This started out as an inquiry from a French coach, Remi Pourrat, asking me to help him find a job. Not exactly what I do. But we talked and he pleaded his case. It wasn’t like he fell off a volleyball turnip truck. And he’s been coaching at Nebraska.
“We love Remi being in our gym,” Nebraska coach John Cook told me. “He brings a unique perspective and comes from a different culture than we have here in America. He’s fun to be around, sees the game really well. Remi is a rising star and will be a great addition to any program that hires him.”
So what’s the deal? The guy’s got a great resume, as you’ll see, he’s graduated from an American college, but … Paperwork.
“To obtain a visa I need to have school to sponsor me via an H1-B visa,” Pourrat said. “This visa requires a lot of paperwork and money from my potential employers. All the schools I had interviews with refused to start this process. Not only it requires lot of resources, but it also requires patience, because those processes take time. Many schools are not willing to wait for their hiring process.
“For the green card, it is even more complicated. Or I would need to be on an H1-B for a few years and then start another lengthy and costly application. Or I would need to marry an American person, which I am not planning on doing right now. Or I need to do what I am doing right now, which is a EB-1 application. For this application, I am sponsoring myself and I need to prove that I am worthy of staying in the United States, and that my presence in this country would benefit the American volleyball industry. This application is very expensive, and requires lots of documentation to prove my worth and that I deserve to work. This application will also take a lot of time to be processed, so I need to figure out ways to stay in the country while my EB-1 is getting processed.
“To buy myself time, I need to graduate in December and apply for an OPT, which is a year of visa following the obtention of a degree in the United States. To do so, I have to finish my master degree in a year and a half instead of two, while coaching the best team in the country and a club team ranked nationally. I need to finish in December to be “hirable” in January, when the NCAA coaching market is booming the most.
“Citizenship could come but much later if I ever apply for it. The green card is the only thing I need to realize my dream and start my collegiate coaching career. But this process is in the hands of the immigration services, hoping they would judge me worth it.”
This was certainly more complex than a typical American coach wannabe heading to the AVCA Convention to make contacts. No, this one is unique. So here’s Remi’s story, in his own words:
I played in France for the best men’s club in the country, AS Cannes Volleyball, with which I was a national champion both as a player and a coach. I started coaching at 18 years old, and I was lucky enough to have great mentors that took me under their wings and allowed me to coach at the highest level from the beginning. I got to coach the best players in the state and in the country. Some of them are now playing professionally, and few are now playing on the French national team. The French Riviera is one of the best areas in France for volleyball, so I was lucky to be surrounded by great coaches and talents. That allowed me to improve, and coaching became a passion.
My passion and commitment led me to became the assistant coach of the professional women’s team of ESCR Volleyball at the age of 22. During that time, in 2014-2015, the team won the French Cup and lost in the final of the national championship. It was during that season that I met the legendary Nicole Davis, the USC national champion who won two silver Olympic medals for the USA.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this encounter would change my life forever.
While she was playing in France, I showed her around and recommended her places, food, wine, and things to do, like I did for every foreigner on our team. After all, I was the local one, it seems like the normal thing to do. Nicole and I slowly became best friends during that season. What I was not expecting is that she wanted to thank me, so she invited me to visit her that same summer in California. Of course, I immediately accepted the offer. Nobody would be foolish enough to refuse a month of vacation in Newport Beach.
She was still training with the USA national team, so she asked Karch Kiraly if I could come and help, and he very nicely accepted. As you can imagine, this trip was a life-changing moment. Thanks to Nicole I had the chance to meet and build friendships with all the national team players, like Courtney Thompson, Kim Hill, Kristin Hildebrand, Nicole Fawcett, Jordan Larson, Carly Lloyd and many more.
I was in volleyball heaven during that summer.
Obviously, I loved my time in the gym, and I was astonished by the resources that were given to volleyball in the United States. We talked a lot about the college experience for athletes, what coaching college is like, the money involved and so on. During those conversation I realized how much better it was to coach volleyball in the U.S.
