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Tag Archive for US collegiate volleyball

Left the land of volleyball giants for a spell

Two days in near San Diego were a breath of fresh air, so to speak. It was four days at USC where the players made me feel like a shrimp, and Long Beach State, which isn’t too far behind. That made a nice change of pace visiting with my coaching friend Andrea Leonard at Cal State San Marcos. The team was ranked #20 in the NAIA preseason poll (the NAIA is an alternative US collegiate system to NCAA). Even still, those are players of mere mortal stature. No 6’4″ and above (there’s a bunch of 6-footers on the roster, but that’s more a function of typical volleyball height inflation than reality). In other words, I got to spend two days watching volleyball played much closer to what I saw day in and day out in England.

What that means is I saw a team where developmental needs are paramount. Andrea had a team with 11 new players out of 19. There were certainly some useful players on the San Marcos team. At that level the play, though, is dominated by scramble plays more than high powered attacks and massive blocks. It’s fun to watch the elite teams at work. The reality of coaching for most coaches, however, is that we do our work with non-elite teams. Of course that’s not to say we can’t learn things from how the coaches of elite level teams operate. That is exactly why I went on my little volleyball tour.

On Wednesday I visited UCLA, (ranked 12th in the preseason poll). That was my last practice viewing. I also talked some sand volleyball with Stein Metzger. I took in a match over the weekend as the NCAA Division I season kicked off (Wisconsin at Pepperdine), but no more training sessions after that.

Getting a US collegiate volleyball coaching job

A U.K. coach asked me for advice on getting a collegiate volleyball coaching job in the States. It is no surprise that someone with professional coaching aspirations wants to explore the U.S. job market. There are, after all, something north of 1000 college volleyball programs. They provide a great many opportunities for one to get paid to ply their trade. Not that all coaches are overly well-paid, mind.

Different structure, different rules

Landing one of those jobs isn’t an easy thing to do, though. It’s a big challenge for someone with little exposure to the U.S. system, players, etc. The structure is quite different, for one. The U.K. the system is a club model, but in the U.S. school teams are run by the universities and colleges. That means coaches are school employees rather than engaged by a club. This has implications for coach behavior. The expectations of institutions of higher learning regarding employee interaction with students are very strict (especially since most are government funded). Relationships must be professional. Just the hint of impropriety is enough to get a coach sacked. Moreover, it makes it hard for them to get another job.

For example, it is generally unacceptable for a coach to drink with their players. In most cases, said players are under-aged to begin with. In any case, most schools have rules against alcohol being included in any school-related activities. And forget about going out with players socially outside of the school environment. As I’ve experienced first-hand in my coaching experience in England, the expectation is quite different.

Anyone looking to hire a foreign coach to a U.S. volleyball program – be it an Athletic Director for a head coach job or a head coach for an assistant position – will want to know that the candidate both understands the system and will comply with the expected behaviors. Their own jobs are on the line should some kind of scandal develop. As a result, they won’t take the risk, even for a strong candidate.

And of course on top of that. any coaching candidate must demonstrate that they can work with and develop American players. There are definitely cultural differences, both in terms of society in general and in volleyball specifically.

So how does one get there?

I chatted with USC Women’s Volleyball coach Mick Haley on this subject. He said there are two ways to go for a foreign coach to demonstrate their worth to prospective collegiate volleyball employers. One is to coach Juniors volleyball. Collegiate coaches pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in the Juniors ranks. That’s where they get most of their recruits. As a result, they know which coaches are doing well developing players and having competitive success. Make a name for yourself as a Juniors coach and it will open collegiate coaching doors.

The other way to go (which potentially could be done in parallel with coaching Juniors) is to work as a volunteer assistant coach for a college team. This would provide the chance to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities in the that environment directly, and to get the understanding of the US system you’ll need. Do well and it could lead to paid employment down the line.

Beyond that, I recommend looking at the job listings you can find linked to from the volleyball coaching jobs page. They will give you an idea of the specific criteria schools are looking for in coach candidates (you’ll notice knowledge of NCAA rules, etc. tends to be high on the list).

Technical Coaching at the Top Level

This update comes just after I completed phase three of my summer volleyball adventure. It featured two days worth of observing Long Beach State going through the last of their 2-a-days for the 2013 season. Coach Gimmillaro is well known as a very technical coach. He spent many years producing coaching videos and doing clinics all over. His training sessions those two days were no exception.

In particular, ball control technique is a major focus of his in the gym. It all starts with the unique warm-up Long Beach uses – both in training and pre-match. Here’s a sample of it:

It definitely doesn’t stop there. Coach Gimmillaro is very active and hands-on in working with his players. He gets them playing both serve receive passes and dug balls in a very specific fashion which focuses on footwork and platform.

I chatted with Coach about the Long Beach sand program implementation (they won the 2013 National Team Championship). We also talked jump float serve mechanics, some volleyball business stuff, and a few other things. He even expressed a willingness to travel to England to run a clinic if there’s an interest in doing so.

