Tag Archive for volleyball coaching career

What is wanted when hiring a head coach

Volleyball Coach

A while back Terry Pettit (who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards), wrote an article outlining what he looks for in a head coach candidate. Terry mostly works with colleges and universities, so that is the focus perspective. I think the points he makes are pretty universal, though.

Top of the list, head coach experience

The very first thing Terry mentions on his list of what he looks for is prior experience as a head coach. His point is that until you are head coach you don’t really have final decision-making responsibility. That is a very different sort of thing that being an assistant coach. It is really the difference between being the leader and a follower.

Fellow Wizards interviewee Mick Haley has a very similar point of view. When I asked him in his interview what his career advice would be for developing coaches he specifically recommended getting some kind of head coach experience. He called the experience of having the decision-making responsibility key to a coach’s development.

By the way, what Mick said applies even to those aiming for assistant coaching positions. You will be a much more effectively assistant if you know what it’s like to be head coach. You are better able to anticipate the head coach’s needs.

Make sure it’s a good fit

The second big thing Terry talks about is the need for there to be a good fit for both sides. This is crucial. If the fit isn’t there, things simply aren’t going to work out well. I can tell you that from personal experience. It was pretty clear to me relatively early on in my time coaching at Svedala that it wasn’t a great long-term fit. Predictably, things didn’t work out there.

Of course, judging fit is not always the easiest thing in the world. You for sure should do your research about the school or club. That will at least give you a basic sense for whether the broad structure is a fit. That means the type of institution and its philosophy, the location, the academic standards, and the other things you can judge at least to a degree from outside.

The trickier part is trying to gauge the more internal aspects of fit. What are the ambitions of the organization. What is the management style of the Athletic Director? How is the administrative and financial support? Is it a collegial staff? These, and other fit type questions are only likely to come to light during the interview process. You’ll probably have to ask some questions of your own to get the best sense for it.

Good character

Terry’s third factor is the coach’s character. To quote, “I will not forward a candidate who has a history of bending rules, physically or mentally abusing athletes, or not interacting with peers in a professional manner.” I don’t think I need to add much to that, really.

A collaborative leader

Fourth on the list is that a head coach should work well with others. Terry focuses on assistant coaches, but I would add in anyone else associated with the program. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to running a team. Just as they would with a starting lineup, a good coach looks to use their staff in a way that highlights their strengths.

Curiosity above all else

While Terry puts curiosity last on his list, he calls it the most important trait he looks for in head coaching candidates. I might have used the word “reflective” instead, based on what he seems to be getting at here. It’s all about evaluating things, positively and negatively, and using your assessments to further yourself and your program. He describes someone who is basically always looking for ways to learn.

Additional thoughts

Terry has outlined the broad framework for what he considers a good head coaching position candidate. I generally agree with it. These are the higher level things you’ll want to get right. Of course, there are also finer details that become more or less relevant based on the position(s) you’re pursuing. Some of this relates to fit, as note above.

Some of it, though, is just technical and managerial skills you can develop. For example, most university head coach jobs require a master’s degree. High school jobs very often require first aid certification. Some jobs involve a fair bit of fund raising. Many positions require you to regularly interact with the media. You’ll want to do research into the requirements of the sorts of job you’re after to find out exactly what you need on your resume to make yourself a legitimate candidate.

Why coaches and teams part ways

Volleyball Coach

There’s an interesting post on the German coaching blog Volleyball Freak. It takes on a subject which you don’t often hear discussed – when a team and a coach should part ways. There is a bit more to the article in terms of how to handle things, but I’ll focus on the Why? side of things.

Let’s have a look at the list.

Poor Training

This comes at things from two perspectives. One is the preparation of the coach in developing a good practice plan – one which addresses identify developmental needs. The other is whether the players are satisfied with the sessions. You may think the two are linked, and to a degree they are. You can, however, have a situation where the players agree with the direction, but not with the execution.

For example, the team and the coach agree that work needs to be done on serve reception. They disagree, however, on how exactly what to do. This issue came up when I coached at Svedala. Some of the players wanted to just do reps, while I wanted to try to make things as game-like as possible.

