Archive for Volleyball Coaching Careers

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – July 23, 2018

Even before I found out I was not selected to be the head coach at Midwestern State I had my eye on things and some feelers out – just in case. As a result, I was right into gear in exploring my future options. Of course, at this time of year things are getting pretty thin. The length of the MSU hiring process didn’t do me any favors in that regard.

Not sure if it’s necessarily a good thing, but I took a fairly wide perspective on what I might do next. I could pursue a head coach position somewhere. I could try for an assistant job. With my PhD, a job in academia was on the table. Maybe I could focus more on the business side of things.

Then too, there was the question of location. Do I look overseas again? Or do I stay in the States? There are pluses and minuses to both options.

Head Coach – US

The head job at Division II Lake Erie was open when it came time to start my job search in earnest. I was a little late to it, but I figured it was worth a shot anyway, especially after one of my former men’s players at Exeter said he’d heard good things about it from a friend. The funny thing was the outgoing head coach’s name is Foeman.

I also heard that Chesnut Hill College, also in Division II, had a vacancy. No job posting was up, but I did send me resume to the Athletic Director for possible consideration. I heard a little bit later, though, that the A.D. was on their way out as well, so it seemed like things were in a muddle. Eventually, a posting did go up, but it was listed as a part-time job, so I didn’t apply. I’m not sure how that’s even possible for a D2 head coach job – unless there’s some weird accounting or configuration.

In late June or early July the head job at Maryville posted. That’s also a Division II program, one MSU played in 2017. This is a program that’s been pretty weak in recent years, albeit in one of the strongest conferences in the country. The last couple of coaches have been young and inexperienced. I hesitated to apply because of that, but they have a new A.D. – one who actually has meaningful coaching experience. So on the off chance they’d be willing to change it up and go with someone more experienced, I applied. As of this update, I have had no reply.

In the early-middle part of July Newman posted for a new head coach. Again, we’re talking a Division II program that MSU played in 2017. Newman is actually where the prior MSU coach came from back in 2015. This one is an interesting situation in that they are the only Heartland Conference team not joining the Lone Star Conference in 2019. They instead will join the MIAA. Geographically it makes better sense. I’d heard good things about the A.D., so I applied. As of this update, I’ve had no reply.

Assistant Coach – US

The assistant job at Division I South Florida was posted in mid-May. It struck me as a place where I could really contribute, so I applied. I got the “thanks, but we’re going with someone else” email in June 11th. It was rather amazing to find out the guy they hired had only high school and club experience.

I reached out to a high level Division I coach to see if they needed a volunteer assistant for the coming year. There wasn’t one listed on the roster, and it was a program that’s long interested me. Unfortunately, they were already all set in that position.

Interestingly, an assistant job at Kansas was posted the first week of June. They got two new assistants early in 2018, so this development was very unusual. I applied. Since they were losing a female assistant, however, and it was a male head coach, I knew the prospects weren’t great.

UC Irvine also posted for an assistant coach. The head coach there is a younger female, who interestingly played professional volleyball in Germany and Croatia in cities I’ve actually visited.

Overseas

On May 15th the news hit that the head coach of the Polonia men’s team in London was leaving. I’d had interactions with one of the guys involved in the club before, so I reached out to him. He ended up asking me to send him my CV, which I did. I was not the first choice candidate, however. I heard from one of my contacts in England a couple days later that he’d been offered the job, though at the time he was debating his decision. He did eventually accept.

Actually, that same coach went on to strongly recommend me for the job he vacated at the University of Nottingham. Unfortunately, that was only going to be a part-time position, so it wasn’t going to work for me.

A couple of different contacts mentioned potential opportunities to coach in the German 2nd division. On May 22nd I sent an email to one of them on the women’s side – SV Bad Laer. That’s a small club in western Germany with a strong regional focus. Their 1st team plays in the northern part of the 2nd division. They are looking for a new coach for that team, who will also help with at the lower levels.

