January 20, 2008

College Volleyball Coaching as a Career

Being a NCAA College Volleyball coach can be a very rewarding career as long as it is approached with a realistic understanding of the positives and negatives.

A few of the positives that I have found in being a College Volleyball coach - It allows for an outlet to your competitive nature; you have the opportunity to build something that reflects your personality and desires; the job is rarely stale or boring; most holidays are off; the ability to set your own schedule and enjoy significant off time, especially in the off-season; most schools offer a solid benefits package including health and retirement; if you so enjoy, can provide leadership and mentoring to a college age student and there are many, many other ways to earn a living that are not as emotionally rewarding.

A few of the negatives, with explanations.

- Your livelihood is in the hands of 18-22 year old women - This statement alone is enough to question why a person would want to make college coaching a career, but it is true. A coach must recruit, train and manage a group of post-teenage females and find a way to be successful while hoping they all get along. If not, and here is the rub, the players will not hesitate to complain to the athletic directors and in this crazy world of NCAA athletics, the athletic directors are more concerned with an 18 year olds 'happiness' than an adult's professional standing.

- The salaries paid can be surprisingly low - The majority of players and parents would be stunned if they knew just low little the mass majority of NCAA College Volleyball coaches are paid. It is nice to hear that those families we have welcomed into the program feel our abilities merit salaries near 100k, but the reality is way too many coaches are getting paid in the 30 to 50k range. Unfortunately, the financial reality of college coaching makes the position a good second job with great benefits or a good job if you are single and like coaching. There are a handful of talented volleyball coaches that are making a comfortable living and there is an army that is just making ends meet. Take for example Idaho State University - in the advertisement for the position, they list the top end of the salary range at $48,000.00! This is a major state university, located in an area that has above average cost of living and, let's not forget, you are supposed to build a winning program, take care of the health and happiness of the team and make sure they graduate. I would venture this school is doing it on the cheap.

- Volleyball's funding support can be dictated by other sports - I can guarantee you that a men's or women's basketball coach has never been told, "...we had to reduce your budget because the football team did not do very well this year." This is an all to common conversation that many volleyball coaches must endure (you can sub basketball in for football whenever needed). We have enjoyed historic volleyball seasons, only to have the budget reduced because of another sport's failings. This is a frustrating fact of athletic departments - some coaches have their professional abilities clipped because of the failure of another coach.

- Multi year contracts are not common enough - Another point of surprise for many players and families. Any contract is nothing more than an employment letter if the contract says at will or termination without cause because you can be fired without any recourse. A single year contract is hollow because they are written to expire at the end of the fiscal year, so if a coach is terminated, they will receive at best a 6 month severance. Again, a handful of coaches enjoy true multi year contracts that protect them against unknown of collegiate athletics; all too many do not.

- A change in athletic directors can result in a change of your employment status - If you were to take a look at all the coaches who leave a program (either by choice or not), you would be surprised at the number who have experienced a change in athletic directors. With ease, I can name all too many examples. Since volleyball coaches do not enjoy rolling multi-year contracts (like football and basketball) we have very little protection against the perception of a new athletic director. With football and basketball beyond the control of athletic directors (these coaches have it in their contracts that they report only to the school president or chancellor), athletic directors are more critical of Olympic Sport coaches. If you turned around a garbage program, but happen to have a tough year, start kissing up to the new AD as fast as you can because it may be the only thing that results one more season of a paycheck.

- There is relatively little upward mobility - Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of jobs advertised each spring (click here), but not many of them are an improvement. My casual guesstimation is that there are 25 jobs that pay over 100k per year, but a number of those are located in high cost of living areas, so that number must be tempered. There may be another 30 positions that pay in the 75 to 100k range. When you look at these top salaried positions, maybe only 5 to 10 (at best) come open per season. This statistic does not support upward mobility when you factor in the number of potential candidates (head coaches, assistant coaches and former coaches looking to get back into the mix). Bottom line, it is TOUGH to get a top flight job, double that if you are not an assistant in a name brand conference (You shagged balls at State U.? Great, that looks better than hiring the established winning coach from Tech College).

- In economics speak, volleyball coaches are cheap labor and can be replaced easily - Because there are so many volleyball programs, there are so many coaches. Double this math by realizing that males coach women in volleyball (this happens in all female sports, but more often in volleyball and I would like to see the flip side come into reality). This means that if an Athletic Director is not happy with you or your program, it is cheap and easy to change. All it takes is interview and moving costs, and they can save tens of thousands of dollars in salary and budget outlays. If the new coach is no better than the old coach, then let's give another inexpensive coach a shot. No contract, no financial penalty to change coaches. That is why so many positions are changed after an athletic director hire.

- Depending on the philosophy of the department, your out of season commitments may not allow you to balance the tremendous amount of time you just expended during the season - This has become a relatively new phenomenon. In the past when the season was done, as a volleyball coach you did not have to do too much until February and then it was just some team training and recruiting work. But, as athletic directors seek to manage their departments, more and more coaches are having to clock more hours in the off season. It has always been an unspoken understanding that the 80 hour weeks a coach puts in during the season, would be balanced with 10 hour weeks during the off season, the understanding was a result of the low salary. Now, between motivational guest speakers, endless departmental meetings, mandatory supporting of other sports, fundraising assignments, making yourself available for department needs, the 10 hour off season weeks are now becoming 40 hour weeks (and don't forget the recruiting season comes quickly, so weekends are no longer off).

- There is no collective voice to empower volleyball coaches - This is probably the biggest disappointment for me as a college volleyball coach. We have no union that will advocate for improving the employment of college volleyball coaches. I have heard of zero instances of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) putting pressure on the NCAA, conferences or individual schools to make things better for volleyball coaches. Look at all the opportunities that are presented each year - contracts, salaries, budget support, marketing and promotions, post season opportunities - these are all areas that I routinely read about the football, men's basketball and women's basketball coaches associations pressuring the NCAA to improve upon for their coaches. I really don't know what the AVCA does other than put on a convention and send out a monthly magazine (which is a boiler plate version because softball coaches get the exact same type of magazine).

Bottom line - Go into being a college volleyball coach with your eyes wide open and your heart cleanly separated from your mind. I have had a number of assistant coaches, which were my former players, who flat out told me they had no idea that so many things were wrong with being a college volleyball coach. Unfortunately, the very thing the NCAA is advocating for, more women in college volleyball coaching, they are killing because of the unsatisfactory way they support women's athletics (other than the women's basketball, who has done what we need to do).

Again, being a college volleyball coach can be great if you are single, you are looking for another income source for your family, or if you already have money. For me, I have come to the realization that time is more important than money and the time that I can spend with my family makes the potential above frustrations manageable (barely!).