Poor coaching during the match

Did the coach use an appropriate line-up? Were substitutions logical? Did timeouts get called at reasonable times, and were the coach’s comments useful? How was the coach’s demeanor on the sideline? Persistent problems in any of these areas can lead to a coach losing their position.

Unreliability

This one should be pretty clear. The team needs to know what to expect of the coach. This applies to all facets of the player-coach relationship and interaction.

Interpersonal Problems

This can be a tough one. The coach has to work with several different personalities, and sometimes one or more of those don’t mesh well with their own. As coach you ideally work well with all the players, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

This becomes a major issue when the conflict is with a team leader. If the coach can’t find a way to resolve the personal differences they can easily lose the team. That’s a bad situation all around.

Too high/low demands

The most often observed example of this is the coach’s competitive expectations not mismatched with those of the players. Usually, that’s an overly competitive coach in a situation where the players are more interested in having fun and being social. It can go the other way too, though.

Inadequate communication

This one is huge. It’s probably the biggest cause of player/coach issues because it leads to the problems outlined above. There are a couple of different ways communication is inadequate. One is simple lack of communication – the coach doesn’t talk enough to the players individually or the team collectively. Another is the coach’s communication is ineffective in that they can’t get across what they want the players to take away.

The relationship of trust is disturbed by other reasons

Sometimes things happen external to the player-coach interaction which negatively impact that relationship.

The list above is very much a list of team/player-coach issues that can develop. While in some situations the team decides its coach – which was my case coaching in England – in many circumstances there is an organizational aspect to the hiring (think university, professional club, etc.). In that case there will of course be considerations related to how the coach interacts with the players. There will also, however, be additional considerations based on other relationships and expectations.

In other words, if you want to keep your job as a coach you need to keep multiple constituencies happy. Sometimes you have to realize that attempting to do so conflicts with your own philosophy and beliefs, and you should leave rather than compromise them.

How do you prove your value as a coach?

In what was nominally about coaching motivation, Mark included a quote from Shane Battier (basketball) in one of his At Home on the Court posts. The first line of it goes:

“There’s not a coach out there who doesn’t want to prove their worth.”

If you want to go further with the motivation subject, I encourage you to go to Mark’s post and follow on from there. You can argue for or against Battier’s suggestion and/or what Mark says in the first line of the piece (has to do with winning). What I want to focus on in this post isn’t the motivation side of things, but rather the “How?” which must necessarily follow on from Batteir’s statement.

How do we as coaches prove our worth?

There is a secondary question which I think must be asked before we can even start to address this one, though?

To who do we need to prove our worth?

For the sake of discussion, let’s exclude anything related to the idea that we don’t need to prove our worth to anyone. I think at a minimum we all want to prove our worth as coaches to ourselves on some level or another.

Generally speaking, there are a few potential constituencies involved in answering the “Who?” questions. Many of us have a current employer and prospective future ones. We all have players on our team, and in many cases parents of players. There may be boosters and alumni. Certainly there are our coaching peers.

No doubt there’s a lot of overlapping interest between these groups – for better or for worse. For example, winning and losing probably factors in for all of them to a greater or lesser degree. Each, though, also has its own perspective on things. For example, if you coach at a college you are going to be judged by your Athletic Director a lot on the things you do off the court, but your players probably won’t care too much about that stuff. They’re more interested in the training and competitive environment you foster.

Unfortunately, for many of us we have multiple individuals or groups we are proving ourselves to at any given time. Sometimes they conflict, which means we have a balancing act to try to keep things going well. At times it means we have to prioritize one group over the others.

So who do you have to prove your value to and how do you do that?

And does this conflict with your own motivation for coaching?

Heading for Texas!

I’ve shared this news with some folks already. Here’s the official and full announcement for everyone who reads this blog, though.

On Tuesday I was offered the Volleyball Assistant Coach position at Midwestern State University, which I accepted. Later today I’ll be ending my stay in Long Beach, where I’ve been since early February after my departure from Sweden, and heading to Wichita Falls, TX. That’s a bit under 2 hours drive northwest of Dallas. Oklahoma City is slightly further than that to the north.