Academic

I applied for a post-doctoral position at the University of Warwick in England (not actually in Warwick, but rather in Coventry). My lead PhD supervisor recently moved there from Exeter where I got my degree and told me about it. Coincidentally, my initial lead supervisor moved there after my first year at Exeter. I didn’t make the short list, though.

Interviewing – Lake Erie

As noted above, I was a little late applying. It was to the point that I heard shortly after I did that they were already setting up interviews. So I didn’t expect much. Then I got an email from their HR in the last week of May asking me to submit a reference contact permission form. I thought maybe that was just pro forma, so I was surprised to get a call from the AD early on May 31st. She said the search committee told her they wanted to evaluate me further. Her role at that point was to give me some information about the school and the athletics department there. It basically anticipated a lot of questions that likely would come up. She did not interview me, but rather set up one for me with the search committee the following day.

That interview was perhaps the shortest I’ve ever had – only about 20 minutes. It started with a behavioral question asking me to talk about a time when I had to do something outside my job description. From there they asked me about my thoughts on academics and athletics on a small campus, plus my experience fund raising, managing budgets, handling scholarships, and interacting with trainers. They then gave me a chance to ask my own questions. Finally, the current grad assistant asked me two volleyball-specific questions. The first was my coaching philosophy. The second was to describe a typical practice.

About a week later the A.D. invited me to interview on campus on June 13th. So I went up and met with a whole bunch of staff, including the president. I also met with most, if not all, of the team – with three being included via Face Time. The AD told me there was one more candidate interviewing early the following week. After that they planned to make their decision in short order. Four weeks later the process was still, apparently, on-going. I saw some indications along the way that a couple others were offered the job ahead of me. At least one had turned it down. Rumor was then that they’d decided to interim the job for now and start over after the season. Then rumor indicated a new hire is about to be announced. Either way, I’ve heard nothing despite emailing the A.D. a couple weeks ago.

Interviewing – SV Bad Laer

About a week after I emailed the club I heard back from one of the senior coaches there, and on May 31st we did a Skype call as a kind of preliminary conversation. He answered some questions from me about the club, but only really asked me about my language skills and when I’d been to Germany before in return.

The coach I spoke with told me a conversation would follow with the club’s general manager. He was the one who’d make the decision. That never came to pass, though. On June 21st I received an email saying the club found their new coach. It wasn’t me.

Thinking about possible options

We’re obviously getting very close to the point where college teams in the US will be starting preseason. So that window is rapidly closing. At the same time, I’m not seeing a lot of realistic overseas opportunities. That being the case, I’m giving a lot of thought to what I could do over the next few months ahead of the start of the next college hiring cycle beginning in November/December. That assumes I don’t turn my attentions in another direction, of course.

Want to know what US college coaches do?

Thinking about a career coaching college volleyball in the US? If so, I’m about to educate on what you’re in for.

Below is the listing of job duties for an operations position, as posted by the University of Miami. At the upper levels of NCAA Division I the programs have people on staff with the titles Director of Volleyball Operations (DOVO), Operations Coordinator, or something along those lines. They are there to ease some of the administrative burden from the coaching staff.

The vast majority of college programs don’t have operations people, though. Nor do they have a technical coordinator, or someone like that, who runs the stats and video part of things. That means the coaches have to do it all themselves. And oftentimes it’s with fewer coaches than those big programs.

1. Works with compliance staff to create a culture of compliance to meet NCAA, ACC, University and departmental policies and procedures. Oversee compliance rules and regulations to maintain CARA hour and Time Management Plan limits and logs. Serves as a liaison to Compliance Office for National Letter of Intent Process. Insure that the NLI’s are prepared correctly and sent in the appropriate time frame. Works with coaches to get admissions applications returned and NCAA Eligibility items completed in a timely manner to facilitate final NCAA Eligibility Center certification on all student-athletes. Coordinates permissible correspondence to incoming student-athletes regarding financial aid, workout programs, orientation schedules, fall housing requirements, required physical documentation and equipment needs.