After visiting a second time the next summer, I decided that I wanted to pursue my passion in America, and to coach college volleyball. I wanted to do what I love everyday in the best environment possible. I started the visa research and what I had to accomplish to realize that dream.
I quickly realized that my dream would be very hard to achieve, and that many obstacles were in my way. The first one was academic. A bachelor’s degree is required to coach at the NCAA level, and my French degree was not recognized by the American system. At 25 years old, I would have to restart the undergraduate process from ground zero and get a bachelor’s degree in America.
Actually, I had to start from even lower.
Indeed, my placement tests in math and English ranked me very low, and I had to take multiple classes to catch up. Nicole put me in contact with the Long Beach City College men’s volleyball team through Noah Casaquit, who is now coaching at San Francisco. I chose the city college route for multiple reasons. Because of my age, I could not play NCAA anymore, so it was my opportunity to experience college sports. If I wanted to coach college athletes, I had to know what they are going through, because college sports do not exist in Europe. City college was also less expensive, so it would allow me to spend a little less money for two years.
LBCC is the best city college in California, but unfortunately, we fell short that 2017-2018 season, losing our only match in the state championship semifinals. The following season, my old body and I decided to retire, to focus on coaching and school. The LBCC coach, Jonathan Charette, a former BYU and professional player, took me on the staff and together we won the 2019 CCCAA state championship. Like most volleyball teams in the world, we didn’t get to finish our season in 2019, and could not compete in 2020 because of COVID.
After my two years at LBCC, I transferred to Long Beach State to finish my degree in sport psychology and be a practice player with the women’s volleyball team, under the guidance of Joy and Matt Fuerbringer. Because of COVID, I only got to help for the 2019 season before everything got shut down.
Indeed, the Big West Conference cancelled the 2020 season as well. I graduated in the summer of 2021 with a 3.9 GPA, making the dean’s list for all eight semesters I attended at both schools. Because I am an international student, I had, and still have to pay out-of-state tuition for all my education. During those four years in Long Beach, I also coached for Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball Club and Team Rockstar Volleyball Club. It was with Rockstar that we took bronze at 18 Open nationals in 2019 as Matt Fuerbringer’s assistant and won the 13 Open national championship in 2021 when I got to be the head coach.
Thanks to Nicole I also met Alfred Reft, who took me under his wing and invited me to help coach summer camps at Illinois. That’s where I met head coach Chris Tamas, who had been a Nebraska assistant before getting the Illinois job. As I got closer to graduation, I had to figure out the best path to follow to realize my dream. I reached out to Tyler Hildebrand, who I knew from Long Beach State and who was coaching at Nebraska at the time. I also knew his wife, Kristin.
That turned out to be a great connection, because Tyler was very supportive and helped me get a graduate assistant position at Nebraska for the 2021 season. I would get to learn from one of the best coaches in the country, John Cook, and was part of the ride when the Huskers went all the way to the NCAA championship match.
I got to experience the highest collegiate level and learn from the best coaches in the country. For the first time also, I was not living on the beach, under the sun, and it was quite brutal. My initial plan was to stay for a year and a half, try to graduate early, and look for a job after the 2022 season. But after the final four, coach Cook and other friends recommended me for multiple jobs. I was not expecting it at all, and I got many interviews with very good programs. All interviews went very well, but I hit the same wall in all my discussions with the coaches of those programs.
The schools were not willing to go through the visa process, despite the coaches being very supportive and really trying to hire me. My hopes went up very quickly when I received interests from such prestigious programs, and it was very hard when they all crashed down because of visa issues. Being so close to realize my dream, and see that dream go away in a few weeks was pretty devastating. I wasn’t planning on getting a job, and did not even think people would be interested, so I didn’t anticipate those issues.
I am now back on my initial plan, trying to graduate early and figure out a way to climb the last step that stands between me and my dream: Finding a way to get a working visa or a green card. I have overcome so many obstacles during my five years in the U.S., I sacrificed a lot of things like friends, family, time, or money to get to this last step.
The last challenge might be the hardest. I will put all my faith and hopes in the hand of the American immigration service that will decide if I get to realize my dream, or if I have to find another way.
Contact Remi Pourrat at email@example.com