Midwestern State Volleyball (MSU) is an NCAA Division II program competing in the Lone Star Conference (LSC). The conference is part of the South Central region. You can see the full set of Div II regions and the top 10 rankings for each here. The full 2015 set of rankings for the region can be found here (PDF). Angelo State, also from the LSC, was top. They ended up reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament (full bracket PDF). Tarleton State and Texas Women’s also both made the field, though both fell in the first round. To get a sense for the level of play, give a watch to the 2015 LSC tournament championship match.

Why Midwestern State?

As you will see in the regional rankings, MSU ended up 25th out of 34. The squad finished 0-16 in the LSC, making it two years in a row ending the season at the bottom of the league standings. In other words, I’m heading into a program that needs a lot of work. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! As I’ve said before, I want to be in a program building situation, as I was when coaching at Exeter University in England. This is exactly that kind of opportunity.

That said, you can only turn something around and properly build a program if there’s something to build. MSU has only once made the NCAA tournament in its history. That was back in 2007. If you look at the other teams at the school, though, you’ll see a lot of conference titles and tournament appearances. That tells you there is the commitment to athletics and the resources available to be successful. When I sat with the Athletic Director during the interview process he told me he’s pretty much sick of volleyball not performing. He clearly wants a winning team.

Now, a question which might come to mind is whether there’s something about MSU that hinders volleyball’s competitiveness. I haven’t seen anything about the school or the athletics which would seem to be an issue. Volleyball is fully funded (8 scholarships, the max allowed in D2), just like all the other sports. The Dallas area is a fertile recruiting territory and LSC is a strong league, making for good competition. That leads me to believe that with the right coaching, recruiting, and organizational work we should be able to build a competitive program.

I’m not the only one to think that. Ruth Nelson, who I interviewed for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, was the one to point me in the direction of MSU. That was back in January. She told me at the time that she thought within a few years this could be an Elite 8 caliber program.

Why assistant coach?

Given that I’ve been a head coach for the last four years, it’s natural to ask the question as to why I would take an assistant job. It might not be as much of a surprise, perhaps, if I were to take an assistant job in the upper levels of Division I, but I can understand how doing do in Division II might be a surprise. It must seem to many like a step backwards.

I did look at head coach jobs, and applied for ones I thought potentially interesting. At the end of the day, though, it was about the situation and not the title. The priorities I had were 1) to be somewhere I could have an impact on the program’s path forward, 2) to be in a location where volleyball isn’t a minor sport, and 3) being somewhere I would have the opportunity to pursue my other interests and activities.

To the first point, my new boss at MSU only has 3 years as a collegiate head coach (just one season at the school) and has a relatively inexperienced pair of other assistants (GA and volunteer). She was looking for someone with a stronger background that she could bounce ideas off of and problem-solve with at a higher level. She was also looking for someone with strong organizational skills to help carry the off-the-court load. It was this combination of things which saw Ruth encourage the two of us to connect (this is why networking is so important folks!). She felt like we’d make a good team to drive the MSU program forward.

To the second point, Texas loves volleyball. It is a huge sport in the state, with Dallas being one of the big hubs. Obviously, it doesn’t have the history of the West Coast, but it’s still got a pretty good pedigree. In 1988 Mick Haley led the University of Texas team to the first NCAA championship won by a non-West Coast team and that program has been a consistent top contender ever since (another title in 2012 and seven other trips to the Final 4). That’s encouraged a ton of kids to play high school and club ball across the state. Unlike my prior coaching stops, I’m not going to have to go very far to find good volleyball. In fact, Dallas will be hosting one of this year’s World League stops for the US men’s national team.

As for my final point about being able to pursue other activities, a big part of that is just being back in the States where I think there is probably more ability for me to connect and develop opportunities. That’s not so say I won’t continue to do things internationally, though. I definitely will. I’ll leave discussion for all this stuff to future posts, though. 😉

Final thoughts

At the very end of my interview process at MSU the A.D. sat down with me for a few minutes. We’d already met and talked the day before, but he wanted to leave me with something to think about. That was to make sure MSU was a good fit. I can understand why he had that on his mind. Arguably, I’m WAY overqualified for a Division II assistant coaching job. He wants someone who is going to be committed to the program, not someone who will quickly find themselves feeling like they should be somewhere else. I got it.

From my own perspective, there were a few key things I was looking at when evaluating MSU (or anyone else). Did I think there was an opportunity to be successful (support, etc.)? Could I get along with my immediate co-workers (volleyball staff)? How was the overall working environment? Did I like the location?

