Looking to get into coaching volleyball at the college level? Not sure how to get your foot in the door? Hopefully, this post will help you along the way.

Education

First of all, you will almost certainly need a college degree. For a head coach, a Masters is quite often strongly preferred. It probably doesn’t matter massively the subject, though something that at least looks like it’s related to coaching probably helps.

Coaching certifications

I don’t recall ever having seen an official college job posting in the US that even mentions coaching certifications (e.g. USA Volleyball CAP). That doesn’t mean they completely ignore it. Rather, it’s not a high priority item – particularly for head coach hiring. Head coaches hiring assistants probably give it more weight, however.

Playing experience

By the time you reach the point of applying for a head coach position (except at the lower levels), playing experience generally isn’t that big a deal. As an assistant, however, it can be quite influential – especially if your experience is on par with the level you’re trying to coach. If nothing else, you playing in training could be part of the job. Playing experience – especially either with that college or with one where you had a good deal of success – can also come in handy when applying for low level college head coaching positions.

Coaching experience

If you’re just trying to get into college coaching at the ground level as a low level assistant coach, prior coaching experience isn’t a huge deal. It’s definitely a resume booster, but head coaches (at least outside the upper levels) don’t expect the bottom end of their coaching staff to have much experience. That’s basically the whole idea. You’re there to learn and be cheap labor!

If you’re thinking to enter college coaching as a head coach – which you certainly can do at the lower levels of Division III and in the Junior College (JUCO) ranks – then prior coaching experience is a must. Running a successful high school program is something that will get attention.

Where to focus

For most folks the best way to get into college coaching is as a lower level assistant. I got my start as the assistant coach at a JUCO. I had very little prior coaching experience going in – just some helping out at my old high school. That was entirely a part-time job I did after work. A lot of JUCO and Division III positions are like that. If you’re looking at NCAA Division I or II, though, the most common way to get that foot in the door is to get a Graduate Assistant position, or to volunteer.

While the above is generally how more inexperienced coaches make the move into college, there’s another option for more experienced ones. For example, if you have head coached at a high school, and have a good record of success, you can try getting into college coaching as a head coach. You’d have to target lower level programs in Division III (sometimes Division II also), or go the JUCO route, and you’d be up against folks with assistant coaching experience at those (or higher) levels, but it’s very doable.

Contacts

No matter which path you take, you’ll want connections. Networking is HUGE in the coaching job market. That means you want to get out and spend time with folks at the level of coaching you want to target. Work camps. Go to clinics and conferences. Hang out in their gyms. Find opportunities to do more coaching. Let people get to know you and see what you’re capable of.

Additional thoughts

Coaching as a full-time vocation is a tough nut to crack. You really have to put in the work to get there, and you have to be willing to sustain a pretty fully-involved lifestyle. It can really consume your life, so it’s not an easy thing to get into with a family or other significant commitments in your life. And it probably goes without saying that you don’t do it for the money.

I should note that if you are a non-US citizen, the path is a bit more challenging.

You may also be interested in these posts:

Have you made the jump from high school and/or club coaching into the college ranks? If so, I’d love to hear how you did it.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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