The travel is just a bit longer here

Back when I was coaching at the University of Exeter in England we griped a bit about some of the longer conference trips. We’re talking mainly about having to go to Bath and Bournemouth. In England if you’re going north/south you’re usually going to be able to do it on a major motorway. Going east/west isn’t quite the same. The roads are much smaller, making for much slower going.

Bournemouth isn’t actually that far from Exeter as the crow flies, but it was entirely east/west travel. That means 2.5 hours of 2-lane roads with frequent roundabouts. Not fun, though with some nice scenery. Bath does at least have part of the trip on the motorway, but the rest is on smaller roads with lots of speed changes (one year the players complained of being nauseous on the mini-bus trip there because of that). By comparison, Cardiff was an easy ride because it was all motorway, despite being further in distance.

When we got promoted from Western Division 1 to Southern Premier League for my third year at Exeter, the travel got extended – adding places like Sussex, Cambridge, and Warwick. The trips got up to maybe 5 or 6 hours. In terms of non-league play, we had to go to Edinburgh for 2014 Final 8s, which was about 10 hours (teams had to go there for playoff matches in 2015 and 2016 as well).

When I was at Svedala in Sweden most of the trips were less than 3 hours. All the ones into the Copenhagen area to play Danish teams were about an hour. The travel to the northern group of teams (only played once in the regular season) were 4-6 hours. We had about a 10 hour trip to Uppsala for Gran Prix, but weather made that longer than it would have otherwise been.

Now, here’s the map of where Midwestern State will play in 2016.

MSU-Travel-Map

Texas A&M Kingsville is the most southern point (near Corpus Christi). Google tells me that’s about 8 hours drive from Wichita Falls (red X). That’s a conference match.

Topeka is our most northerly destination (Washburn University). It’s where we play a tournament the first weekend of the season. That’s like 6.5 hours. In terms of conference destinations, West Texas A&M in Canyon (near Amarillo) is the furthest north, but it’s more west in terms of distance.

The long trip is a new edition to our league – Western New Mexico in Silver City. That’s about 11 hours away. They are 6+ hours away from Eastern New Mexico, where we play on the same trip. That’s going to be no fun at all. So happy to have them!

Fortunately, at MSU we have charter buses. No player or parent – or coach – driving as was the case in my last two coaching stops. I’m going to have lots of time to listen to podcasts and read!

The value of personality testing with your team

As I mentioned in a coaching log post, the MSU team once did a session with a sports psychology specialist. He took them through a basic DISC personality type analysis (Myers-Briggs is another common one). This was part of a semester-long process of working with the team to improve team chemistry and cohesion.

As is often the case, the findings of the tests were interesting. The guy leading the session did a good job of providing information about what the different personality types represented. He also talked about their meaning in terms of developing good lines of communication across groups.

Obviously, this sort of testing isn’t meant to provide a deep analysis of each player (and coach, in this case). And just thinking in terms of individuals by their primary group would be a mistake. There’s a lot of overlap and nuance. Still, to my mind it’s a worthwhile exercise. I helps in figuring out the best ways to reach a player and for players to communicate with each other.

Once isn’t enough

That said, just doing the test once and thinking that’s all you need to do is not sufficient if you really want to follow this path.

Obviously, if you’re in a situation where you’re basically starting a new team each season, then you’d have to do a new analysis every time. If you coach a school or professional team then you need to account for the fact that you have players (and coaches) regularly flowing in and out of the team. That means new testing requirements and constantly changing team composition.

On top of that, just doing the test and having a talk about it one time is almost assuredly not enough for the lessons to stick. They need to be reinforced on a regular basis over time, in some fashion or another. That might be something the coaching staff can handle, or it might require having an outside expert making regular appearances.

Cost – Benefit

And of course there is usually some kind of cost involved.

At a minimum, there is a time requirement. This is something you have to consider. That’s especially true where you have something like NCAA weekly hour limitations to think about.