The first three things were to my mind answered very positively. It was the last one that was the big question. I’ve never lived anywhere like Wichita Falls. I have no point of reference for that, and a couple days visiting doesn’t really tell yo what it’s like to live in a place. After doing my research into things like housing options and stuff, though, I started feeling like I could be reasonably happy there.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee in any of this, but it’s a good starting point. That’s all we can ask for.

Coaching professional volleyball – advice wanted

coaching professional volleyball

In the last few days I’ve had a pair of coaches ask me for advice on on starting a career coaching professional volleyball. One of them is an avid reader of this blog from Canada with both youth club and college level experience. The other is a current US college coach who it sounded like he came to hear about me by reading my article in the latest AVCA magazine.

First of all, seeing as I’m currently only in my first year coaching at the professional level in Europe, I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is about breaking in and making a career of it. Hopefully we can get some folks with more experience than myself to contribute to the discussion.

For now, though, I’ll share my own perspective on getting into coaching professional volleyball.

Something very important to understand about the European coaching market – and I’m guessing ones in other areas of the world as well – is that for the most part you’re not going going to see public job postings. In the US, and to a degree Canada and England, it’s pretty easy to find out about available coaching jobs through the list of volleyball job listings sites I’ve compiled. You may find narrowly defined sites – like the one that lists French and some Swiss openings – but you won’t find anything with broad coverage.

So how do you find out about openings?

Networking

Developing contacts in professional volleyball is something I strongly recommend. Networking is directly responsible for me getting my current job at Svedala. I heard about the job through one of my contacts. At the same time, the contacts I have can be useful references for positions I target. Also, they are sources of information on coaching life and careers and intelligence on the job market.

So how do you develop a professional coaching network?

The simple answer is to get out there and meet coaches. Yes, you can use LinkedIn and other online methods for finding people to connect with. Really, though, the best results in terms of creating good links and being able to learn is to get out and spend time with coaches. It’s something you might be doing in going to the AVCA Convention or the USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic, or other more regional events. A similar principle applies for looking abroad. Find the coaching events that happen each year (they are often in late Spring/Summer after the season ends).

Also, go spend some time in other coaches’ gyms. Aside from being a good learning opportunity, it gives you a chance to develop a more direct relationship with others. Don’t be shy. You’d be surprised how willing people are to have you visit with them – even those who are coaching professional volleyball!

Research

The other thing you definitely need to do is research. Think of the professional volleyball landscape as being similar to the conference structure in US collegiate volleyball. Some conferences have a very high competitive standard with lots of funding. Some conferences are at the other end of the spectrum entirely. The rest are at different points in the middle. In my post Professional volleyball country league rankings I talk about how they compare from at least the level of play perspective.

Use your coaching network to help in this research. One of my contacts in Germany was very helpful in giving me an idea of what coaching in Sweden would be like. He’d coached in Finland for several years, so knew the way of things in the Scandinavian countries.

Your research should help you narrow your target coaching market down based on your coaching credentials, where you might want to live, and the like. That then would allow you to concentrate on learning all you can about those leagues and teams – including potentially finding out when coaching jobs open up. It also gives you some specific targets for your networking efforts. After all, who’s better to tell you about your target league(s) than those who actually coach there?

And like researching potential employers anywhere, going through the process will help you figure out where and how your particular experience and talents match with what a team is looking for in a new coach.

Required Credentials

Let me start by talking certifications, licenses, and the like. In some countries they are required. Germany is an example of this. That isn’t to say a foreign coach must go through the full German licensing program in order to be hired, as there are accommodations, but you do have to jump through some hoops to be granted a German license. In Sweden there is no such requirement. Having coaching credentials from your home country (e.g. USA Volleyball CAP) definitely helps. In some cases they can be used to gain quick certification in the new country – as was my case in England.

The other thing I would bring up is that going the assistant coach route as a first step is likely to be very challenging. In the less well-funded leagues having an assistant coach at all is a luxury in some places. Even in the better funded leagues, finding assistant coaches earning reasonable money can be challenging. Many of them are required to also coach in the club’s youth teams, which may mean having to know the local language reasonably well.