2. Coordinates all team travel with business office staff, including: coordination of flights, hotel and buses with travel coordinator, meals, submitting cash advance requests, tracking per diem distribution, creation of agendas and processes all spend authorizations.

3. Coordinate pregame meals for all home games.

4. Responsible for complimentary ticket lists for all ticketed events.

5. Assists in planning and execution of off-campus and on campus recruiting events. Serves as a direct representative of the University’s coaching staff to potential recruits and their families.

6. Coordinates all practice session scheduling and setup. Works with the game management and facility staff to coordinate home meets/games.

7. Processes all reimbursements and purchase requisitions.

8. Assists head coach and business office with monitoring of current fiscal year budget and formulation of next year’s budget.

9. Assist academic services with study hall and class attendance. Monitors the academic performance of the team with assigned academic counselor to achieve desirable academic outcomes.

10. Works with equipment staff to order and allocate all athletic equipment. Assist with creating purchase orders for equipment, outside services and office supplies.

11. Acts as a liaison to student athlete enhancement services including the student-athlete development staff, department nutritionist, department sports psychologist and strength trainer.

12. Plans and assists in the oversight of the annual team banquet.

13. Assist in coordination of scout video and statistical analysis both during competition and in preparation for competition.

14. Acts as a liaison to Marketing plan, sports information staff and fundraising efforts.

Now, lets add a few things to the list.

  • Planning and running practice, and match coaching
  • Develop scouting reports
  • Team and player meetings
  • Recruiting trips and recruit communication
  • Community outreach and press availability
  • Fundraising
  • Alumni relations

I could probably come up with a few more with some time, but I think that’s enough to make the point. College coaches are responsible for a whole lot of stuff! Kevin Hambly, shortly after taking over at Stanford, commented in an interview that only about 7% of his time actually involves working in the gym.

It’s worth noting that the majority of the stuff on the Miami list, and even some of the stuff I tacked on at the end, would be handled by a manager most places outside the US system. This is one of the things that can make it a real challenge for foreign coaches to make the jump into the US college system.

That first big question of many job interviews

Tell me/us about yourself and why you think you’re a good fit for XXXXX.

This question, in some form, features in a lot of interviews – among others, of course. You won’t get it every time, but interviewers use it as a common starting point to get an initial sense of you. Are you ready for it?

You could approach this question in two parts. First, there is your own experience and career development. Second, there is how that all fits in with the job you’re pursuing and the organization you’re trying to join.

Let me take each of those in turn, but starting with the second first. I’m going to assume you’re interviewing for a head coach position. You can follow a similar thought process if you are trying to get an assistant position, though. Likewise, just to keep the language simple, I assume you are interviewing with a school, but you could just as easily take the same approach when trying to get a club job.

The position and organization

The starting point to answer the “tell us..” question is to understand what the school is looking for in a head coach. This is not a simple question.

It’s really easy to think in terms of volleyball. The reality, though, is it often has more to do with culture and community. This is especially true when you’re talking about a smaller school and a smaller community.

If you’ve worked at the school, then you’ll know the culture – hopefully. If you haven’t, you’re going to have to try to learn something about it. That means a combination of research and thinking about things.

Your side of things

It’s really easy to use this question as a way to brag about all the great things you’ve done. Guess what? If it’s on your resume – and it probably is – then they already know that stuff.

Remember what I just said. This is about starting to gauge fit for the interviewer(s). That means whatever you say about yourself should tie in with the idea of fit. Just rattling off a bunch of stuff about how great you are likely isn’t going to accomplish that. It could even work against you.

Plan accordingly

The bottom line here is that you should plan for this question. Research the school as much as you possibly can to get a sense for what they are after in terms of that fit side of things. Once you have a good idea of things, think about how you can demonstrate that you would be a good fit.

