Tag Archive for university volleyball

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.

A defacto U.S. professional volleyball league?

A while back via Facebook and Twitter I shared a link to a brief article from Coaching Volleyball magazine. That’s published by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Actually, it was less an article and more a letter to the membership from AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer. In it she shares her thoughts on the potential future of NCAA volleyball. In particular, Kathy is concerned about the move toward a collegiate structure where five conferences stand apart from everyone else in terms of money and resources. I won’t go into the back story behind all this. I’ll just say it’s mainly driven by football and men’s basketball, but has the potential to influence all sports.

My general feeling on these sorts of things is change is inevitable. We simply have to adapt to the new conditions. NCAA women’s volleyball has the advantage of being in quite a strong situation at the moment. Even men’s volleyball is making some gains. Volleyball at the high school level is the top girls’ sport in most states, with participation on the rise. As a result, I don’t think there’s a big risk of changes at the top of the collegiate hierarchy putting the sport in jeopardy. In fact, the reality of the current state of affairs is we already have a major divide.

The split is already there

As of this writing, the last time a school from outside the so-called Power 5 conferences (Pac-12, Big-10, Big-12, ACC, SEC) won the national championship was 1998. That’s when Long Beach did it. In fact, since then only once has a team from outside the Pac-12 and Big-10 won. That’s Texas. Taking it a step further, Long Beach in 2001 is the only lesser conference school to have even made the finals in that time. A couple of others have managed to reach the Final 4, though – (Hawai’i, Pacific, Santa Clara).

To put a finer point on it, among the Power 5, three conferences are hardly represented at even the Final 4 stage. Since 1998 the SEC has only had three entries (Florida x 2, Tennessee), and the ACC just one (Florida State). Nebraska and Texas have done fairly well for the Big-12, but the Huskers are now in the Big-10, leaving the Longhorns as the only current Big-12 team ever to have made the Final 4.

In other words, we have a fairly narrow collection of teams contending for the national championship in any given year. That leaves a whole lot of teams playing for much smaller stakes. For the vast majority of the 320 or so Division I teams, a conference title is about as high as they are likely to ever reach. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. The same is true in other sports. Actually, it could be said that we currently have a better situation these days. Back in the 80s and 90s only a relatively small group of West Coast teams dominated.

Is college volleyball already professional?

What struck me reading Kathy’s thoughts, though, was that at the top level of the sport we are moving toward what could be viewed as a defacto professional league. We may really already be there! A case can already be made that individuals being given scholarships to play volleyball are essentially professionals. They are being compensated in some fashion for being athletes. This is particularly so given the price tag of modern education. Paying players above and beyond that, though, would put things into a different category. That is especially true when considering the other perks players at the top schools get in terms of support.

There are many similarities between NCAA collegiate volleyball and the experience of pro players at clubs in Europe and elsewhere. I wrote about it after spending time with a pair of professional clubs in Germany, That is only furthered if the top conferences continue to channel more resources into their programs.

Note: Business Insider posted a list of the top 20 university sports programs. It is based on athletics revenue, NCAA championship results, home football and men’s basketball attendance, and student survey responses. Interestingly, only two of those 20 schools has ever won a volleyball championship. Just seven have reached the Final 4.

Volleyball England influencing university volleyball

Volleyball England a while back announced an extension of its Talent Pathway into the university arena. The Talent Pathway is the progression of volleyball athletes through the youth ranks toward senior national team selection. They call it a senior academy program. The expressed idea is that it will provide English players a way to continue their progression and development beyond the Juniors level. England brought back the senior national teams in 2015 after they were defunded following the Olympics.

The announcement relates to what I wrote about in regards to the conflict between the competitive needs of university clubs and the demands put on them in terms of growing volleyball participation. I am all for making university volleyball in the UK stronger. It benefits the sport overall, and it should eventually develop a player pipeline for the national team (as it does in the US). From that perspective, I approve of the move.

But …

Let’s be honest, though. University volleyball (BUCS) is simply not strong enough at the moment. It does not provide a meaningful developmental platform for prospective international and/or professional caliber players. Barring a massive influx of talented athletes, it won’t be any time soon. The reality of the situation is that this will be all about playing top level NVL volleyball. Specifically, that means Super 8s.