Naturally, I got some drill and game ideas from watching training, which I have shared since. It is worth noting, though, that there was very little actual variety in the training sessions. The clear dominant focus was on really working serving and passing – building the foundation for everything else.

Getting validation from an elite volleyball program

Back in 2013 I spent two days at the University of Southern California (USC) during preseason. Head coach Mick Haley was kind enough to let me hang out with him and his staff observing preseason two-a-days. In the first preseason poll that year, USC came in ranked #4. Preseason polls are always a bit iffy, but regardless, we’re still talking about one of the best teams in the country that year.

In other posts I shared some of the drills and whatnot I saw being used. There were some potentially very useful ones. You can find them here, here, here, here, and here.

For now, though, I want to talk a bit about the concept of validation. Many coaches see watching other coaches run training as an opportunity to pick up new drills or training methods. That certainly can be the case. What is probably even more important, though, is seeing that others – especially those with more experience – do things like you do and/or have a similar philosophy. That can provide a great deal of validation.

In my case this time around it came from watching the USC assistant coach, Tim Nollan, running setter training. It was a mechanical issue I won’t go into now, but I wrote about it here. Suffice it to say that Tim (obviously with Coach Haley’s backing) was encouraging something I have long made a focus with the setters I’ve trained. I is counter to the approach I’ve seen taken in a lot of gyms (if it’s even addressed at all), though. Having the opportunity to see the coaching staff of a top volleyball team train their players the same way I do goes a long way toward validating my own methods. It was both satisfying and encouraging.

Now, I should say you must be a bit cautious with this sort of validation. It’s very easy to just look for things that confirm your thinking and not pay attention to what challenges it. This is called confirmation bias. That is counter-productive.

So get out there and watch your peers, but with a fully open mind!

My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! 🙂

Inside College Volleyball

Quick note here. In this case “college” is being used in the American way, which generally means institutions of higher education (2 or 4 year) beyond secondary school. That would be beyond A-levels, to provide an English comparison.

Inside College Volleyball is a book I published back in 2011. I worked with a fellow coach by the name of Matt Sonnichsen. Matt authored most of the content while I did the editing and publishing. He’d been blogging for several years as The College Volleyball Coach. At that time he was coaching at a Division I university in the States, having been working in the field for 15 years. Prior to that, he was a player of some note:

  • 2 time NCAA Champion at UCLA
  • MVP of the National Championship his senior year.
  • 3 time All American setter
  • USA National Team setter
  • 2 years playing professional volleyball in Europe
  • 5 year touring member of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour

Matt left coaching a few months after the book’s release and now consults volleyball families on the collegiate recruiting process. He continues to write regularly on his blog on recruiting subjects.

The book was developed as a collection of the best of Matt’s blog. It is structured in a useful way to discuss the recruiting process and to provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. There is some discussion of life as a collegiate volleyball player, and Matt shares some of his opinions (he has many strong ones!), but mainly it’s about recruitment.

College volleyball is well established in the US, but less so elsewhere. As a result, there is interest in playing volleyball at a university in the States among foreign athletes. The opportunities to do so are considerable (there are over 300 schools in women’s Division I alone), with the potential to get a scholarship. This may be a very worthwhile option for some of the better international Juniors players. (Note: men’s volleyball in the U.S. is much smaller than women’s, so the opportunities are more scarce – at least in terms of scholarships.)

Having coached BUCS volleyball in England, and NCAA Division I and Division II volleyball in the US, I can tell you there is definitely a major difference in the caliber of play. The Northumbria and Durham teams I saw play in the 2013-14 BUCS championships were at a comparable level, in large part thanks to having a number of former US collegiate players. Aside from those two teams, though, the caliber of play in BUCS is well below that seen in the States. I’d venture to say that many teams in Division II and probably the better ones from Division III (and the NAIA as well) would be a stiff challenge for the top UK sides.

No real surprise there. The US teams train and/or play up to 6 days a week for a 3-4 month season. In the upper divisions there is also a secondary “non-traditional” season. That about 6 weeks in the off-season when teams can train full-time. Players also do individual or small group sessions, and have strength & conditioning work just about year-round. All of this is after most of them spent four years or more playing/training 5 days a week for 3 months for their high school teams then going through a 5-6 month Juniors volleyball season where they may have been playing/training up to 3 days a week.

In other words, for the player looking to train and compete at a level higher than can be achieved in the UK, and with the desire to get a good education at the same time, attending university in the States is something very much worth considering. Meg Viggars, setter for Team GB, has recently gone that route. With US programs adding beach volleyball into the mix as well, there may be even more opportunities.

I’m always open to answering questions about US collegiate volleyball recruiting, but Inside College Volleyball is a good starting point for you and any of your players/parents interested in exploring that option. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The reviews to-date have been very good.