And keep in mind that it’s not just about your coaching here. It could be about places you’ve lived or situations you’ve been in which aren’t even volleyball related. You’re basically trying to show that you have something in common.

So, prepare yourself!

Volleyball Coaching Job Search Log – May 16, 2018

I haven’t been on the job market since taking the position at Midwestern State (MSU). I decided to re-enter after the 2017 season. It wasn’t a situation where I needed to find a new job as it was in early 2016 when I left Sweden, or back in 2015 when I was getting ready to finish my time in England. This was more about looking to see if there was anything interesting out there. If so, put my hat in the ring for consideration.

Tentative initial foray

I actually did my first application for the head coach position at Fort Hays State. That’s a Division II school in Kansas. I haven’t coached against them, but in the last couple years MSU has played against some of the other teams in their conference. The former head coach resigned very early in the season. As a result, they opened the job up ahead of the normal cycle. I got the “Thanks for your interest…” email in mid-December, which was fine. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d want the job if offered. I’d have made my decision based on what I saw of the campus, facilities, people, etc.

Getting more serious

The second job I put in for was at Brown in late November. As you may know, I was assistant coach there from 2001 to 2006. The head coach I worked for then announced her retirement after 25 years. I’ve always had thoughts about returning to the Ivy League to coach if the chance ever came. They never responded, though, and announced a hire in late January.

Shortly after Brown I also applied to Boston College and Georgetown. Neither are teams with much history of success. There are significant questions as to the degree of support they are given. Why would I be interested in either job? Honestly, it has a lot to do with the schools themselves. Both are high caliber academic institutions in good locations. It’s the sort of environment I feel like I would really like to work in long-term. Both filled their positions in early January.

Along a similar line is DePaul. I applied there in early December. I heard through the grapevine relatively shortly afterwards, though, that they were already talking to candidates. That was confirmed by the email I got just before Christmas saying, “We have reviewed your credentials and have carefully considered your qualifications. While your skills are certainly impressive, unfortunately we have decided to pursue other candidates at this time for this position.” That’s one of the more pleasant rejection notes I’ve seen.

I also applied to another Ivy League school in February – Penn. Columbia was looking for a new head coach as well, but I have no desire to live in NYC. I actually saw something in mid-March indicating Penn had sent out “thanks, but no thanks” emails already, though I hadn’t received one yet. It did eventually come near the end of March.

A couple of alternative targets

I applied in mid-December for the head coach job at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The school doesn’t have the same academic reputation as the others I listed above, but it’s in an interesting part of the country. I did my grad school not too far away, so I’m familiar with the area. They filled the position in mid-February.

At the same time I applied to UMBC, I also put in for the head job at Arkansas Tech. This is a Division II program where the head coach stepped down after a pretty successful time at the helm. In 2017 they were 35-1 with their only loss coming in the NCAA tournament at the hands of one of the best teams in the country. I went back and forth on this one. The location isn’t something that got me excited. I also wondered what the upside could be. They aren’t in a great conference and have the misfortune of having one of the country’s best conferences in their NCAA Region. Yes, you can win a lot of matches if you do well, but for someone like me it would be a stepping-stone type of job – not a long-term situation. The position was filled in late January by an alum.

In February I applied for another Division II position – Fort Lewis, located in Colorado This is a team in the same NCAA Region as MSU. One of the motivating factors was the (now former) MSU women’s soccer coaching moving there. He’d actually coached at Fort Lewis before coming to MSU and was basically going home as far as he and his family was concerned. Fort Lewis is not a fully funded program, meaning in order get the full 8 scholarships allowed in Division II the coach needs to raise funds. They haven’t had a winning record in at least 10 years, but men’s soccer won a national championship, so competitiveness is doable.