As a result, you’re probably going to need to be thinking of going after a head coach job. That likely means you want to have some solid head coaching experience on your resume before trying to break into coaching professional volleyball.

Other considerations

When I got hired at Svedala I posted the basic terms of my contract here. That should give you an idea of the things to expect in that regard. Obviously, the specific terms and compensation will vary.

Note that I haven’t said anything about citizenship here. Generally speaking, professional clubs are able to arrange for working permits for foreign coaches. There’s an expense, though, so in some cases your status might factor in. This was something I ran up against exploring a Swiss job. If I’d been an EU citizen I may be coaching in Switzerland now rather than Sweden.

The other thing I would say is you need to realize that coaching professional volleyball has some considerable differences with coaching collegiate volleyball. I did a 3-part series on some of my observations which starts here. The most obvious one is the length of the season. In Europe you start play in October (with preseason starting as early as August) and you probably go until April, or even May in some cases. There is a brief holiday break (mine is about 10 days this year). That requires a different kind of thought and planning process.

Final thoughts

I think coaching professional volleyball is definitely something worth exploring if you’re in the right situation for it, though breaking in will require a lot of work. Obviously, it means uprooting your life and moving abroad – probably to a place where you don’t speak the language – and adapting to a whole new set of circumstances. You probably won’t make all that much money, but you’ll gain a lot of useful experience and education.

 

 

Developing players to become coaches

One of our responsibilities as volleyball coaches is to encourage and nourish the development of the next generation. For some of us that will involve getting out and doing coaching education – like running coaching clinics in our areas or mentoring younger coaches. In my case, and others, it includes things like blogging and developing educational material. For all of us, though, it starts closer to home with our players.

Role model
First and foremost, each an every one of us needs to be aware at all times that we are role models for the potential future volleyball coaches among those athletes on our teams. This is something that can be easily forgotten in the heat of battle, so to speak. The question we need to always be asking ourselves, though, is whether we are acting and presenting ourselves in a way we would like to see emulated by those of our players who eventually do go on to be coaches in their own right.

Develop Thinking Players
I personally think we should be developing players who can think and problem solve on the court. These types of players understand what we’re trying to accomplish so they can train and play with intention and purpose rather than just acting mechanically by doing what they’re told. They are also able to find solutions to challenges in the heat of battle at times when the coach has little direct influence. Thinking, problem-solving players also have the foundation for going on to become coaches in their own right some day.

Identify
We should always be on the lookout for players with the potential to become good coaches. That means watching how they act and listening to what they say beyond just in terms of how it relates to their on-court performance or interaction with teammates. We need to look for the players who see the big picture, who understand what they are trying to do on the court, and who are students of the game. Leadership qualities are good too, but that doesn’t mean just team captains.

Encourage
Every chance we get we need to put our prospective future volleyball coaches in a position to work with younger players. Within a team that could be something as simple as having a senior player working with a rookie. More externally focused, it means getting them involved in coaching at the youth club level, or in camps, or at player clinics. This isn’t just a good way to help develop future coaches either. Just about any player can benefit from being a teacher for a while.

As coaches, the future of our sport is in our hands. It is up to us to keep it moving forward – not just by learning and developing in the present, but by preparing those who come after us to do the same. This is especially the case where volleyball is still a lower tier sport and very developmental, but it applies across the board.

Coaching volleyball at a higher level

For those volleyball coaches with an ambition to have a career in the sport there almost inevitably comes the point where they ask the question, “How do I make the jump to a higher level?” Their are two primary ways to do this.

Success at your current level
Having lots of success at the level you’re at is one way to put yourself in a position to make the job. This needs to be the type of success you can document and highlight – that will impress someone. That’s things like win and championship counts, turning a losing team around, reaching conference tournaments, having lots of players earn individual honors, and stuff like that. These sort of things will let prospective employers at the next level up know that you are more than competent – that you know how to be successful.

Success by itself, however, is not enough. A different level means different challenges. It’s not just about working with higher caliber athletes. It’s also about greater demands across the board. If you’re looking to make the jump from high school or Juniors volleyball to college coaching, for example, recruiting will likely be the biggest new challenge. You’ll need to be able to provide evidence that you can bring in the type of student-athletes needed to compete.