If you bring in someone from outside, there’s probably a financial cost involved. That means making a decision on the prospective gains from the personality testing, or any other type of psychology work. Is it worth the investment? For some the answer will be, “Yes.” For others, either because of other priorities or because of limit funds, it’s a different story.

I think it is very worth us coaches understanding these sports psychology principles. We may not use them explicitly at any given point in time. It’s always good, though, to know what tools are available to us to accomplish what needs doing when the priorities line up and the resources are available.

Properly professional or just participating?

Once up a time, on his Facebook page, Mark Lebedew commented that, “Professional sport is not for clubs who want, but for clubs who can.” Mark told me he made that observation based on something a mutual friend of ours had to say combined with a bankruptcy issue in the top German league.

I heard that at the end of the 2015-16 season there were four bankrupt teams in Bundesliga 1 on the women’s side. That is pretty amazing. Even more so when supposedly the women’s side of the game in Germany is stronger than the men’s (it was suggested to me that was because the women’s side is more cooperative). Might be even more amazing when you consider that you don’t tend to have spendthrift operations there.

Competition vs. Participation

Mark extended his comment. He brought up the idea that you’d be better off with fewer teams who are stronger than more teams. You don’t just want them there for the sake of having some defined number in the league. Basically, competition vs. participation. It’s something fledgling sports leagues definitely deal with.

Major League Soccer (MLS) is an example of this. In it’s early years the talent was spread very thin. Things are much better now, obviously, but it took a while to get there. And the league has been expanding fairly steadily over the years. That dilutes the talent if players of a high enough caliber are not brought in to fill those squads.

Here’s the thing, though. MLS has a salary cap structure. It’s a bit fluid these days, but in the early-going it was very rigid. That served to keep teams on an even playing field, at least with respect to the player talent. This is something you don’t generally see in professional sports leagues around the world. In German volleyball, for example, two clubs dominate the men’s league. They have far more in the way of financial resources. Everyone else plays for the scraps. I talk about this gulf in competitive level some in my Professional volleyball country league rankings post.

Mark may not have been specifically taking on that particular issue in professional volleyball (or other sports for that matter). There is definitely the question, though, of whether teams are legitimately there to try to compete or just there for the sake of being able to say they are.

I’d say in some respects it was the latter case for Svedala, where I coached in Sweden. Part of the club wanted to be legitimately competitive in the Elitserie. Part of it, however, saw the focus of the club as the youth teams. The pro team was just a sort of marketing tool. Certainly, putting national youth academy teams in the first division – as happens in both Sweden and Germany – strikes me as being more about participation.

Making it sustainable

Personally, I would really like to see teams in our sport – be they professional or collegiate – reach a level where they can be self-sustained. What does that mean? To my mind in means bringing in revenue which is not heavily dependent on just one or two big sources – like major sponsors. What happens if those sponsors pull out? That’s at least some of the issue with clubs in Germany.

We’re a long way from being there, especially without the big television contracts enjoyed by other sports. It’s something we can work toward, though.

Coaching Log – Apr 11, 2016

This is an entry in my Midwestern State volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Monday
Not a great session overall. Whether it was simply a Monday morning issue or there was lingering fatigue from Saturday’s play, the team was a bit listless. Communication wasn’t where it needed to be and neither was focus.

Deep serves and serve reception were two of the focus points for this sessions, and they got threaded into things throughout.

The session started with some short court play based on balls in/near the net – including jousts. We had them play a trio of 3 v 3 games to 7 with a coach initiating a ball to start each rally. After that we progressed them to simple target serving. They had to put 10 balls into about the last meter or so of the court.

This was followed by 3s games. That brought serve reception in. We used Tennis Serving to encourage the players to keep working on the hard deep serves. Also, because we wanted to keep working on block positioning and penetration over the net, we put them on a narrow court and allowed front court attacks. That encouraged them to have someone at the net blocking.

From there we moved to full court back row Winners 4s. This was mainly about working on defense against back court attacks and getting hitters to do more transitioning ahead of their attacks. We used fixed MBs at the net (so three teams of three with a MB joining each team on-court), which let them work more on blocking. Tennis serving remained in place.

