Learning how to be my own agent has been a great experience. I’ve had several missteps, and probably have many more in the future still, but overall I have really enjoyed the challenge.
This is SO MUCH EASIER when you speak/understand the language. This gift of French that my tutor and all of my friends have so generously given to me has empowered my entire life in ways that I never imagined. I started with the players and coaches I knew. From there, I got myself a profile on a spectacular French volleyball forum called Volley-Zone.com. Not only did I get to post my profile (which is how several coaches contacted me), but clubs post what players they need, AND if they pay salaries or not.
The other link that rocked my world was just sitting on the French Federation website the entire time. On the Competitions Nationales Seniors page, you can access the email addresses of every club (upper-right corner, select “Addressier ELITE-NII-NIII en PDF”) and have a heyday sending out recruiting letters. The information is out there, we just have to find it! (And for volleyball in France, I just did it for you…you’re welcome!)
I was really bad at this as a junior and senior in high school, shyly trying to get recruited by GSAC schools. God bless my parents who did most of the talking for me during that time. Now I’m rattling off my facts in another language – I’ve come a very long way.
I always write the same introduction email: remark on their current season, ask if the team is in need of my position, ask if the club has the budget to hire a foreigner, where and what levels I’ve played, any highlights from those seasons, my basic information (age, height, weight, marital status), when I would be available to come for a tryout, and the dates of my departure and return to Europe.
Between my friends’ contacts and this format, I was able to get in contact with 30 clubs, and had 20 reply for a 66% response rate. Be prepared for a second email with your contract demands, CV/resume, and video links to send.
Out of the 20 clubs I opened dialogue with, 8 invited me to tryouts, and I went to 4. Ask a lot of pointed questions before taking the time to go anywhere: any plans to move up a division, other professional players, ability to afford moving up a division and hiring more professionals, ability to reimburse travel for coming to the tryout, longevity of current president, coach, and players, housing options, potential jobs for spouses, etc. Don’t even bother going unless the club can at least answer these questions “correctly.”
Tryouts are my strong point, as my videos are just plain boring, and my personality is best experienced in real-time. In addition, I got to “try out” the coaches, players, gyms, towns, and transport. As a college coach, I always told recruits that the best way to know if you belonged somewhere was to visit. My visits took me to new places in Paris, the north of France, and even to Luxembourg! I met a lot of great people (read: even MORE volleyball contacts), and every single coach ran a great practice. It was like a marathon of volleyball interviews, and despite being way out of shape from a lackluster year, I loved every minute of it.
This is the part that I need to keep working on. My weak deal this year dropped two boys teams and baby-sitting-in-exchange-for-housing in my lap. My new contract is much more normal; one team to coach, housing sans children, salary, etc. Basically, when a club asks you what you need, keep it as simple and as open-ended as possible. I’ve made the mistake of limiting the potential of offers; let the club give you numbers, and you can always say “no” if it’s really too low.
At minimum, ask for: work papers/visa, housing (independent if you are married), monthly salary (DO NOT write a number!), round trip plane ticket home in the summer, and some kind of transportation provision (depends on the area). If you’re an NCAA D1 All-American, I’m pretty sure you can be a lot more demanding, but for me, this is plenty and keeps us happy in Europe.
Talk to the people directly affected by the decision. This could be a significant other, parents, children, teammates, coaches, landlords, and anyone else you like talking to. For us, this year the priorities were the coach, team, location, and contract, and in that order. We were fortunate enough to have all of the facts for 3 clubs to make an informed decision.
Communicate with the potential new clubs and set dates for when the club will make you an offer. Once the offer has been made, set another date with your contact in the club (be it the president or coach) for when you will give them your final answer. If you know sooner than that, even better!
Tell the club you want to go to, “yes,” and receive confirmation back from them before telling the other clubs, “no, thank you.” Sometimes, things change, and you want to keep your secondary choices on hand if your first choice doesn’t work out when you try to commit. After a club agrees with you to move forward, then immediately inform the secondary clubs that, “it is not going to work out this season, but maybe sometime in the future.” Always leave the door open!