Here’s a potentially provocative question I came across in a volleyball coaches group. It clearly comes from a US perspective.

Will we ever get to the point of not paying coaches (EDIT: in youth sports)? I know that is blasphemous but the other youth sports such as football, Little League, basketball, soccer are all volunteers (mostly Dads). My son was paid pretty well coaching volleyball at a big time club but he also coaches his son in Pop Warner and spends hours developing plans for his 7 assistants (but this IS big time 9 year old football!!!😂) all for free including his assistants. I understand that in the past, there were just not enough knowledgeable people (parents) to coach volleyball so to get people who didn’t have children playing, it was necessary to pay people. But with the ‘explosion’ of the sport, why don’t we have enough parents now who have played that care enough that will coach for free (at least their own children’s team)?

The cheeky response

As noted, most of the volunteer coaches in the sports listed are dads. I think it’s pretty safe to say that dads who are former players (and even many who aren’t) are much more … ummm … let’s say “confident” in their ability to coach than are moms. There are way more moms who are former volleyball players than there are dads. As a result, not as many willing parent coaches as you find in other sports.

The more serious response

I think there are a couple of contributing factors here. Let me tackle them individually.

Ages: For a long time kids didn’t start volleyball – at least in large numbers – until high school. It’s only been relatively recently that we’ve started getting kids into the sport before middle school in any real numbers. And in many places that’s still not a big thing. Usually it’s in those younger age groups that you have volunteer parent coaches in other sports.

Juniors: Perhaps related to the age thing, volleyball has never had the equivalent of Little League. Kids go straight into junior volleyball. Juniors is pay-to-play, just like “travel” teams are in other sports. Once parents have to pay their expectations of coaching caliber rise.

No town/city recreational support: Things like Little League are often supported and funded as part of a municipal recreation program. These are the platforms where you tend to see the highest level of parental volunteer coaching. In most places volleyball hasn’t had that kind of support. Thus, little demand for volunteers.

Still playing: This takes things in a bit of a different direction, but it’s worth nothing that a lot of folks who might be volunteer coaches are still active players. Volleyball is a sport people play well into their adulthood. You don’t see Pop Warner football coaching dads still strapping on the pads!

There are lots of volunteers

That said, there are still a lot of folks who volunteer their time in our sport. Some of them are coaches in the growing number of youth programs. Many of them are administrative staff. This even happens at so-called professional levels. When I coached in Sweden, the whole board of the club and match-day staff was volunteer.

Plus, let’s be honest. Many coaches are paid so little that they might as well be volunteers. I once did the math when I was a Junior College assistant. My stipend worked out to something like $0.10/hr.

You get what you pay for

I need to make one final comment in response to this query. And it’s one I saw that came up in several comments to the post. Ultimately, if you want good coaching you’ll need to pay for it. While a former player may be sufficient to teach kids how to play the sport, when it comes to actually developing them, that experience isn’t enough. It takes specific coaching education and experience to do it well. The majority of volunteer coaches won’t put in the time, effort, and money it takes.

I’m not saying we need everyone involved in coaching to be qualified and experienced. Clearly, we don’t. At some point, though, it becomes necessary.

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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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