That’s all fine and good (if it works as intended). Let’s just not think this is something which will have a direct impact on university volleyball. All it will tend to do is create a very clear group teams far above the rest. If other schools are encouraged to better support volleyball to be more competitive, then great! I see just as much chance, though, of them looking at this and saying “Why bother?”.

The competition/participation conflict

I coach in a country where volleyball is a developing sport. I also coach in a country where there is a big government focus to have a more physically active society. This creates a bit of a conflict. I brought this up before in different ways. A recent Volleyball England blog post highlighted this (to my mind), though.

The short article speaks of the gains made in volleyball participation at the university level of the sport. It talks about what the Higher Education Volleyball Officers (HEVOs) are doing to bring more people into the tent. This is all fine and good. A big part of Volleyball England’s funding comes from the government in the form of participation-linked moneys. Naturally, they will push programs and efforts to increase the number of people playing the sport.

As a coach on the competitive side of university volleyball, however, I can’t help but look at something like that and ask, what about the BUCS side of things? Where are the discussions of ways to increase the competitiveness of BUCS teams? What about how to turn beginners into competitive players? Or about ways university clubs can succeed when they are usually a lower priority sport? How about ways to attract more English players (BUCS has a strong international participation rate)?

Generally, those who push the sport forward are those who come through the competitive ranks, not those who are just recreational players. Volleyball in England will only benefit from a stronger BUCS volleyball structure.

We face this competition vs. participation conflict constantly at Exeter. The club is about 130 members strong – only around 30 of which are BUCS players. The rest are Beginners or Intermediates (our Intermediates do compete in the local area adult club league). The club only has a certain amount of gym time available. That must be split between BUCS training and Beginner and Intermediate sessions. The club is judged both on the success of the BUCS teams (3rd overall in BUCS points last year) and in the size of the club. We’re up against a wall, though. We’re in a Catch-22 where we need to get bigger to be seen as a more important sport at the university, but we can’t do it without more gym time, which we’d only get by raising our profile further.

The position of the sport at each university varies, though. At some schools, such as Northumbria and Durham, it is a performance sport. They offer scholarships to attract good players (some schools more than others – see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball). Exeter is not in that group, which obviously puts us at a disadvantage. Some schools have coaches while others don’t. Some schools get better support from their Athletic Union (or the equivalent) than others.

I would like to hear from BUCS coaches, club captains, and the like about their own experiences. How do you balance the demands of competition and participation?

Beginning the 2014-15 Coaching Log

Last year, as part of my Volleyball England Level 3 certification process, I kept a coaching log. The requirement was at least 10 entries, but I decided I would make it a season-long exercise where I wrote about my plans and thinking after each meaningful contact I had with my team (generally trainings and matches). You can read all of the entries in reverse chronological order in the volleyball coaching log category of posts, with the initial entry here.

As I suggested last month when I talked about starting the new annual coaching cycle, I am going to resume posting log entries. I found them to be very useful in mentally working things through for my own coaching, and hopefully readers found them at least somewhat interesting.

This year’s team focus
While I coach both the men and women at the university, last year I chose to focus the journal on the women’s team. I think I’m going to do the same this year for a couple of reasons. One is because the women’s squad is settled at this point, barring some unfortunate development, whereas the men’s team is still a little muddled in terms of numbers and composition. Second, the dynamics of the situation with the women’s team, which I will get into in a minute, I think will entail a few more coaching challenges, which should make for some interesting log entries. Third, keeping with the women provides a bit of continuity from last season’s log.

The team
You can read what I’ve written about the try-out process this year in the blog posts here, here, and here. We started out with what must have been close to 50 players at the first trial last Friday and after Tuesday’s session ended up with a final squad of 14. There is a fairly clear talent split in the group such that identifying A and B team players is quite easy, though, there are questions as to player positions in a few instances. Not surprisingly, the three returning players are in the A-team group, while the B-team is largely comprised of students in their first or second year at school. Because there is a notable talent drop from A to B, a major challenge for at least the first part of the year will be structuring trainings such that the A players are being sufficiently pushed at the same time as the B players are being brought along.

Competitions – BUCS
The primary competitive focus for the team will be BUCS inter-university competition. For those in the US, this is roughly equivalent to the NCAA, but with schools able to field multiple teams across 4 different divisions. The A team will compete in the new Premier League South, having earned promotion up from Western Division 1A last season. That’s a 6-team league featuring a double round of home and away matches, for 10 all together.