A place I thought I’d really like

In the category of “I think I’d really like coaching there” jobs is the College of William & Mary. It is a school with a strong academic reputation and in an appealing part of the country to me. The program doesn’t have much of a history of success, however. The last winning season was 2009. They were bottom of the conference in both 2016 and 2017, and haven’t finished above 7th (of 9) since 2012. No response, even after the A.D. at MSU reached out to their A.D. on my behalf. The MSU A.D. was actually a bit annoyed that he never got a response. They announced a new hire in the latter part of January.

A local twist

Then an interesting, but not entirely unexpected thing happened.

When she returned from the holiday break, the MSU head coach announced her resignation effective at the end of January. She is married with an infant, but her husband (a basketball coach) worked in California. She spent the semester break out there with him and liked actually being a family. That might have accelerated a change that was probably coming before too much longer anyway.

It took the university until March 27th to finally post the position, so it was a rather lengthy process. I got a lot of questions from all angles about what was going on, as you might imagine. Naturally, I put in my application right away. The posting remained open for only the required 12 days.

Interviewing

In early March did a phone interview with Fort Lewis (I talk about one of the questions I got here). They told me at the time that they planned to move quickly as they currently had no volleyball staff. Through the interview it was clear they were thinking first about fit, which is not uncommon for a smaller school. I received an email about two weeks later that they’d filled the position. I was neither surprised nor hurt that I didn’t progress. So long as I was a real candidate for the MSU job, it would always be hard for me to accept a job for a less well-funded program, at a smaller school.

I got a call from MSU Human Resources on April 13th – while I was at team sand practice – to schedule my interview on April 19th for the head job. It wasn’t supposed to be the case, but mine ended up be the first because of someone’s getting rescheduled. They brought three others to campus the following week.

My interview featured four separate meetings. The first was the main search committee, as I understand it. The A.D. was there, along with the Athletics faculty liaison, the women’s basketball coach, our head trainer, and a booster who is also a local area volleyball coach. I then had lunch with two of the administrators, after which it was back for a second bigger meeting, That one featured our head strength coach, our department academic coordinator, and our sports information director as the primary questioners. The fourth and final meeting was with the team. The academic coordinator was in the room, but strictly in an observer capacity. She gave them a list of prepared questions they could use, but they also mixed in ones of their own.

Outcome

There were three other candidates interviewing for the MSU head coach position. One was an junior college coach from the region, another was a former area junior college coach currently assisting at the NCAA Division I level, while the third was an NCAA Division II coach from the region. The last of the interviews was on April 27th. We expected a decision the following week, but it didn’t come.

I finally found out my fate on May 11th. The Athletic Director gave me the bad news. Some conversations I had with him prior tipped me off that I wasn’t clearly the top choice, so mentally I had prepared myself for this outcome. This is despite acknowledgement from the A.D. that no one could touch me from an administrative/organizational perspective. That didn’t mean I was pleased, though. Head coaches from other teams in the conference were stunned. One went so far as to say, “Definitely a mistake on their part.”

After some probing, I learned a perceived comparative disadvantage in recruiting was the reason I wasn’t top choice. It seemed that I was given no credit for the freshmen we brought in this year (my first recruiting class), or for those we have signed to bring in next school year. Of course, it’s too early to say how those classes will turn out, but it’s been well-acknowledged in the Athletic Department that the caliber of athlete we have in the gym now is a significant upgrade. I was the member of staff who was out recruiting more than anyone else the last two years because I was the only one on staff who never had a juniors coaching schedule conflict (or pregnancy). Did they think only the head coach, or only our other assistant, handled recruiting?

And of course there’s also the fact that I had documented success recruiting in other places before coming here. That seems to have been ignored.

Moving forward

I made it clear to the A.D. at MSU that if I were not selected to be the next head coach I would move on. As I told him, I need to continue to develop as a coach in my own right, and staying on at MSU under someone else is very unlikely to provide that opportunity. I’m to the point in my career where I either need to run my own program or work for someone with significantly more experience – or be in a different environment all together.