There may also be other administrative and organizational demands as well, like community outreach, academic monitoring, scheduling, video exchange, scouting and statistical analysis, and running camps. Look at job descriptions for the level of play you’re aspiring to in order to get some idea of the sort of work you’ll be required to perform and be prepared to explain how you are equipped to do so (see the volleyball coaching job listings page for links to posting boards where you can find position descriptions).

All of the above goes not only for head coaches, but for assistants as well.

Apprentice at the level you’re targeting
The other way to elevate your coaching level is to find a place where you can break in at the bottom with an eye toward working your way up over time. This could involve being a volunteer coach for a program, or otherwise taking on a position lower than the sort you’re targeting. For example, you might be a head coach at a lower level, but need to assistant at the next one. Or you could be a 1st Assistant at the lower level and have to take a 2nd Assistant position to make the jump up.

The whole point of the apprenticeship approach is to get your foot in the door and gain important experience working at that level. Let’s consider NCAA Division I volleyball. It is much easier for an Athletic Director or Head Coach to hire someone with Division I coaching on their resume than someone from Division II or lower simply because they know the candidate has knowledge and experience relevant to the position. They know the rules and how things work. Bringing in someone from a lower level – except in a relatively junior role, like 2nd assistant – means taking more of risk. This is why it’s often easier for a Division I assistant coach to get a head coaching job at that level than an experienced, successful Division II head coach – or someone from overseas as I talked about in this post.

As with any other type of apprenticeship, though, you want a suitable program, not just any old one. The right program will be one where you can gain the requisite experience and which will put you in a position to move up the ladder. Unfortunately, that often means a program which is likely to have some level of success that you’ll be able to put on your resume. In other words, latching on with a poorly supported team in a weak league probably isn’t going to do much for your career.

Coaching work-life balance

If you are planning or considering a career as a full-time volleyball coach – be it at the collegiate level in the US, in the professional ranks in Europe or elsewhere, or as someone who makes a living by cobbling together multiple coaching roles – then how you balance the demands of your coaching work and those of your life outside coaching is going to be a very big deal.

Coaching is not like a standard 9 to 5 job, as you may already be aware. It has a tendency to become all-consuming, at least for some of us (I consider myself in that category). That means you will end up putting in way more hours on it than you probably would most other jobs. I’ll use coaching at the women’s Division I level in the US as an example. Here are some of the things that will take you out of having a nice, regular schedule.

  • Team travel – Basically every other week, on average, you’re going to be on the road for at least two days.
  • Recruiting travel – From February to early July you’re going to have to be off at Juniors tournaments recruiting. Figure on at least one trip per month. Then add on visiting club programs and doing home visits.
  • Recruiting communication – This is year-round, and often takes place in the evening.
  • Video work – This includes editing video for internal use and to share with the players and video analysis to scout the opposition, which can be a major time suck.
  • S&C and individuals training – These things can get scheduled at all different times, including early mornings, especially in the Spring season.

On top of this you can add press/media demands, community relations, fundraising, alumni relations, taking part in Athletic Department and university functions, running camps/clinics, dealing with player emergencies, and a number of other things that pop up. And if you’re at the Division II or Division III level you could very well have a secondary duty such as teaching or administrative work to stack on top of all this. When I was an assistant at Brown, we also ran a Juniors club program as part of our efforts to grow the sport locally.

For those who might be wondering, the demands are not dissimilar for professional coaches. I know of assistants who are the head coach for one of the club’s lower teams. The head coaches have all kinds of press and media requirements. They have to interact with supporters groups and take calls from club management at all hours. And they all do lots and lots of video work.

The point is, full-time coaching creates work-life balance challenges, especially as you move up the ladder of competitive expectations. On top of that, coaching tenures can shorten up considerably. In professional volleyball you don’t see a lot of coaches who’ve been in their position for a long time (it’s similar in other sports as well). In the US collegiate realm you do see it a bit more, but it tends to be at the very top (think Russ Rose, John Dunning, etc.) where there’s relatively little movement, or much lower down where the expectations are different (keep the student-athletes happy, stay out of trouble, etc.). Coaching positions in the middling ranks turn-over quite often. And let’s not even get started with assistant coaches. So, not only do you have to consider the long, irregular hours and probable volleyball invasions into home time, but the prospect of having to move jobs, if not locale every few years.

