Guest author: Brendan Ryan
The alluring combination of sports and education attracts top athletes from around the world each and every year to pursue an education in America and to participate in intercollegiate athletics. For some, this experience will catapult their career and validate them as world class athletes, destined for success at the professional level. However, for many, it will be a massive wake up call; pro sports may not be their future, so they must start to contemplate other options.
With a passion for sport and thousands of hours invested in training, it is not surprising that many aspiring athletes think that coaching may be a rewarding career. However, for those from other countries, the visa process can be complex and challenging. The goal of this articles is to help you understand ways you can standout as a candidate and help nudge schools towards wanting to support you in the visa process.
I first met Giovana Maymon when I was driving from my Florida home to go out west for the summer. A former standout Golfer at Baylor University, where her team finished National Runner Ups, Giovanna had strong recommendations and had just finished two master’s degrees while gaining coaching experience at South Alabama.
She had outstanding credentials but was striking out on jobs because according to her, “the most frustrating thing is knowing that you have to get over two hurdles; you have to be the best candidate, and the school has to be willing and able to do the visa.”
This is a common issue. In fact, Giovana’s friend, and another GA at South Alabama, Patricia Martins, was in a similar spot with tennis.
So, what did they do? How did both of these individuals navigate the process with Giovana ending up as the assistant women’s golf coach at Texas A&M University and Patricia as the assistant women’s tennis coach at University of Texas San Antonio?
Building relationships as an international coaching candidate in college athletics
Many young coaches believe that their personal success will lead to the next job. While having success as a player or coach is a factor, I believe the most important factor in the industry is relationships. The fact is that college coaching is a closely connected network .
Even though jobs are posted, most people rely on their close network of peers for suggestions. In this world, a call from a friend goes a long way to get a candidate an opportunity for an interview. According to Martins, “networking completely changed the landscape for me. I reached out to elite coaches; people with great reputations and told them about my experience and my goals.”
Using this tactic, Martin developed a mentoring relationship with several coaches, trading ideas and learning about their coaching philosophy and style. Then one day, she got the call. “I heard from the Texas A&M coach that University of Texas San Antonio was looking, and they had recommended me! It was a pivotal moment that helped me find a fantastic home, I’m thrilled!”
Without a personal connection to open the door, it is unlikely that she would have gotten this opportunity.
When interacting or networking, keep in mind that you are showing people how you would represent them or their school in the recruiting process. As such, it is essential to not only be prepared with strong understanding of the persons background an great questions but to demonstrate strong communication skills. Showing you can relate, have passion and are hyper interested in coaching will go a long way.
Likewise, you should always do follow-ups. It is my recommendation to send hand-written thank you letters to anyone who helps you.
The qualifications required for international candidates
To even be eligible for a work visa, international candidates are going to need to meet a number of qualifications, including having a master’s degree and some experience in their field. According to Maymon, “starting with the end in mind really helped me. I knew that after college and playing, I had to meet the threshold of having a master’s degree and also some experience. However, I also knew that I could do more and it might matter.”
In fact, Maymon did a lot more. In the 2 years after finishing playing, Maymon earned two master’s degrees, earned several golf-related certifications and won the award for most outstanding student in Sports Management at South Alabama.
According to her, “South Alabama was an amazing opportunity, I almost missed! Being here, being able to get experience and to learn so much has really been such an awesome blessing. I have learned so much and it has really prepared me for coaching but has also given me credentials which will make the visa process easier.”
Maymon’s story is a success because she saw the visa not as a barrier but an opportunity. She worked to exceed the qualifications because of her passion to coach, and when it came to getting a job, she had a resume filled with accomplishments which made her stand out in the process.
Use camps as an opportunity to get experience and build relationships
Early in my own voyage as a college golfer, I played a qualifying round and shot 68. I sat by 18 with my chest puffed out, waiting for the other players to finish. I was cocky, until one of my teammates came in with 61. That night, as I lay in bed, I thought “how do I get 7 shots better?” I was at a loss.
This moment planted the seed for me that if professional playing was not an option, maybe coaching was the answer. With this in mind, I wanted to get to know elite coaches and so I (true story) called Rod Myers, the Duke men’s golf coach, to ask if I could work at their golf camp. He did not respond. So I called back, again and again, maybe 30 times, until I wore him down.
For my own voyage into coaching, camp experiences made a huge difference. For a couple of weeks each year, I got paid to spend time with elite coaches, picking their brains and, more importantly, building relationships. By the time I graduated with my master’s degree, I had done more than 30 weeks of camps and had wonderful relationships with several elite coaches. People who knew me and were willing to make a call on my behalf for job opportunities, which did a ton to open doors for me.
I suggest young aspiring coaches do research to try and find opportunities in the summer to gain experience and be around elite coaches. It is an excellent opportunity to network and learn more about the realities of being a college coach.
Nothing is more important than your reputation
People in the world of college athletics are defined by their reputations. As a young aspiring coach, be aware of how you interact and treat coaches, administrators and support staff.
It is critical to remember that the coaching world is very small. Don’t be surprised if an administrator or coach of a smaller program has a best friend, cousin or random connection to the type of place where you would really like to have the opportunity to coach. So, the advice is simple: Work on your people skills. Be gracious, kind and show strong communication skills. Introduce yourself. Look people in the eye and always mind your please and thank-yous.
Navigating the visa process as a young coach can be very complex. I hope this article has provided some insight and strategies you can use to give yourself the best odds of success. Good luck in your voyage!
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