The big advantage to being the “local” candidate for the head job at MSU is that while I may not have gotten the job, at least I got some meaningful feedback about how I presented my candidacy. The A.D. told me I did very well in my interviews. Clearly, though, I need to hit the recruiting element harder when I present myself – at least in situations where that is relevant.

So, the search is on-going at this point.

Coaching career motivations – ladder climbing vs. maximizing what you have

My friend Ruben Wolochin forwarded me a link to the Forbes article about Western Kentucky head coach Travis Hudson. I’d seen the article floating around, but hadn’t read it yet. I found it really interesting that an Argentine (Ruben) coaching in Germany (for top division team Bühl) forwarded it to me. Of course, the fact that a mainstream site like Forbes is writing about a volleyball coach is quite exciting for our sport.

Maximizing what you have

Ruben made a comment in our conversation related to Hudson’s performance.

Success means getting the best possible from your circumstances.

I agree with him 100%.

We don’t all have great athletes. Nor do we all have high quality facilities, or good support. We have to do the best we can with what we do have. Sometimes that means winning lots of matches and being a champion. Other times, though, the win/loss record doesn’t reflect the real accomplishment.

Perhaps the team I’m most proud to have coached is the 2013-14 Exeter women. Reaching the national semifinals that year was an accomplishment far beyond anything anyone would reasonably have expected. We had no scholarship athletes, but finished above teams with them. It was literally the best season we could possibly have had (the teams above us had FAR superior athletes and resources). We got the absolute most out of ourselves.

The experience of that season at Exeter reinforced in me the need to constantly look for ways to maximize performance and the rewards it can bring. That applies to everything. It’s not just about the on-court performance. Certainly, it seems like Hudson has been able to do that.

Ladder climbing

Flipping things around, my response to Ruben was that Hudson seems to know what’s important to him. The article highlights how he’s had plenty of opportunity to move on to a higher level for probably much more money. That doesn’t motivate him, though. He’s not interested in climbing the ladder, and he’s making plenty of money at Western Kentucky.

When I interviewed Mike Lingenfelter for Volleyball Coaching Wizards we talked at one point about finding your niche. That’s the idea that each of us as coaches should figure out where we best fit in the coaching spectrum. There are a lot of different age groups, competitive levels, and locations. Some suit us better than others.

Hudson’s clearly found what suits him. As a result, his personal satisfaction and sense of reward are extremely high. Going somewhere else would risk reducing that. Why bother?

Now, it’s true that sometimes you have to do the ladder climbing thing to reach where you want to be (I bemoaned the requirement for it at times in a previous post). And for sure some coaches are motivated toward greater prestige, earning more money, or whatever they perceive as the reward(s) of coaching at a higher level. I’m not here to argue what is the right or wrong motivation – only that each coach should understand their own (though we’re pretty bad at understanding what we’ll want or be like in the future).

Hudson said his motivations are, “… to help kids grow, see them graduate and develop them as people.” Do you know your motivation? I wrote about my own in the Why I Coach post.

Looking forward myself

The combination of getting the most from your situation and finding your niche is something I think about quite a bit when I consider my own situation moving forward. I’ve spoken with Ruth Nelson (another of the Wizards I’ve interviewed) on this subject. She was heavily involved in my move to Midwestern State, and we’ve talked career stuff a number of times since then. Motivation is a big part of that.

The thing I often wonder is whether I could do something like Hudson has done. I don’t mean take a team from obscurity to national significance. I actually did that already at Exeter. 😉

What I mean is whether I could become a lifer somewhere. Can I find a place where I’m able to settle and coach until retirement – whenever that might be? My history doesn’t really show much indication of being able to do so.

I honestly think the answer is yes, though. It comes down to the challenge.