All Premier League teams – North and South – qualify for Championships starting in February, culminating in Final 8s in mid-March. The first objective of the team will be to retain their place in the PL by finishing no worse than 5th, and second to reach Final 8s again (we finished 3rd last year).

The B team will compete in Western Division 2A. That league features 5 teams, but will probably only have a single round of fixtures (but we’re not sure on that yet). Last year we took second, which wasn’t quite enough to earn promotion. A first place finish this year would earn promotion for next season.

In parallel with league play, the B team will also compete in the Western Conference Cup, which is open to teams from Western Divisions 2A and 2B – 11 teams total. It’s a knock-out competition which begins in last November and carries through until March. We have been given a first round bye, so don’t play until the Quarterfinal round in February. Unfortunately, that’s as far as we got last year because we had a severe player shortage.

Along with league and cup positioning, there is an overall ranking in BUCS based on points accrued for all of a university’s teams. Those points come from league finish, with higher divisions worth more points. They also come from the cup competitions, with Championships/Final 8s considered a cup tournament just as the Western Conference Cup. Last year we finished 3rd in total BUCS volleyball points.

Competitions – SWVA
The second major competition we will play in this season is the South West Volleyball Association (SWVA) women’s club league. The team played in this league for the first time last year and finished 3rd overall. It would have been 2nd were it not for a facilities snafu on the last fixture date of the season. During the middle and latter part of the campaign the team went 10 matches undefeated without dropping a set.

The focus of SWVA is not winning, though. It’s developmental. I believe we will play 18 matches between October and March (usually as triangulars), which provides lots of playing time opportunities. I’m not sure if we ever had the exact same group of players from match date to match date last year, which means lots of integrated teams – not just the A/B split of BUCS competition. It was great for development, and even though we dominated many matches, I was able to use them to have the team focus on specific aspects of their play. I will look to do the same this year.

Competitions – Student Cup
Each year Volleyball England runs a Student Cup competition. It comprises a round of qualifying tournaments (mainly in November) and then a Finals tournament in February. Last year the team competed in one of the qualifiers, but ended up in a pool with a couple of very strong teams. As a result, we didn’t not advance to the Finals. This year it is undecided whether the Student Cup will be part of the schedule, though I expect that to be decided shortly.

Leadership
One major plus is that we have last year’s team captain returning. She and I have an excellent captain/coach relationship and her leadership skills really blossomed in the second half of last season. We need to do some things to shift administrative duties on to another player (or players) because of the demands of her academic and work schedule, but she is clearly already the player in charge. One of the other returning players has also matured in that regard, being quite a bit more vocal in training, which is good to see. We’ll have to see which of the new players start to bubble up in that regard, and who can be nurtured in the right direction – especially among the younger players.

Coaching help
My primary assistant from last season has moved on, so I will have to find coaching help where I can get it. There another coach who’s been involved with the club for several years who generally helped out on Monday’s last year. He’s still around, but he’s just had a new addition to the family, so his availability is a bit up in the air at the moment. I can probably count on regular help from one or more of the men’s players, which will come in handy.

Looking ahead
Tonight will be the first proper team training session now that the squad has been finalized. We may have another session on Thursday night as well. Most of the team will then take part in a beach volleyball weekend, training with the England Juniors beach coach as a kind of team building/bonding event (I won’t be there). Between that and a couple of short meeting discussions, I hope to lay the groundwork for a good season in terms of competitive, training, and behavioral expectations.

Decisions in the try-out process

Life is definitely not easy for me this week. As I have been documenting (see this and this post), the university teams I coach are going through try-outs now. Most of the work of player identification took place on Friday. This week is more about refining player analysis and starting to fit together line-ups. That stuff can be tricky enough when you have to worry about fielding a single team out of a group of players. Imagine if you had to field two teams out of that same group.

That is my current situation. This season we will field men’s and women’s teams in both the Premier League and Western Division 2A of BUCS. We did the same thing last season (though it was Division 1 rather than the Premier League), basically using a split squad system whereby everyone trained together, with the first team players taking the higher league matches and the second team players the lower league.