After that we did a hitter transition exercise. It was 4 v 6 with the 4 side having two hitters in their positions (e.g. two OHs – one front row, one back row), plus a defensive player and the setter. The 4s side defended one half of the court and received a down ball from over the net to start each rally. They then played out the rally. If a hitter failed to transition properly, the 6 team received a point. Otherwise it was normal scoring for a fixed time. We did one round each of OHs, OPPs, and then MBs. We then did a second round where we pair an OH and an OPP attacking through Zone 4.

From there we moved on to a first ball kill drill. One side received every serve until they got three first ball kills (otherwise the rally was played out). We started with Rotation 4, which was our weakest side out rotation on Saturday. After that we progressed through a couple of others that also had some struggles.

We finished up with a couple rounds of Scramble. That was included to work on calming down the more panicky stuff we were seeing.

Although there were a couple of lapses, the group was probably most focused during Scramble. That was probably the general best segment of the session. We were happy, though, with what we saw in the serving. In contrast to Saturday where many of our misses were in the net, in this case the misses in this practice during the game play were main long, which is definitely the more desirable.

Tuesday
This was an off day. NCAA rules require that players be given at least 2 days off each week during Spring training. Since were playing on Saturday we had to give the team a day off during the week. Tuesday is normally group sessions rather than team, so it made sense for this to be the day chosen.

Wednesday
The two major things we worked on today was serve and pass and hitters working on scoring against a well-formed block. In the case of the former, we played games of servers vs passers where we gave the passers a point for a 3 or 2 pass, and a point to the servers for aces or 1 passes. We didn’t penalize servers for missed serves unless they were in the net or were back-to-back. In those cases we gave a point to the passers. We played games to 10-12 points. They ended up being pretty competitive in terms of the scores.

For the hitting we did something motivated what I saw at the 2015 USA Volleyball HP Coaches Clinic. It features a narrow pin hitting zone defined by antennae put about 6′ (2m) apart. We had two hitters alternating swings against a double block with a pair of defenders playing behind them. The hitter’s side had a setter and two others to cover them.

The goal for each hitter was to get 5 points. If a ball was blocked, covered, and then was killed, they got 2 points. Otherwise, kills were worth a point. Errors were not counted to encourage aggressive swings. When a hitter reached 5 points they were replaced with another hitter.

Thursday
Team practice was replaced with a session with a sports psychologist. He took the team (and staff) through a basic DISC analysis. It was interesting to see the distribution. Of the 10 players on-hand (one is off to a SAAC conference), 2 were D’s, 2 were I’s, 2 were S’s, and the other 4 C’s. Interestingly, the coaching staff was evenly divided between I’s and C’s. Want to guess which category I fell into?

Friday
We introduced the team to two new games today. The first was the Brazilian 2-ball volleyball tennis game we played regularly when I was coaching at Svedala. Not surprisingly, they had fun with it. The second was the Belly Drill. Maybe that one wasn’t quite as fun – at least not in the same way. 😉

The rest of practice was primarily comprised of the servers vs. passers game we played on Wednesday and the first ball kill drill we did on Monday. In the case of the latter, we went through all six rotations to get ready for Saturday’s home tournament.

Saturday
We hosted a Spring tournament. We were supposed to play four matches, but one team needed to turn up late, so we sacrificed our first match to allow their opponent to still have a match in the early time slot. Probably for the best. We did a lot of player rotation, but it would have probably been too much as we’ve got a few players who are banged up one way or another.

The competition in our first two matches wasn’t great, though one of the teams did put us under a fair bit of pressure in serve receive. The last match was against Lone Start Conference rivals Cameron. They didn’t serve particularly tough, so we passed well. We did get stuck in rotations a couple of times.

The other two assistants stepped up the stat-keeping by doing in-rally work using Rotate 123, so we have some hitting figures beyond the kills and errors. We hit .260 in our first match, which wasn’t a great performance. Things got better in the second one where we hit .462. In the Cameron match we hit a respectable .315.

