College volleyball is not the end of the line

At USA Volleyball they express a philosophy. They tell coaches in the various educational programs that we should never be a player’s last coach. In the context of youth volleyballers, that’s a pretty easy mentality to take. At its most altruistic, coaching at that level is about bringing kids into the volleyball tent and keeping them there. From what can sometimes be a more materialistic perspective, the focus is on developing players for collegiate recruitment – or in the case of much of the the world outside the U.S., progress up the club ranks in a professional structure. The problem comes when you reach what many people view as the pinnacle of the sport in America – the college game.

College volleyball is not the end

Yes, there is the national team. The vast majority of college coaches, though, don’t give much thought to even that. After all, only players from the top programs make it into the national program. Basically, they just expect their players to graduate and go get a job in the real world.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s a whole bunch of former US collegiate players who have gone on to play overseas after graduation. USA Volleyball reports that more than 300 American players file for international transfer certificates (required to play outside your own country). About 2/3rds of them are women.

For some of them it’s about continuing their education and using their volleyball skills to pay their way. I coached against a few of those players in my time coaching BUCS in England. Former Stetson University assistant coach Scott Tunnell is an example of this sort of player. A handful of universities in the UK activity recruit former US college players with Master’s degree scholarships. Not a bad way to continue your education and get an experience living and playing abroad.

Of course the headline players are the ones who go on to play in top foreign profession leagues. The New York Times has been the highest profile news outlet to pick up on the story. Volleyball Magazine had an article on the subject and I came across an interesting piece on Facebook as well. And Americans are not the only ones going this route. Canadians are in on the party as well.

It isn’t only the household name volleyball players going pro, though. A former player of mine from my Brown coaching days played on teams in Belgium, Holland, and England. Brown is hardly the sort of program anyone would expect to produce professional volleyballers, but she went on to have a great experience playing abroad.

It’s not just about going pro overseas

On top of the international opportunities, we cannot forget domestic beach volleyball, USA Volleyball indoor club play, and any potential pro league that might develop. The point is college coaches shouldn’t be looking at their programs as the final stop in their player’s coaching journey. We need to maintain that USA Volleyball philosophy of not being a player’s last coach.

One of the more rewarding experiences of my coaching at Exeter was having a Danish exchange student who spent a semester with the team tell me at the end she enjoyed her volleyball so much that she was going to try to find a way to keep playing when she got back home. We should all be aiming to have that kind of impact on our athletes. If nothing else, the better their experience with us the more likely they’ll be to support the program – and the sport in general – in the future!

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed 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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