The Grind

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Danial Levent

Volleyball fans love to see talented athletes giving their all for that next point. Cheers ring out for fast-paced volleys, aces, and kills. Sports lovers know that players spend long hours in practice and at the gym in order to build stamina and hone their skills, but fans dont always think about the hours coaches put in behind the scenes to keep their programs up and running.

All college coaches have to do much more than organize practices and coach games. There’s video to analyze, recruiting and fundraising to do, and assistant coaches to manage and mentor. Coaches also have a deep interest in helping their players grow into confident and capable people, so they work hard to develop their players leadership and cooperation skills.

Some coaches, especially in big programs at the Division I level, enjoy a lot of support from their university: there’s a large fan base and money for scholarships and paid assistant coaches, not to mention a decent salary. This doesnt mean their jobs are easy, but itd be hard to find a coach who would turn down such support.

Many coaches dont have those advantages and have to cope with considerable challenges, especially at the Division II and Division III levels, where funding for athletics can vary widely from school to school. This affects a lot, from locker room space to how many assistants can be hired and who drives the team to away games (hint: it’s often the coach). These coaches find creative ways to support their athletes and keep their programs afloat, thanks to a combination of hard work and creativity.

Not all of the hurdles coaches face are about funding. Danial Levent, the head coach of the DIII men’s volleyball team at Baruch College in New York City, wants to fill more seats at home games. His team is the only nationally ranked team at Baruch, but the fan base could be bigger.

Men’s volleyball just isnt popular, he said. We want to get people to be interested and buy into it. Baruch offers events and food before games, and it hypes up the rivalry with Hunter, another university in Manhattan, to get students interested in watching games. Levent notes that attendance is indeed growing, but hed like to see even more support for his athletes.

Seven hundred and twenty-some odd miles west at Alma College, a DIII school in Alma, Michigan, head women’s volleyball coach Sarah Dehring mentioned the size of the school can affect how often players can come to practice. Our professors are great, she noted, but when you are at a small institution, sometimes only one section of a class might be offered in the fall, or at all that year, so your student athletes may have to schedule a class that they need for graduation during practice times.

When it comes down to it, however, funding is probably the main factor that creates challenges for coaches and affects their work-life balance. A lack of funds often means there are fewer assistant coaches and university staff in general, so coaching at the DIII level can involve working full-time hours for part-time wages.

Evin Giglio knows this all too well from his first few seasons as the men’s head coach at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Though officially a part-time employee, he decided not to seek other part-time work. It would have been difficult to find a job that fit around the demands of coaching, and he decided he wanted to focus 100 percent on volleyball.

I felt very fortunate to be a head coach at the age of 24, said Giglio. I didnt want to squander my opportunity.

Giglio rode public transportation and lived under the poverty level just to get by. After his third season with the men, the women’s head coach resigned and Giglio took on that role and finally became a full-time coach. He still has to put in very long hours, however, and not just for his teams but also doing additional duties for the athletic department. He noted that during this year’s preseason for the women’s team, he went through a three-week period where he took off only half a day.

Many part-time coaches and assistants have outside jobs or look for additional athletic department assignments they can take on in order to be considered for full-time employment. Levent has three other jobs: head coach of the women’s volleyball team at the Fashion Institute of Technology, high school PE teacher, and founder and leader of the New York Volleyball Institute, a year-round volleyball training program. For him this doesnt seem unusual. A lot of DIII coaches are part-time, he said. They definitely do it for the love of volleyball, not for the money.

At Alma, Dehring is full-time, but her job description involves much more than just coaching the volleyball team. In fact, she can show you a 27-point bulleted list of all her responsibilities with the athletic department. I am also the assistant athletic director, compliance officer, and I serve on a variety of committees. I also teach a few credits a semester, she said. I wear a lot of hats and you will find that at many DIII institutions.

This is also true at many DII schools. Katie Moskowitz, former head coach at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, and Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, sat on committees, helped out in the athletic department, and had teaching requirements, on top of her full-time coaching and recruiting duties. Most DII coaches have to have a master’s degree so they can teach, she said.

