October 15, 2009

Volleyball Coaching for a Graduate degree!

I have recently come across your site and wanted to thank you for the valuable information and opinions. I have more of a personal question and was wondering if you could share any thoughts or advice.

I have been coaching volleyball for about 4 years now. This will be my fourth year coaching club (my first as a head coach, with a club in the Sacramento, CA area). During school season I coached as a JV head coach and varsity assistant two years ago, and this year and last I have been an assistant at an area Junior College.

My question: I would like to become a graduate assistant for a, preferably, DI school with good - very good academic standing and I was wondering what I should go about doing to try to enact this? I have spent the last few years meeting coaches and doing my best to learn and get better as a coach, but I still need some help. I know it helps who you know, and timing, and many other factors, but do you have any suggestions? Maybe there aren't many programs that budget for a graduate assistant.

Let me also say that, as of now, I'm not too interested in becoming an assistant coach in terms of career. I just really enjoy coaching and consider myself pretty intelligent and adept, and thought I could use that to my advantage and go to graduate school. Of course I want to help out a program as well, and when I'm there do whatever they needed me to do, so I'm not so selfish to think that I should be the only one gaining anything. But this should be a mutually beneficial experience. I'd love to hear back from you. Thanks again, and good work with the blog! TT

Thanks for the question and you are among a group of coaches which view a college coaching position as an avenue for educational enhancement via graduate school.

On the surface, obtaining a Graduate Assistant position seems the logical route towards getting your graduate degree by working with a college volleyball program. Yet, there are any number of 2nd Assistant and 1st Assistant positions which support graduate school efforts.

With many Division I programs, the 2nd Assistant position is a de facto Graduate Assistant position. Some schools, because of administrative protocol or funding issues, have determined it is better to have the third coaching member of a volleyball team labeled as a 2nd assistant coach. This gives the illusion that the volleyball program is supported in a better fashion, rather than just labeling the third coach as a Graduate Assistant. You can usually see the level of support granted to such a 2nd Assistant coach position by reading the job description or making inquiries of the hiring administrator. If the 2nd position is 10 months, with a tuition and fees waiver, then this is really just a Graduate Assistant.

Also, there quite a few 1st Assistant positions that trade off a lower salary for tuition waivers. In such a case, the number of classes you could take per semester may be lower because of all your volleyball duties; individuals pursuing their masters may need an extra year or two to graduate, versus a Graduate Assistant slot.

With Division II and III volleyball, there is usually just one assistant coach (on average) and the support for this one position can range from full time/full benefits to just a stipend position for 3 months of help. My belief is that a large number of DII/III assistant positions are geared towards taking graduate school classes while assisting the program. With the smaller budgets of DII/III, versus DI, many athletic departments attract assistant coaches by providing educational enticements to offset the lower salaries.

Because athletic departments are one unit of a university, graduate school opportunities are plentiful, but my not be along the traditional lines of a titled Graduate Assistant.

To answer your question - You should apply for any and all positions which look attractive per the educational merits of the institution. By your own description, you are intelligent and are focused on graduate school, as opposed to a coaching career, with your interest in assistant positions. By suggesting you apply for those positions which are advertised by institutions with quality academic reputations, I am recognizing that getting your masters from East Rutherford Tech may not fit your academic desires, so do not apply for it even though it is an entree into NCAA coaching.

By applying for all attractive positions, you are not limiting yourself before you even know the complete job description. Even if the position does not clearly spell out tuition waivers, you can visit the human resources page of a school to determine what the school policy is - This varies widely from institution to institution. Many schools will grant immediate tuition waivers to employees, while others mandate a two year employment history before a waiver. Should you be able to secure an interview, this is a topic which must be broached with the head coach. I would guess that most Head coaches would be open to assistants taking graduate school classes. Yet, unless it is a traditional Graduate Assistant position, they may wish to delay such classes until at least the first volleyball season is under your belt.

The selection process for college volleyball coaching positions, whether for a head or any level of assistant, can be hard to understand. You simply do not know what factors are in play within the athletic department or school. Do they want a certain gender? Do they not want a certain gender? Are they fully funded? Is the position shared with another unit on campus or within the Athletic Department? Are there ethnic status concerns per Human Resources? Are there regional biases in play? Is the Administration desirous of a certain conference affiliation being contained within the resume? Will an Alumni status come into play? Those of us that have been in this career for a number of years, have simply learned to shrug our shoulders when a position hire is announced which does not make sense.

I have applied for positions which I was just stunned that I did not even get a phone interview, while at other times I was stunned that I even was selected for an in-person interview. I remember one institution sending me a reject letter saying I was not qualified, when I had just accepted a job with another institution which was better rated academically and athletically!

Honestly, you just never know how things are going to play out once you shoot off the application. Other than possibly making a follow-up call to the hiring administrator or coach to determine if your application was received and/or the time frame the hiring process, it is pretty much a 'fire and forget' process.

For assistant volleyball coach listings, the main source is www.ncaa.org. All Divisions of the NCAA post opening on this site, along with any number of non-NCAA schools. Another listing source of volleyball coaching positions within four year institutions is www.naia.org, but they typically do not have a large number of spots advertised.

Because the process can be illogical, you have to be patient in your quest. You could get lucky and secure a position within a month or it may take you a few years. In the mean time, you should continue along the coaching path which you illustrated - Keep coaching club volleyball at the highest age group (makes you more attractive as an assitant coach candidate because of the recruiting ramifications) and stay with the Junior College position because this is a college coaching position which should provide some experience separation versus those candidates that do not have college coaching experience.

Good luck!

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