April 23, 2009

International Coach Employment Question

It is an interesting irony with volleyball in America - Outside of the USA, volleyball is one of the world's most popular sports and I have read such statistics as #1 for women and #2 for men. But, the United States, because of collegiate athletics, offers more full time gainful employment opportunities than the rest of the world.

When I have traveled internationally and visited with other coaches, they are amazed to hear that USA college coaches enjoy the employment situations which we do - Full time, with benefits, paid vacations, camp income opportunity, comfortable travel, first class facilities, etc.

This coaching opportunity is very attractive to international coaches and I often get asked how they can come to the USA and coach - The question below is typical of what I hear each time I travel:

Dear College Volleyball Coach!

It is with great interest, that I read your website, because it is very informative and you give very detailed answers to all kinds of questions.

So here is my question/situation:

Right now I work for a club in a small country in the middle of Europe. Since four years I'm head coach of a men's team there. We were quite successful, advancing from 2nd league to first league last year, and this year we managed to stay in first league. Before being a coach I've played myself and at the same time worked with Junior and Youth teams for more than 10 years. In addition to my coaching experience I have a Masters Degree in Physical Education and a German A-Level Coaching Certificate (which is highly regarded, at least in Europe)
I'm looking for a new challenge now, and it was last January when I met some US college coaches during my work as assistant coach for the youth national team. Talking to them was very interesting because the approach of college volleyball in the US is completely different from all types of programmes in Europe.

So I decided to give it a try and look for a coaching position at a US college.
So far I did research about the NCAA rules to prepare myself in that area I try to keep up to date with the match results and the important teams and players.

So here are my questions:
Are there any chances for foreign coaches to get a job at a US college? (as a start assistant would be just fine)
What can I do to increase my chances?
What is the best time to apply (which months)? Is this time the same for men's teams as for women's?
Is there any other advice you could give a coach from Europe?

I would appreciate your help!

Thanks, Martin

Let me first directly answer your questions and then provide some general observations which may provide some additional information/direction for you.

1. There are many opportunities for Foreign, the better term is International, coaches and starting as an assistant is the most realistic opportunity. The ncaa.org website has an employment section and it is here that volleyball employment opportunities are announced for NCAA schools, along with Junior College and NAIA schools on occasion. For employment opportunities specific to Junior Colleges and NAIA, just click the link. Your best opportunity will be as an assistant.

Please be aware that on many of the position postings, the school will note whether international applications will be accepted. This is mainly a result of the cost of international work visas which schools do not wish to pay. This notification can usually be found somewhere in the body of the announcement. You may be able to still apply if you make clear in your application that you are willing to pay for any visa fee's (they can easily reach $2,000.00+).

2. You can make yourself more attractive or better your chances by emphasizing your recruiting connections in your native country. Most USA schools and head coaches look towards international coaches as a means to improve their recruiting success. It is rare that international coaches are hired because of their skill in coaching, but rather because of their ability to improve the volleyball program by attracting international elite players. This is not to say that international coaches do not have fine training/coaching skills, but the focus is more upon recruiting enhancement.

3. Women's College Volleyball tends to hire from late November to early May, with random positions opening and being hired right up until August. Men's Volleyball is a spring sport, so any openings would occur in the fall. But, Men's College Volleyball is much, much smaller in the USA and there are only a handful of positions which are classified as full time. This is really not a viable option because of the rare openings.

4. Advice? Be patient and put yourself into a position to be hired. It is not very effective to just send off applications and hope to be hired. You need to be able to put yourself into a position to be seen and the easiest way to do this is to work summer camps or attend the AVCA convention to meet people.

Your goal working camps should not be to make money, but to just meet other coaches. To this end, contact programs and let them know you will be traveling to the USA in the summer and would appreciate the chance to work their camp. You may send out 100 e-mails and only get a couple of responses, but that is OK - You will need to invest a bit of time and money for the later career payoff.

The American Volleyball Coaches Association convention is always in conjunction with the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. It is common for interviews to occur at the convention, but the number of interviews has dropped a bit in recent years. It is to your advantage to apply for a position and let the head coach or athletic director know you will be at the AVCA convention and would enjoy meeting. Also, the convention presents a good opportunity to meet other coaches, which is easy with the number of social opportunities which are presented.

Another consideration with attending the convention is to learn more about the American protocol of being a volleyball coach. I say this because while there are many successful international coaches in NCAA volleyball, there are many other coaches which only lasted a season or two because of cultural differences.

Coaching college volleyball in the USA is very different than coaching volleyball outside of America. When International coaches have failed in the USA it was usually because they did not respect and observe the protocols or culture of NCAA/College Volleyball. Examples:

1. NCAA rules. Too often NCAA rules are looked at by International coaches as nothing serious or to worry about. NCAA rules are indeed very serious and must be observed at all costs; breaking NCAA rules as a volleyball coach is one of the fasted ways to lose your job. Too many times, International coaches come from organizations or associations where the rules are in flux or easily bent/broken with no serious ramifications. This lack of respect for NCAA rules will not be tolerated by Athletic Directors and one reason schools are hesitant to hire International coaches.

1A. Amateurism of recruits - NCAA rules are very strict with regards to being an amateur versus professional. For example, if a volleyball player plays with a professional team, even though they might not have gotten paid, they are a professional and cannot be a NCAA athlete. International coaches have gotten into trouble when they tried to skirt the amateurism rules by taking their own interpretation of being professional (like saying since the player was not on the top pro team or pro league, they are not really professional).

2. Leadership of 17 to 22 year old female athletes. In the USA, coaches are looked at to be mentors and leaders to ensure the academic, social and athletic success of the student-athlete. While the NCAA and supporting Athletic Directors went a bit nuts with the whole 'student-athlete experience' propaganda of year's past (it gets a bit silly when coaches are literally being told to make players happy like it is a day care!), it is still expected that coaches will be leaders and mentors. Too often, because of the athletic cultures with which International coaches hail from, players are 'disposable' - they can be easily replaced if they do not perform and players have no serious voice in expressing problems or concerns. Many Athletic Directors want the best of all worlds with their volleyball teams; no drama or player issues, high grades and winning seasons - pay attention to how I listed the order.

3. No inappropriate relationships with players - This is the fastest way to lose your job as an International Coach and unfortunately one which has happened. Once again, this is a big cultural difference between the USA and many other countries with regards to coaching volleyball. Without passing judgment, it seems OK in many countries for the volleyball coach(es) to be romantically involved with their players and I have seen it first hand while traveling, along with hearing stories from my international players. This is something which has ZERO tolerance in NCAA Volleyball.

It is not easy to gain employment in the USA as an international volleyball coach because there is much competition with very qualified current coaches and former NCAA players. The avenue which seems most successful for international coaches is to promote their abilities to attract elite athletes from their own country, gain experience in how NCAA Volleyball and NCAA athletic departments operate, then apply for head coaching positions which accept international candidates.

Again, it is not easy, but it is achievable as evidenced by the number of international assistant and head coaches in NCAA Volleyball.