Tag Archive for Juniors 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.

Seeing how things are done in different places

An advantage to coaching in a new country is learning the different ways they do things there. That also applies to the places you visit.

Different leagues, different rules

For example, when I coached in Sweden my Svedala team played at Holte in Denmark (outskirts of Copenhagen). The attendance was shockingly low. Just 16 people, and four of them were our supporters who drove over for the match (just about an hour away). After the match we had a conversation while waiting for the players to shower, etc. Our team manager told me the Danish teams work in a different type of system from the Swedish ones. Their local communities very heavily support the clubs. I don’t know what that means in terms of money, but Holte had 3 or 4 people on the bench, including a stat guy (commonly called a scoutman in Europe). We were just two.

Community support

What I find interesting is that although there’s big community funding, there’s no restriction on the number of foreign players allowed in the team. In Sweden we could play three. Holte had at least 5 – two from the US, two from Canada, and one from Scotland.

In Svedala we also had community support, but as I understand it, not quite to the same degree. One thing we did get is free use of the sport hall – at least for training. There was a wrinkle to that, though. We only got it so long as none of the players was over 25. If any were, then we had to pay 175 Swedish kronor (about $20) per hour.

I definitely know of situations in other places where free/cheap gym time is tied in with age group or geographic considerations. For example, a high school gym is available for free for Juniors training so long as at least 50% of the players are from that town.

Other factors

Thinking a bit more broadly, in England there was in my time there a big general national level push for younger people (basically up through university ages) to be more physically active. That’s resulted in a lot of support for sports programs targeted at those age groups.

Interestingly, in Sweden there are major tax considerations which impact on the players clubs are incentivized to bring in. People over 25 pay a significantly higher tax rate than do younger ones. That directly factors into club budgets.

These sorts of higher level considerations are important to know. They can be a big factor in the general context in which certain types of policies and systems operate.

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.

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.

The youth club volleyball model

A while back, Oliver from @volleyblogger 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 seemed 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 scholarship or with the thought of one day playing pro. 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 pro league and university scholarships are limited in number, though on the rise (see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball).

The point is that there isn’t a great motive to “invest” in juniors volleyball from the perspective of families looking at there being some kind of financial pay-off down the road (scholarship, pro contract). That tends to limit how much they will 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 (with mixed teams). I only worked in that system at the adult level, and only briefly. I think they paid about £250 for a season – 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

It’s a bit different in the States. 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 college 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 scouted by Division I college 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 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 events 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 coach 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 introduced an hourly pay scheme. We did that to ensure a minimum level of pay. 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.