That last match was very closely contested. We should have won both the full sets as we had late leads, but lost by 2 in both cases. It was similar to the second set in our final match the week before. The offense clearly did well. We just needed to a be better on defense and exhibit some higher Volleyball IQ. In the first set we actually put three free balls we had to send over out of bounds.

So, some good stuff with plenty of room for improvement.

Three of our incoming players were at the tournament, plus a likely transfer was there playing for one of the other teams. After play ended we did a little clinic for some youngsters, then went out to the football stadium for the Spring Game festivities.

Advice to foreign coaches on getting a job in the US

I received an email from a coach in England. This person asked how someone like him can coach in the States. It’s something I wrote about a while back. Here’s his query, though:

I am just wondering how I go about getting into coach in a programme in America. It is my dream one day to coach out there and I am only 28 so I have a lot of time however I would like guidance on how to get there. Any thing you could help me with that would be great

I will be honest. It’s hard for foreign coaches to get jobs in the US. There are three main reasons.

  1. Visa sponsorship – Many schools simply won’t sponsor and pay the cost of a foreign coach’s visa to work in the US. Frankly, there are usually more than enough domestic applicants. They need not bother look abroad. And even if they are willing, it may not last. One of my U.K. coaching contacts ran into this issue. He got a job coaching at a college in the States. During the year the school said it would not renew his visa for a second year, though.
  2. Recruiting experience – Recruiting is a HUGE part of college volleyball coaching in the US. Foreign coaches simply don’t have any experience with this. That’s both in terms of the American youth volleyball system and the rules which govern recruitment.
  3. Cultural differences – There are some meaningful differences between how things operate in US volleyball and how they work elsewhere in the world. The social interaction between coaches and players – or lack thereof – is top of that list.

Now, experience overcomes some if this stuff. One can learn about recruiting and the cultural of college athletics (not just volleyball) by getting an opportunity to actually be part of a program in the US. There are two ways a foreigner can get their foot in the door that potentially get around the visa problem.

  • Graduate Assistant (GA) – I’ll admit I don’t know a ton about the grad assistant hiring process. Most colleges and universities, though, deal with international students all the time. They have established policies and procedures to sort them out with visas and the like. It is much easier to get a student visa than a standard working one in most cases. That makes this a potential route into US college coaching.
  • Volunteer Assistant – If you’re not an actual employee you don’t need to have a work visa. That makes a volunteer coaching position a viable option for non-citizen. You need to investigate how long you can stay in the States as a tourist, though. I think it’s 90 days, but I haven’t looked it up. It may depend on your nationality.

Obviously, the advantage to the GA position is it’s paid. Plus, you earn a degree that is often sought after for head coach hirings in the US. If you volunteer you have to pay your own way, though there may be some opportunities to earn a bit of money.

The NCAA website is one place to look for postings. There is also an annual job posting thread on the Volley Talk forum (Men/Women) where you can find postings for GA and volunteer positions. For those who don’t know, there are WAY more jobs in women’s volleyball than in the men’s game in the US.

Of course it’s always a good idea to network as much as possible.

The tricky bit in all this is that if you do actually land a GA or volunteer position you have the issue of still needing a work visa to stay on once your time there is done. You will probably need to find a pretty well-funded program to get sustained visa support to the point where you can get your green card.

All that said, for someone from an EU country it is probably far easier to look for coaching work in one of the professional leagues in Europe. Admittedly, though, there probably aren’t as many full-time positions as in the US. Then again, there also aren’t as many folks not needing visa support competing for those jobs either.

Scoring System: 25 or reset

Here’s something you can use if you want to work on your team closing out a set (and fighting back). It’s a scoring system we’ve used at Midwestern State, and a variation on stuff I’ve seen in other places and have used myself.

In our case we started the scoring at 19-19 for a 6 v 6 game. The sides alternated receiving down balls until one side reached set point. When that happens, they serve for set point. If they fail to win the point, their score resets to 19. Play continues until one side wins on their serve. We ran this game by rotation as in this version there is no rotation.