This year we will do the same again for the men. Not much choice in the matter as the club simply doesn’t have enough male players to run two full separate competitive teams. Numbers are definitely not a problem on the women’s side. The issue there is where the talent split falls. Are there enough players of comparable level to make a 10-12 person first team? If so, running two separate teams in possible. Otherwise, like with the men, it will have to be a joint group as it was last year.

And of course running these joint groups creates its own set of challenges. How do you develop trainings that bring the weaker players along while also pushing the stronger players the way they need to be pushed?

These are the things very much on my mind at the moment.

It’s trial day!

This is a story from back when I coached the teams at the University of Exeter (U.K.).

I have to run two try-out sessions this afternoon for the university teams I coach. The first is for the women. The second is for the men. Each will be an hour in length. We were supposed to have 3 hours, but somehow had the last hour we requested lopped off. We only found out yesterday! I will be the only coach there, though I should have a bit of support from returning players. At least I will for the women’s session, anyway.

How many prospective players will turn up is a big question mark. Last year we had about 24 women and 18 men on the first day of the 3-day trials. On the men’s side we took things a bit slow. We did not feel rushed to make any immediate cuts, but we wanted to try to trim the numbers for the women right away in the case of the obvious No’s. We cut about half a dozen after that first session, but ended up with something like 26 players for the second one!

No surprise if something similar happens this year. Yesterday was the last of the club’s “taster” sessions. They use them to introduce themselves prospective new members. There were about 80 of them, mostly female.That’s been the clear pattern in my time at Exeter.

I was on-hand for the taster (the third and final held during Freshers’ Week) to scout out prospective BUCS players and to advise the club leadership on ways to run the session more smoothly (different drills and games they could employ). We don’t normally see a lot in the way of likely BUCS contenders at the tasters, as mainly the experienced ones go straight to try-outs, but sometimes one or two will turn up worth having a look at. Ended up being a few more than that this year – particularly for the women.

Today’s the real test, though. This is when we find out if the rumors about this player or that player which always seem to be flying around are actually true.

The situation is this. The women return only three from last year’s BUCS semifinalists, while the men have back four of the guys who featured in their victory over Durham in the 7th place playoff at Final 8s, plus a few of the second team members. I saw a few women during the tasters who could probably be in the team, potentially even as starters. Wasn’t quite so dazzled by the men, but maybe a couple of squad players.

Adding complexity to all this is the fact that we have to consider things from the perspective of two teams for each gender. The club runs teams in the new BUCS Premier League (teams promoted up from Division 1) and in Division 2. Last year we just trained them all together as one unit and had the second string group play the Div2 matches. Don’t know yet if we’ll do the same this year. The gap between Premier League and Div2 will be markedly bigger than the one between Div1 and Div2.

Fortunately, we don’t have to make final decisions today. We have sessions the first half of next week as well to be able to take a longer look.

Looking back to think ahead

This is a review I wrote of my second season coaching at Exeter. I wrote it a few months later as I was starting to think about the new one ahead.

The other day I talked about facing the start of a new volleyball cycle and my coaching commitment moving forward. Over the next couple of posts I want to take some time to reflect on last season’s coaching and where I would like to take things this season.

2013-14 Recap

Last season was really intense. The Exeter university club (EUVC) expanded by one men’s and one women’s team. That put us at one each in BUCS Division 1 and Division 2 for each gender. The BUCS1 and BUCS2 teams (as we call them internally to designate 1st and 2nd teams) trained together, splitting out for competitions. The BUCS2 teams both played in the Western Conference Cup as well as league play. As unified squads, both groups played in the regional league (SWVA) and in the Volleyball England Student Cup qualifiers. Adding in the post-season play for the BUCS1 squads, the teams had a combined 87 matches

It ended up being a very successful year for EUVC.

The BUCS1 women finished 8-2 in their BUCS league, putting them in a first place tie. The tiebreak went against them, but it was still their best result in many years. They went on to Final 8s where they reached the semifinals. That’s likely the best an Exeter women’s team has ever done. The BUCS2 squad also finished second in their league. They fell in the quarterfinals of the Conference Cup. The combined squad went 14-4 in SWVA to take third place. This would have been second were it not for a bit of a facilities snafu on the last fixture date. At one point they’d won 30 straight sets.

