In May of 2013 the Devon Ladies team I coached won the South West Championships at the end of my first season coaching in England.
The players on the court for championship point shown above represented six different nationalities – English, Polish, Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Filipino. That’s a taste of the ethnic diversity of U.K volleyball. I figure I coached players from about 25 different countries in my time there.
That tournament win was really satisfying. I took over the Devon team midway through their National League Division 1 campaign that season. They were 1-7 at that point, sitting on the bottom of the standings. We turned things around and won seven straight after I took charge. It was tough going at the start, with lots of 5-setters, but we built momentum and handled teams easily later. Our only loss was on the very last day of the season. We dropped a 5-set match away to the team that won the league. We beat that same team in the finals of the South West Championships tournament to take the gold.
I couldn’t help but have a laugh at being able to do that. That probably sounds a bit odd, so let me explain.
From the first time I stepped on a court in England – even before I made the decision to go there for my PhD – I would hear whispers of, “That’s the American coach.” There was this sense of awe that seemed to follow me around during my first year.
It was very strange and kind of unsettling. I did not bring some big, amazing track record with me. By American standards I was pretty middle of the road, most likely. The fact that I was a coach from the States, though, apparently gave me an aura of volleyball majesty.
The reason I was laughing about winning South West Championships is because I couldn’t help but think doing it just tended to support people’s perceptions of my quality as an American coach. This was especially so given how the Devon team did in the league and how the Exeter University teams I coached did in BUCS competition that year.
Fortunately, that American aura thing eventually wore off as people got to know me. Any respect toward me thereafter was earned. That was a much more comfortable feeling.
As an encore I led the Exeter women’s team to the national semifinals the following year. 😀