I came across an online discussion initiated with the following question:

In terms of career development, is it better to be a head coach of a struggling NCAA D3 team or an assistant coach of an established NCAA D3 program?

To my mind, where you are in your career strongly influences the answer to this question. For someone early in their career, being an assistant at an established program has some real advantages. It’s potentially a good opportunity to learn from an experienced coach. There’s more to being successful than what happens during practice and matches. You can learn these things under someone else’s tutelage.

If you have a bit of experience as an assistant on your resume already, though, then getting a head coaching job is a valuable progression. No matter how much time you’ve put in as an assistant, it’s always different being the one in ultimate charge of things as the head coach.

But let me speaking to the “struggling” part of this question. Ultimately, you will be judged by how you do in the context of any job you hold. You may not end up with a good win/loss record coaching at a traditionally weak program. That doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish meaningful things, though. And I’m not just talking about on the court. Athletic Directors want to know you can do the job in all your other areas of responsibility. Even winning coaches get fired for failure to fulfill their other job requirements.

So are you in a position where you should think about learning how a good program works? Or are you at the stage where you should get some experience running your own program? That is what decides it for me.

One other note. Even if you think you might become an assistant coach at a higher level, having head coach experience is valuable. That extra awareness of what a program needs – and where the head coach needs help – makes you very useful!

Second note: This applies not just to Division III, but to any level.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.