I use inverted commas in the headline for a very good reason. As I normally say it “Professional volleyball is nothing like you imagine”. As a prominent American player agent tells his players as they are leaving college and heading to Europe “The most organised volleyball you’ll play in your career is already behind you”. For no reason other than I feel the urge to write it, this is my guide to embarking on a playing career in Europe.
There are three keys areas that a player at any level of his career needs to consider.
Situation, Situation, Situation
The most important consideration is the situation you’ll be going to. There are hundreds of clubs in numerous leagues in Europe and elsewhere that offer opportunities for professional volleyballers. However, the size of the contracts aside, not all of these situations are equal. Not all clubs are organised. Not all clubs have good coaches. Not all clubs train professionally. Not all clubs have organised weight training. Not all clubs have medical support. Not all clubs pay the amount agreed upon in the contract. Not all clubs pay on time. A select few clubs have all of these things. (If you want to know how many clubs are great situations, guess a number. Halve it. It’s less than that). There are plenty of clubs who have some or most of those things. There are far, far too many clubs who have none of those things. You can’t always know everything in advance, but you often can. Find out as much as you can and don’t be afraid to turn down a bad job..
In the end, even if people know this they think it will be different for them (the best example being that there is still league in Greece). I recently heard of a player who after two years of not finding a good team and not being paid his contract was offerred a multi year deal with a great club. He turned it down because he thought he could get more money somewhere down the line. He obviously has great confidence in his ability but judging on his personal experience, it seems a pretty huge risk.
That sounds self evident but it’s a matter of scale. In State League losing sucks. But in the end the only people care are your teammates and you’ll just go to the pub and then not see each other for a few days. Even National Champs is not that much different, except you’re not allowed to go to the pub. In professional volleyball, a lot of people care. Club management, club employees, fans and media to name a few. They’re are not always polite, they’re not always logical or realistic and you can’t get away from them, at least not without creating more trouble for yourself. Therefore, defeats have a greater impact and they stay with you for a lot longer. And needless to say losing streaks make all of the unpalatable aspects of professional volleyball more likely. Losing situations are bad situations. See above.
Everyone wants to play. I understand that. However, as a philosophical point, I don’t believe that you need to play t o improve. To get better at playing volleyball, you need to learn to play volleyball better. Certainly for some players that means playing at the appropriate level. Playing for the sake of playing doesn’t help anyone get better. For other players it means access to good coaching, and for still others it means proximity to good players, particularly in practice, and the learning environment that creates. Whatever the case, I fail to see how playing can take precedence over the first two points as it so often does. On top of that, although I am only speaking for myself here, when someone says ‘I want/need to play’, what I hear is ‘I don’t want to fight for a position’. I can’t say in May/June who will be starting in October and I don’t. Unless Miljkovic calls. I’ll guarantee him a starting spot. Actually I take that back. If he’s prepared to play in my club it means he would be playing for about 10% of his last contract which means he must be broken down and can’t play. I don’t guarantee anyone a starting spot.
Obviously these are just my ideas but I think they’re a pretty good guide.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.