It’s often been suggested that the reason there aren’t more women in coaching, especially at the higher levels, is that they want a better balance and/or more stability. True or not, it’s something all of us have to consider when plotting out a potential career in coaching. What we end up deciding will have a lot to do with where we are in our careers, our family situation and support structure, and the the priorities we have in life.

P.S.: There are some tips on improving work-life balance on the AVCA blog.

Would you prefer great players or a great situation?

I had a conversation with one of my housemates (Maria) the other day on the subject of the next step in my volleyball coaching journey. Maria at one point asked a question along the lines of “Wouldn’t you just want to coach the best players possible?” It’s an interesting philosophical consideration that sometimes is a factor in the decisions we make regarding the teams we coach. My response to Maria was from two perspectives.

Coaches coach
I’ve related on a number of occasions a conversation I had with the captain of the first men’s team I coached in England. We were watching some high level NCAA women’s volleyball (Top 25 caliber teams) and he asked at one point how I could coach the level of teams/players you find in the UK after having coached Division I volleyball. My initial joking response was that while I’d coached against teams of the caliber we were watching, I hadn’t actually coached that level of team (admittedly a difference without much distinction when making a comparison to the level of play in the UK).

My more serious response was to say “Coaches coach.” On the one hand what I meant by that was if you have the passion and drive to coach it probably doesn’t matter too much what level of player your working with (though admittedly coaches do tend to specialize in some fashion). On the other hand I was also trying to communicate the idea that the coaching process is largely the same for all levels in that you identify the developmental needs and work to help them get better. That’s the same whether you’re working with U12 beginners or the Brazilian national team.

It’s not just about on-court
As anyone who’s been part of an organization will know, it isn’t just your day-to-day work which determines your level of job satisfaction. It is also your working conditions, your relationship with your peers, the support you get from those above you, etc. In fact, sometimes the work itself is only a minor factor in your happiness. This is something inexperienced coaches (and those in any other career) don’t fully understand. Those who have been around the block a few times know what a difference it can make, though.

A conversation I had back in August with Ruben Wolochin, the head coach at German Bundesliga side TV Bühl, relates to this subject. Long coaching tenures tend not to be the norm in professional sports. Ruben, though, told me that he could easily see himself remaining in his current position for long term because he’s very happy with the lifestyle, his family situation, his relationship with the club, and those sorts of things.

Priorities and measuring success
Your own priorities and how you define success are major factors in how you think about things when it comes to whether you favor coaching great players or being in a great situation. If you prioritize winning and measure success in terms of win/loss record and championships, then you are going to be biased toward wanting to coach the best players possible. We all know that the team with the best players doesn’t always win, but having the best players does tend to help in that regard. From that perspective, you will want to be at the university where you can recruit the best athletes, the highest profile club volleyball program in the area, or the high school with the biggest population from which to draw.

If, however, you can be satisfied without winning loads of championships then you can look for a great situation for your personality, lifestyle, etc. While Ruben would love to win a championship one time, he realizes he’s at a smaller club without the financial resources to compete with the big clubs. That means championships will be hard, but there are still lower level objectives which can be aimed for, such as making the playoffs, earning a spot in CEV competition, and things like that.

As for me…
While I’m competitive in certain ways, I tend not to get overly caught up in winning and losing. Yes, I would rather be in upper half of the standings than the lower half, but for me coaching is more about forward progress. Are the players getting better? Is the team getting better? Is the club/program overall getting stronger? I can get by without winning championships as long as things are moving in the right direction. My situation in Exeter has reflected that. Volleyball is not a priority sport, so we don’t get the same level of support as many of the schools we compete against (up to and including scholarships in some cases). That means we generally have to set our sights lower. We haven’t won any titles, but we’ve been able to do things Exeter volleyball hasn’t done in a long time, if ever. I’ve been quite satisfied with that.

If I go after a head coaching job in the States it likely will mean that I would be taking over a struggling program. The thing I would need to try to gauge in that kind of situation is what kind of influence I think I could have on making the program better within the context of the level of support and expectations there would be from the administration. Some programs are perpetual weak performers because they just don’t have the resources to compete and never will, while others perhaps just need a change in approach to start moving up the ladder.