Obviously, it is important to live in place I like and to work with good people. Beyond that, however, there needs to be the opportunity to continuously challenge myself and push things forward. And I’m not just talking about the volleyball. Organizing the Midwestern State team trip to Buenos Aires, for example, was a massive challenge that had nothing to do with the on-court work. Not that I don’t care about the team’s performance, because I definitely do. I just need for things to be multi-dimensional.

That’s what I’ll have in mind as I ponder my future career direction.

What you should know before taking an assistant coach position

An up-and-coming coach (I presume) asked the following question.

What are some things you wish you knew or had asked prior to taking your position?

NCAA Division I assistant coaches were the specific target, though most of the response applies across levels.

Your role

For me, the big question that comes to mind is what the head coach sees as my role. Early in my career I was in a position where I was effectively excluded from the practice planning. It was really annoying! I was trying to learn, and here I can’t take part in what I considered a key part of the job. That’s something I would have liked to know ahead of time. Might have made a different decision whether to take the position.

Head coach style/philosophy

I think you also want to try to get as much of a feel as you can with regards to the head coach’s style and philosophy. This can be hard in an interview type situation, or even in a more casual conversation. Ideally, you get to see the coach in action. That’s not always possible, though.

What you’re trying to do is to make sure you and the head coach are basically on the same page in terms of the way things will be run. You are not always going to agree on things. That’s a given. That’s not the same, though, as having completely different perspectives on how things should work. Such a situation will make you miserable.

Off-court duties

This one is especially important for newer coaches. If you haven’t coached in a similar type of environment, you may have no idea what gets done away from the court. There is basically no such thing as the coach who just handle coaching duties – at least not in a paid position. Even juniors club teams have administrative requirements for their staff. That work load gets bigger as you progress up the ranks.

  • What’s the recruiting workload and travel schedule?
  • How much time will you spend covering athlete study hall and tracking their academic performance?
  • Do you have to help with fund raising efforts?
  • Is there any community service or outreach work to be done?
  • Do you have to drive?
  • Who handle’s recording matches and video exchange?

These represent just a few of the things that could be part of the work you do as an assistant coach.

How much longer?

You should also possibly ask about how long the head coach plans to in their position. For some you can probably guess pretty easily. For others, it’s best to at least ask.

Best to at least have some idea what you’re getting yourself into before signing on!

Here’s some additional advice on being a good assistant and some thoughts for a former player coaching their prior teammates.

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, which is also included in his second book, A Fresh Season. 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.

The stages of a coaching career

A member of a coaching group in Facebook posted what he referred to as The 5 Stages of Your Coaching Career. Here they are with my own thoughts mixed with his in the description of each level.

1. Survival: Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

This is the time when you think you just need to know volleyball to be a volleyball coach. You especially haven’t realized yet all the other non-volleyball stuff that goes into coaching. Oftentimes these are players who have just made the shift into coaching.

2. Striving for Success: You Want Folks to Recognize You Can Coach

You’re starting to get an understanding of what coaching is really all about. You know much better what you don’t know, and that provides a certain type of motivation. On the one hand, you work hard to learn. On the other hand, it leads you to want to prove your worth. This leads some down the path of becoming extremely competitive. You crave the accolades that come from lots of W’s – all-league awards for your team, and maybe a coach of the year for you.

3. Satisfaction: You Relax, Set Another Goal, & Want To Get Better

That this stage you’ve achieved some of your goals, become established, and you have the confidence which comes with that. You can relax in the knowing you’re a good coach and you have the respect of your peers. You attend conferences to network and visit with old friends as much as you do to learn some new things. Each year you set new goals to accomplish that will push you and your team forward. You’re focused.

4. Significance: Changing Lives For The Good

At this point you’ve had a meaningful career with plenty of accomplishments. Personal glory isn’t much of a consideration any longer. Instead, you’re more focused on your legacy and the impact you have on those around you. You are very knowledgeable, and have reached the point where people solicit your opinion and ask for your help and wisdom.

