Once upon a time I discussed the idea of deciding who are the best volleyball coaches. Shortly thereafter I came across someone’s list of the top coaches in NCAA Division III. That list only includes currently active coaches. There’s a secondary list of those now retired or otherwise no longer coaching in D3.

The first observation I would make about this list is that no criteria was actually included. The author just posted up bio info for a collection of coaches. We therefore don’t know the basis who made it and who didn’t. Nor do we know why one coach is on the list and another is honorable mention. We also know if the order in which the coaches are presented is actually meant to be a ranking or just a random listing.

Second, to my mind this is probably better titled a most accomplished list. All these coaches have certainly achieved quite a bit in terms of winning, championships, and NCAA tournament participation, but that doesn’t inherently make them the best. They could simply be in a really advantageous competitive situation. As I suggested in my previous post, it doesn’t take a particularly good coach to win when you have the best players.

I’ll use an example from last year’s UK university (BUCS) season to demonstrate my point.

Durham was a team full of former US collegiate and other relatively high caliber players. They did not have a coach – at least not a regular one. Despite that, they won the national championship. On their way to doing so, not only did they pound on virtually everyone who got in their way, they beat the one team with a comparable level of talent in the championship match – a team with multiple coaches!

At any level where a coach has control over the players on their roster, recruiting is a major factor in determining their level of success. The Durham case demonstrates that pretty well. I would, therefore, differentiate between good recruiting and good coaching. Think of recruiting as buying the groceries and coaching as cooking the meal, to use an old analogy. An excellent cook will be able to make the best out of whatever ingredients they have at hand, though the best doesn’t necessarily mean a gourmet meal.

Of course I mean no slight toward the coaches on this list. They might all be fantastic. And I do like that all the attention from this perspective isn’t just being focused on Division I. For once, though, I would love to see a discussion of coaches who do a great job with lesser talent, fewer resources, etc.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that women dominate the aforementioned rankings. I present that without comment. 😉

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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.

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