Then there’s the driving. Some coaches have charter buses available. In Levent’s case, players can take the subway to games in New York City. But many coaches have to drive. Giglio, Dehring, and Moskowitz all reported that driving the team van was another part of their job. Occasionally, charter buses are available to get to away games, but at other times the coaches are responsible for shuttling the team back and forth.

It can be hard, said Giglio. I want to spend time with the team after a match and discuss it in detail. But often we have to jump in the van and head back home. He said he’s lucky that in the Northeast, many schools are close enough to each other that the rides are relatively short.

In the West, however, distance is a fact of life. Western State plays teams in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, and even travels to Texas for preseason tournaments. These are all big states and in order to get to a university that’s 12 hours away, Moskowitz and her assistant would take turns and drive overnight.

Wed play the game the next day and then get right back in the van for another overnight haul, said Moskowitz. We didnt stay in a hotel.

It was tough, but as Moskowitz put it, As a coach you dont want to complain and show stress to players, so you spin it as a positive. One very concrete benefit of these long drives was that it gave everyone a chance to get to know each other better.

There was the student who always had a head lamp and studied. There were others who always fell asleep or listened to music, said Moskowitz. We would talk a lot. They forget youre their coach and they open up.

Of course there are DII and DIII schools that receive enough financial support that coaches dont have to juggle so many balls. Paul Lawson has coached NAIA and DIII, so he knows how much work is involved for coaches at those levels. Currently he’s in his third season as the head coach at Pfeiffer University, a DII institution. He doesnt have duties in the athletic department, he doesnt have to drive, and he was free to decide he didnt want to teach any courses. But as the head coach of the men’s team and the women’s team, he still has plenty to do.

My season runs from August with the women til whenever the men’s season finishes, said Lawson, which this year was in May. I make sure to devote time to each team when it’s their season.

Recruiting challenges coaches in a number of ways. Giglio, for example, has a hard time making it to club tournaments to scout potential recruits because, like Lawson and Levent, he has to balance his time between the women’s and the men’s seasons.

When the high school women’s club season is on, Im coaching the Wentworth men’s team, he explained. He simply cant be in two places at once, and the help he gets from his assistants is limited.

They are volunteer assistants, so I limit what I ask them to do. Im not going to ask them to go down to New York to recruit. Giglio can make a few trips each year and manages to recruit top athletes despite having a limited budget and support staff.

Even if coaches have a generous amount of time and funds to travel for recruiting, they still have to attract athletes to their programs. Division I women’s programs can offer up to 12 scholarships, and the size and prestige of a program helps to draw in athletes. Schools in other divisions cant always offer that kind of financial support or experience, so coaches have to think of other ways to snag athletes.

Division III schools arent allowed to offer athletic scholarships. Instead, coaches often rely on the specific merits of their school to entice talented athletes. Giglio uses the strengths of Wentworth’s academics.

For students who want to be architects or engineers and play competitive volleyball, Wentworth is a good place to pursue both, he said.

Levent leverages the appeal of New York City and many players eyes light up when he mentions the Big Apple. A lot of kids love the idea of being in the big city, he said. He mentioned he also looks for students interested in the academic merits of Baruch.

While the NCAA allows DII schools to offer up to eight scholarships, that doesnt make recruiting a breeze. For one thing, the university makes the final decision on how many scholarships it will offer, and it’s often less than eight. At Western State, Moskowitz had only four scholarships, though she eventually negotiated to bring that up to four and a half. Dividing this scholarship money allowed more players to get some financial support. While recruiting, Moskowitz had to make it clear she wasnt offering a fully funded experience, and instead she relied on the appeal of the Western State experience.

I searched for athletes with strong academic skills, she said, echoing Giglio and Levent. I also focused on the relationship between coach and player. She got to know possible recruits and emphasized her coaching style. Youve got to feel they want to play for you, she said.

Lawson noted that being able to offer scholarship money was helpful for recruiting and was something he appreciated about coming up to work at a DII university. However, he gets only 3.2 scholarships for the men’s team and 3.5 for the women’s team, so scholarship money isnt everything.