There are a number of potential variations:

  • You could start with a different score. You can even use an uneven score if you have unbalanced teams, for example.
  • Make it a regular game by having rallies start with a serve and normal rotation
  • You can incorporate bonus points if there’s something you want to have as a focus, though you would still want the winning point to only come via the service rally.
  • You can use this scoring system for small-sided games, and not just for 6 v 6.
  • A missed serve after a certain point (e.g. 20) could reset that team’s points.
  • Instead of initiating with a coach’s down ball you could have a player send over a free ball, or have them attack and out-of-system ball.

These are just some possible ways you can tweak things to do what you want to do. I’m sure you can think of others.

Why no high level teams playing a 4-2 system?

It’s another trip to the (e)mail bag for this post. The coach of a boys’ junior varsity team has a question about running an international 4-2.

As a JV coach … I’ve found that the learning curve (especially for the boys) is so steep, that simplicity is often the best strategy. This is why I’ve moved to an international 4-2 system (with no back row switches). After 2 seasons of experimentation (with both the girls and the boys JV teams), I think I’ve stumbled onto something that really works.

Several refs and coaches have asked me about it. Most raise a scoffing eyebrow as if it were too simple. But the scoreboard doesn’t lie. Simple works. Defense (with no penetrating setter) works. And since JVs so often overpass, the front row setter jump-and-dump turns that negative into a positive almost every time.

I know we’re not supposed to make the players fit the system, but rather the other way around. However, there is virtually no combination of players that does not fit into my 4-2. Plus, my kids can run slides in six rotations, which is about the only jumping technique (i.e., the lay-up) that they come in knowing already, and which virtually no other JV team in our area ever sees coming at them.

Because we had so much success with it at the JV level, our girls varsity is probably going to run it next season.

Is there a question in all of this? Yes. Why don’t we see the 4-2 more often at higher levels? Is it really too simple? Has anyone ever won championships using the international 4-2? I mean, sure, there are only 2 hitters. But a 5-1 is a 4-2 half of the time. And in high school, unless you have a lefty who can hit, how many points does your opposite really account for? (Not much, in my experience). And at the higher levels, it isn’t difficult to find a reliable back row attack. Plus, the gains you get in having 3 solid defenders the entire time, without the setter having to worry about vacating right back too early is, well, hard to quantify. But I think they’re real. I think that’s why we usually win, even with kids who don’t come in with club experience and only so-so athleticism.

First of all, sometimes winding back the clock and making use of old systems and strategies is exactly what’s called for in a given situation.

Second, the 4-2 system (usually the international version) is very frequently employed in developmental situations. For example, I know from seminars that Volleyball England uses it at the national level. I think it is employed up to U15s (4-2 first, then moved to 6-2). They don’t go to a single setter system until U17s. I’ve heard of others who follow a similar pattern. The V.E. idea is to use the 2-setter system to develop a greater number of setters in the pipeline. That is definitely worth thinking about in a high school JV situation.

Why not at higher levels?

Now, the question is why you don’t see the 4-2 in use at higher levels of play.

As you move up the levels of play, you quickly reach the point where transitions from the back row are not a major issue. This is especially true in the men’s game where they can so easily cover the ground. Yes, you’d probably get better defense in Zone 1 if you always had a dedicated defender there. Certainly, that’s better than someone who tends to cheat and bail out regularly. It’s a trade-off, though.

I’d venture to say that most coaches would favor a single setter system if asked the question. The consistency of set location and tempo, of play-calling and decision-making, and of leadership on the court having just one setter are generally seen as superior to a 2-setter system. In the US women’s collegiate game you do see some teams using a substitution-based 6-2 (setters only play back row). They want to always have three hitters at the net and/or to have a bigger block. I think if you look at the numbers, though, most teams are 5-1.

And of course in both the men’s college game and in all international play (FIVB rules) you don’t have the subs to use that kind of approach. You’d have to have both setters also be hitters to be able to run a 6-2. And there just aren’t all that many players who are both good setters and good hitters.

