parent survey. Unfortunately, they only asked a few people, or they got few replies. I don’t really think 11 responses is enough to draw good conclusions, but let’s go with it.

The article says parents use personal experience and word-of-mouth to judge coaches. This is seen as problematic in that it fails to take into account qualifications.

Now, I can understand why there would be concerns about parents not taking certifications and such into account. This is especially so when governing bodies are involved in the business of certifying coaches. I would make the following point, though. Having a qualification only means you’ve gone through the requirements to earn it, That may indicate a certain level of knowledge about the sport and about coaching. It doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a good coach, however.

I think it’s totally fair for parents to use word of mouth to learn about a prospective coach for their child. You’d do the same sort of thing for other services, so why not coaching?

The problem comes with parents who don’t know the sport. This is obviously a significant consideration for volleyball in the UK. It’s not a cultural institution. As a result, most parents don’t know enough about the game to understand whether a given coach’s team is playing in a manner which indicates good coaching. This tends to mean choice of club and coach ends up driven by other considerations (cost, location, etc.).

Personally, as much as word-of-mouth can be a very good resource – assuming the data sources are reliable – I think probably the best thing for a parent to do is watch a coach in training as well as in a match situation. This will provide an indication of their temperament, teaching style, and other things not necessarily related to volleyball which parents can assess better than sport-specific stuff.

What are your thoughts?