Ive seen DIII schools that have 25 kids on the roster and I think, Wow, how did the coach do that? He mentioned that getting players to commit to the school is key. In his case, the relative obscurity of Pfeiffer actually creates interest. Were a bit of an enigma, he said. Success also helps, and the fact that the men’s team got a bid to the NCAA DI-II tournament last season has boosted the program’s profile. A solid program, scholarship money, and a university that has produced successful graduates in various fields have all helped Lawson’s recruiting this year.

On top of daily coaching duties and recruiting, many coaches have to figure out how to raise extra funds to support their team.

The New York City university system has strict rules about how much can be allocated to sports, said Levent. We could be ok with the budget we have, but we want to do more. He noted that fundraising helps offset recruiting costs and pays for new gear. So the team plays exhibition matches and Levent runs clinics and camps for younger players. He notes this kind of fundraising also gives back to the community, something he’s passionate about.

Giglio and Dehring also run clinics and camps and conduct letter-writing campaigns to ask for donations. They also have other ways to raise money, like operating an online store to sell gear.

And there’s the concession stands. Giglio, Moskowitz, and Lawson have all found that selling snacks for professional sports teams is a good way to subsidize their programs.

Moskowitz, her assistants, and her players staffed the concession stands during Colorado Rockies MLB games. We would go over to Denver on weekends and work a few games. We could make a few thousand bucks that way, so we tried to work three to six games a year, she said.

Lawson and his teams are starting their second season working at Carolina Panther NFL games. So far it’s going well. The students have fun with it. They know we want to give them the complete experience and this is part of it. To them it’s worth it. He does note, however, that from behind the counter they cant see any of the action during the games.

Despite all these challenges and all the extra hours, there’s a lot to love about coaching at these levels. Dehring likes how the smaller size of Alma College creates more intimacy. Our student athletes and general student body attend most sport events and actually know the person that is setting or attacking the ball instead of just a face that they see around campus every once in awhile.

DII and DIII schools also strive for a better balance between academics and athletics. Coaches appreciate that the travel schedule is less demanding than in DI, and there is often less pressure on athletes. The players still work very hard and devote themselves to the teamall the coaches mentioned the talent of their playersbut athletes can also focus on their coursework.

Watching a program and its players flourish is another rewarding part of the job for these coaches. Giglio, for one, loves to see how his program has improved. When I took over, the program hadnt had sustained success, he said. It’s been good to put in the hours and see the growth of program.

Levent had a good way of summarizing it. I like teaching what Ive learned, he said. It’s very rewarding to see players grow and develop not just in volleyball but in their lives as well.

No one would refute that college coaches at all levels have to work hard. But looking at all the additional roles coaches take on at the DII and DIII levels makes it even more amazing that they are able to use their passion for the sport to push through challenges and give their players the powerful and unique experience of playing college volleyball.

Aspiring to enter the coaching profession?
Here’s some advice from the veterans.

You wont be a successful coach if you just love the game. You will be a successful coach if you love developing life skills and well-being in those who share a passion for the sport that you also care so deeply about. I was once asked by a professor why a kid will come to my practice and run until they throw up but they cant get the same kid to read a chapter in a book. My answer to them was because these kids that come here as student-athletes have that as their identity. They have always been a volleyball player, they havent always known what they want to be. Those same kids also know that I know what their dog’s name is, that their grandfather passed away last week, etc. As coaches we arent just teaching the sport, we are life mentors and our athletes will only develop if they know that you care about them.

Sarah Dehring, women’s head coach at Alma College

Go for it, it’s awesome. It was one of best experiences of my life. You have to be a hard worker and self-motivated human being. Always think outside the box and get creative with fundraising.

Katie Moskowitz, former women’s head coach at Western State Colorado University

It is important to find a school with an administration that supports you.

Paul Lawson, men’s and women’s head coach at Pfeiffer University

Be aware of the amount of responsibility it takes to be successful. I dont think coaching at the Division III level is all that much different from Division I or II. Every school in the country has both positives and negatives. The challenges are sometimes different for Division III, but challenges exist everywhere.

Evin Giglio, men’s and women’s head coach at Wentworth Institute of Technology

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