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.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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