Further, since good setters tend not to be as big as the hitters, having them in the front row all the time in a 4-2 system means always having a somewhat smaller block. It also means they probably aren’t as effective as hitters out of the back row as a more traditional Opposite. Of course there are always exceptions.

The right focus?

I think the bigger question in all this for me is why the focus on winning for a JV team?

Simple can be very good. It can also be detrimental. You put a bunch of 12s players on the court in a game and they quickly realize that the best way to win is to put the first ball over the net every time. That gives the other team the opportunity to make the mistakes. Very simple, but not really what we want them doing, right?

To my mind, the purpose of a JV squad is to prepare players to play in the varsity team. If we win, but do not serve the greater purpose, what’s the point? With that in mind, I would want to know how well an international 4-2 with no back row switching does that.

I’m not saying it doesn’t. Far from it!

I can see a number of developmental advantages to the system. That’s why the likes of Volleyball England and others use it at the national level. But by the time players are high school aged they run a 6-2 with setter/hitters. The 4-2 up through U14s prepares players to play a 6-2, which then prepares them to play 5-1 at what is effectively high school varsity age.

So, bottom line in all this is how well the 4-2 approach prepares players for whatever system or style of play is used at the varsity level. If it does the job well, great! If not, then a rethink is in order.

Coaching Log – Apr 4, 2016

This is an entry in my Midwestern State volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

It occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve begun work with a team in a Spring training type of situation. In basically every case up to now I’ve started coaching a team at the start of the season. The one exception is when I took over the Devon Ladies halfway through the 2012-13 NVL season in England. It’s in an interesting new situation.

Anyway….

We started MSU team Spring Training on Wednesday after the team got back from Spring/Easter break. The schedule we’ve got worked out looks like this:

Monday and Wednesday: 6:30-8:30am team practice
Tuesday: 6:15-7:30am team weights, 7:30-9:00am group practice 1, 11-12:30 group practice 2
Thursday: 6:15-7:30am team weights, 4-5:30pm team practice, 6-7pm pool workout
Friday: 6:30-8:30am team practice, 12-1:30pm weight training group 1, 2-3:30pm weight training group 2

Thursday’s are actually a bit of a mix. That day is impacted by some different other activities going on. I’ll speak about them separately as they occur.

Wednesday
We decided to have blocking as a focal point in this session. That meant doing some station work during the first half of the practice where we had the front row players blocking in a rotation by position. This wasn’t against live hitters, though we did have an assistant setting the ball so they would have the timing element and basic set placement to work with. I was running this court and was basically using the exercise to evaluate where they were at with their footwork and to have them focus on getting good penetration – shooting the hands over rather than going straight up and then (maybe) pressing.

Generally speaking, the footwork was solid. There was one player using swing block mechanics for a very short move (maybe half a step) that I had her change to just a simple slide/shuffle. Other than that, though, I didn’t see any major issues with their movement. There was a bit of floating going on by one or two of them, which seems to be always the case.

We then had them face live hitters in game play. That’s where some developmental needs surfaced. Mainly that had to do with block positioning, though I did provide feedback on some hand stuff as well.

While I was working on the blocking station the head coach was running the others through some serving, passing, and a bit of defense on the other court. I didn’t really get to see any of it, though.

Straight after practice I had to spend 2.5 hours going through new hire orientation. Fun times!

Thursday
The day started early with the team doing weights, and then a suicide test where they had to do 5 timed suicides with about 30 second breaks in between. The target times were 23-24-25-25-25 seconds. This was all run by the strength coach. He then administered a punishment to the on-campus freshmen in the form of having to do another 5 suicides because of tardiness to a session with him.

We did a team training in the afternoon – but only 75 minutes. We continued working on blocking, this time with the pin blockers starting off going 1-on-1 against assistant coaches hitting in their approach line. The idea was to get the blockers focusing on their positioning. We later added the middles. Behind the block we had defenders working on reading the hitters and positioning around the block. We finished up working on a couple of rotations ahead of our tournament on Saturday by playing the 22 v 22 game.