The BUCS1 men finished 4-4 in their BUCS league. That saw them finish 2nd in the table for the second year running. They went on to Final 8s where they took 7th, improving on the prior year’s finish. The BUCS2 team finished third in their league and made the semis of the Conference Cup. The combined team finished 6th in SWVA play.

All together, the EUVC BUCS teams collected the third highest total points of any school. Both BUCS1 teams also gained promotion to the newly formed Premier League.Not bad for a club with no scholarship athletes.

I personally coached almost 60 matches all together. Most of the ones I did not coach were the men’s SWVA matches as I only coached the women in that competition. The rest I mainly could not coach due to schedule conflicts between the teams. In May I also coached the women in South West Championships. We finished among the NVL 3 teams in the middle part of the standings (tournament included teams from NVL1 down to SWVA). Some of the guys also played in the tournament with their NVL 3 team Exeter Storm (moving up to NVL 2 next season).

Reflections – Women

The advantage I had with the women was the common objective. They wanted to make BUCS Final 8s and the returning players knew from the prior year’s playoff experience that we needed more offense to be competitive with teams at that level. Having everyone on the same page made it really easy for me to sell the process to the team. I’d seen the women’s teams at Final 8s the season before. That made it so I could communicate requirements to the players. It also gave me an added measure of authority with them because of it. Importantly, the squad’s new players offered sufficient talent to give us confidence in having the strength to do well.

Everything we did was with an eye toward being able to play at the level of the teams we might have to beat in the playoffs to reach Final 8s. More than that, we wanted to have a good showing once there. With that season-long objective in mind, and the confidence that we’d finish high enough in the league to qualify for Championships given the strength of the squad, I was able to take a patient long-term approach.

I think a couple of things I did along the way were beneficial. One was making everything very team focused in a positive and supportive context. I tried to spin everything in terms of how what each player was doing contributed toward the team’s play. I also wanted to make them feel less uptight about making errors. The time and focus on serving I think paid off quite a bit. I also I feel I did a good job in matches against weaker teams of keeping the team focused on things other than the score. Having individual meetings with players each term – and getting feedback from them between terms – I think was important. It made sure players knew their roles. They understood what as going on, could feel connected to the process, etc. I didn’t do them the year before and regretted it.

What I feel like was a big factor for me was my total commitment to doing whatever the team needed for their consistent development and success. If that meant saying I’d wear a kilt if they reached Final 8s (it was in Edinburgh), then I’d do it. If it meant giving up some of what should have been my PhD time to focus on team stuff, so be it. That sense of commitment and my part of the team effort was important, I believe.

In terms of the things I think I could have done better, integrating the quick attack was one of them. That actually links in with passing. I just wasn’t as consistent in working on those things as I probably should have been. As a result, we never got it into the offense. Player availability was a factor there, but that speaks to an issue regarding planning I’ll circle back to later. I could have spent more time on blocking as well. It wasn’t something that hurt us, but we could have done better at times. In the first term there were probably a couple of situations regarding individual players I could have handled better.

Reflections – Men

The men were coming off their first Final 8s appearance in a number of years, but doing so having lost several key players including their captain and setter. We started the year with a very thin squad in terms of talent and experience. In all honesty, the expectations for the year were low. I thought just finishing high enough in the league to qualify for Championships was going to be a challenge. If I’m fair, that may have tainted my attitude toward coaching the men, though it wasn’t helped by other issues which developed at times.

Throughout the year I had a feeling of unevenness about the guys’ training because of the nature of their coaching situation (at least partly). On the women’s side I was the lead coach without any question. On the men’s side there was another coach as lead, though he could only run trainings one night a week and couldn’t attend matches. This had been the case the year before as well, but the other coach had so many schedule conflicts that year that I basically ran everything almost the whole year. This time around the schedule conflicts were few, resulting in an inconsistent approach to team coaching as who ran training alternated. The other coach and I communicated about focal points, but more needed to be done to ensure a smoother progression.

The diversity of skill level in the team (keeping in mind BUCS1 and BUCS2 trained together) created a number of challenges which we coaches probably could have handled better. Either or both may have also tied in with some issues we had on the commitment and attendance front. One particularly angering instance during first term really turned me off coaching them and encouraged me to focus even more on the women’s team, which is probably not the reaction I should have had. The uneven commitment was also probably contributory to the unevenness I perceived in the training focus.