5. Spent: No Juice Left, Can’t Do It Any More

The grind of it all is taking its toll, and you have a hard time motivating yourself each day. You want more time with family, and less time working generally. Not even the great incoming class excites you for the upcoming season. Probably time to hang it up.

Obviously, we all have our own particular career paths based on our own personalities, lives, and experiences. Some of us are inherently more competitive than others. Coaching may be an extension of that, especially if you’re a former player. Others of us come into coaching from more of an educational perspective. Those differences can play out in our own particular career phases.

I think, though, we generally all follow the arch described above. We are ignorant to start, learn what we don’t know, reach a level of mastery, look to give back, and then eventually wind things down.

What do you think? Does this progression make sense to you?

What are good questions to ask in a coaching job interview?

I wrote previously about questions I was asked in coaching interviews and questions you might hear when you interview for a coaching job. Obviously, you need to prepare for questions like that. You also, however, must be ready to ask questions of your own. In many interviews the final question you receive is, “Do you have any questions for me/us?”

So what types of questions should you prepare to ask your interviewer(s)?

I think there are three main categories of questions you need to consider. Which ones you go with depend on the situation and job.

Demonstrate knowledge of requirements

If you interview for a job that is outside your direct experience, it may be a particularly important for you to focus on demonstrating that you know what it takes to coach at that level. For example, moving up from assistant coach to head coach, or moving between NCAA divisions. Some of what you are asked is designed to assess you at this level. You can help your case, though, by asking good questions.

Show knowledge of the team/program/club

The second type of questions you can ask relates to demonstrating knowledge of the team or program and its history. If you have played and/or coached for the program in the past this isn’t a big deal. The connection will be obvious to the interviewer. If you haven’t, though, you want to demonstrate some kind of knowledge of and/or affinity for it. Much of this will come through in how you answer the questions posed to you. You can, however, reinforce it by how you ask your own questions. For example, you could start a question with something like, “I know in the past ….”.

Get the information you need to make a decision

The final type of questions you want to ask in an interview is the sort that helps with your own decision-making process. You want to develop as complete a picture as you can about what it will be like coaching that team and working in that school, athletic department, club, etc. Many of these sorts of questions overlap with the other types mentioned above. There might be some, though, that are more personal for you.

Some possible questions

Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • What is the program’s funding (scholarships)?
  • What are the roster requirements (min/max)?
  • How many assistants will I have?
  • What sort of fund raising do I have to do?
  • Is there an active booster club?
  • What sort of match attendance does the team get?
  • What is the recruiting budget?
  • Are there specific recruiting limitations?
  • How do we travel?
  • How do we split gym time with basketball when the seasons overlap?
  • What do I get for court time (club coach)?
  • What are the performance expectations for the team?
  • Will we have a dedicated athletic trainer?
  • Will we have a dedicated strength coach?
  • What is the overall coaching philosophy (for assistants or club coaches)?
  • What is my coaching role and administrative responsibility (assistants)?
  • Who is my direct report (Athletic Director, SWA, Technical Director, Club Director, etc.)?

That last one ties in with a bunch of potential questions about your relationship with your future boss. You certainly want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like working with/for them.

This is obviously just a partial list of possible questions. You need to do your research and give some real thought to how you want to present yourself, as well as what information you want to gather for your own purposes.

It’s OK to walk into an interview with a list

The bottom line in terms of questions is that you want to reinforce the things that you think make you a good candidate for the position, and you want to collect information for your own purposes. If you go to the interview with a list of questions you want to ask you look prepared – so long as you don’t ask questions basic research should have answered already. If you ask specific, thoughtful questions you demonstrate a clear interest in the position and the broader organization.

You don’t want to go overboard, of course. If the questions are too much about you, it could turn the interviewer(s) off. Always remember, they are looking for someone they think will fit into their organization. Until you are offered the job, you have to maintain a “what’s in it for them” approach with respect to hiring you.

Hope that helps. If you have any thoughts or suggestions of your own, definitely share. Just leave a comment below.

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