In between the morning and afternoon activities we had a bit of drama. One of the defensive specialists announced that she was quitting unexpectedly – at least in terms of timing.

Friday
We had a prospective recruit visiting and playing in with us. Lovely early wake-up for her and her parents!

After doing some small-sided game play to begin practice, we split off the setter and middles to do some block-transition-attack work on one court while everyone else worked on serving and serve reception. After that, we returned to 22 v 22 to do the four remaining rotations, then wrapped up with a regular game.

Saturday
We played in a Spring tournament at Oklahoma Baptist University. That’s about a 2.5 hour ride from MSU. We went in style.

2016-04-02 07.08.12

The format was basically an hour per match, inclusive of 10 minutes of warm-up time. So call it about 50 minutes of play per match. That basically translates to two full sets and part of a third.

The competition was St. Gregory’s, Northwestern Oklahoma State, and then the host team. St. Gregory’s is an NAIA school playing in the Sooner Athletic Conference. The other two are NCAA Division II teams who play in the Great American Conference. The latter is generally a weaker league than the Lone Start Conference were we play.

Our first match was pretty comfortable. St. Gregory’s finished low in their league last season and we handled them pretty easily. We played a 5-1, rotating our 4 defensive specialists and our two OPPs. Our two OPPs also can play MB, so we gave each some time through there as well.

The second match we shifted to a 6-2, but not a “legal” one. Basically we had our setter go back to 1 each time she rotated to the front row, and then subbed OPPs. The first set was a bit rough, and we lost by a large margin. We turned that around in the second set, though, for a comparable win. We then won a close short third set as well.

The last match, against OBU, was the toughest. We went back to the 5-1 to start. The first set was a bit rough. In particular, we got stuck in a rotation (which happened in the first set of the second match as well), and never quite got back to level terms. We changed to the 6-2 for the second set and performed a bit better. Arguably, we should have won, but gave up a late lead. The short third set was kind of poor, the players were clearly tired and lacking focus.

Overall, I think we were generally happy with how things went. Obviously, there were plenty of things that we want to get better at, but it was a decent day in terms of how the team played. A couple of players really put in good performance as well.

I was told OBU would generally rank as a middling team in the Lone Star Conference.

How do I get a college assistant coach position?

A reader emailed me the following:

I have been applying for assistant coaching positions for college volleyball but haven’t had any luck. What step will you advise so I can get my feet wet. I was considering on becoming an volunteer coach for a local college.How would you suggest asking for a position as a volunteer coach?

In response to a follow-up email, she told me her background is as follows:

  • Played first at a Junior College, then at an NCAA Division I program.
  • Was a student assistant at her Division I school
  • Assisted at a junior college for a season
  • Coaches juniors volleyball

In terms of cracking into Division I or II coaching, which is where more full-time positions are available, one of the first things to consider is trying to find a Graduate Assistant position. That offers the advantage of earning a Masters degree. This is very desirable when it comes to getting a head coach job down the line. Obviously, you also gain coaching experience.

An alternative path into coaching is to become a Director of Volleyball Operations (DOVO). This is technically a non-coaching role. It is, however, an opportunity to learn a lot about running a volleyball program that could be handy later. It also lets you learn by observing and having regular interaction with the coaching staff. Such positions can be direct stepping stones into a coaching job with that program.

Volunteer coaching is certainly an option. I would suggest if someone were to go this route, though, that you have a very specific focus in mind. Volunteer coaching can be a path into a full-time coaching position, but only if you put yourself in a good position. That’s probably something worth it’s own article. The main idea is that if you’re going to provide your coaching services for no pay, you should have a pretty good idea of the path forward from there – either with that team or elsewhere (note that I talked about volunteer and grad assistant options as ways in for foreign coaches into the US as well).

It’s worth having a look at the annual jobs thread which runs at Volley Talk.

Regardless of which way you look to go, one thing worth doing is getting out and working a bunch of college camps. That will get your exposure to potential employers and help you develop your network, which is a very good thing.

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