A major issue with the guys was that they played too little as a unit and too much as a collection of individuals. They handled adversity very poorly. It was so glaring that even the women’s team became incredibly frustrated watching them play – or even train. Some of this was poor leadership in the squad that needed to have been addressed from the outset.

The setting position was problematic. We probably stayed with one setter much longer than should have been the case because the other option was such a useful attacker. This only became clear at Final 8s when illness forced a change.

Overall

Just the other night I was talking with one of the women’s team players about how amazing the season was. None of us would have even dared think that we could be national semifinalists. I noted some things I felt I could have done better, but when I look back on the 2013-14 season where the women were concerned I can’t help but feel like it went just about as well as any coach could ever hope. The men, of course, were a different story. Even they, in the end, surpassed expectations, though. I feel like I’ve learned from both experiences, though. I share some of the lessons I’ve learned in the next post.

The new annual volleyball cycle begins

This is a post I wrote leading into the start of my final season with the Exeter university teams.

Back when I coached in the States, August was generally the month when things got going for the new season. The turning of the calendar over from July usually was the trigger for the serious planning process for preseason training which started later in the month. Here in England, my on-court work with the university teams won’t start until late September when school begins again. I still feel those old “eager to start” feelings now that August is here again, though.

Last year I spent a chunk of August and early September visiting with the USC, UCLA, Long Beach State, Rhode Island, and Cal State San Marcos women’s volleyball programs. That was while they were in their pre-season and early season training mode (read about that here). For me that trip served a couple of roles. One was to reconnect with US collegiate volleyball, which I’d been away from since the end of the 2006 season. Another was to see what developments there have been in training techniques and tactics in the last several years.

This year I’m again going to be spending a fair portion of August with teams in pre-season training. This time, though, I’ll head east rather than west. I’ll be hanging out with teams in the German professional league. The details are still coming together, but it will most likely be a combination of men’s and women’s teams. I’m always interested in seeing other coaches at work, so that’s part of the motivation. A higher priority, though, is gaining a deeper understanding of how things operate at the professional level. I will, of course, report what I see and hear along the way.

After Germany I’ll begin what no doubt will be my final season in Exeter. In fact, it may not even end up being a full season. As you may be aware, I am doing my PhD at the university here. I’m aiming to submit my dissertation by December or January. That won’t mean I’m finished then, though. I’ll still have to go through my Viva (defense) within 3 months and potentially make corrections before my final submission. So it could be upwards of another 6 months before all is said and done. It will mark the end of the main sustained research and writing effort. I intend to start looking for jobs after I submit. That impacts on the commitment I can make to coaching the university teams.

I’ve told the club captains that I can commit to the first semester in terms of training and BUCS matches for the first teams – men and women. I cannot commit to second team BUCS matches or to South West league fixtures. My PhD workload will dictate my availability on a week-to-week basis, depending on my progress. Of course there’s no telling how long the job hunt process will take. It could very well be that I’m available for the whole season (which ends in March). I just cannot make that commitment at this point. The club is in the process now of trying to find some additional coaching to work alongside me, and prospectively take over when I leave.

I’ll admit to having a number of conflicting thoughts about what sort of coaching commitment I could/would make for the upcoming season. At points I was thinking for a number of different reasons I shouldn’t coach at all and just focus on my PhD work. Part of that thinks was how much it would bother me to leave in the middle of the season if that comes to pass. At the same time, though, I really do want the experience of coaching in the new BUCS Volleyball Premier Leagues after doing everything we did last year to get there. I’ll be with the teams for enough matches that hopefully we can assure them of at least staying up for another season before I have to move on.

As for what those teams will look this year, it’s an open question. The women have lost the majority of last year’s national semifinalist squad. At most only three will return, so we’ll be very reliant on the incoming class to reload. It’s a better situation on the men’s side (7th at Final 8s last year) where a solid core of players will be back. A couple of positions need filling, but it should at least be a competitive group.

I’m sure I’ll report more on all of that once we get things rolling next month. Chances are I’ll resume the coaching log entries I did last year. I did that specifically for my Volleyball England Level 3 coaching certification (now completed). It was also a generally useful exercise for me – and hopefully something others found interesting as well.

In my next post I will look back in terms of what I think I did well last year and what could be improved upon for the new one.