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  • Writer's pictureCameron Branch & Timothy McIntosh

Transitioning to The Pros: Essential Tips for Success in Your New Career

Updated: Mar 6

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and speak in depth about transitioning to professional volleyball with Tim McIntosh. Tim is currently a libero for the USA Men’s National Team, and is my teammate here in Innsbruck Austria with Hypo Tirol Volleyball Team. In this article, Tim will touch on his journey to pro and what his process was to get there.


*Please note that this is written from the perspective of an NCAA athlete, but the process remains the same for USport athletes competing in Canada.

What was the process like to get there? 

I originally had no idea that professional volleyball existed. I started playing volleyball at 18 years of age, immediately fell in love with the game. I watched the United States National Team play at a junior nationals tournament in Dallas, Texas which sparked my interest to play in college. I was recruited to play at Alderson Broaddus University where I spent two seasons as the starting libero. As I continued to compete, my passion for volleyball and reaching my full potential grew. I did some research on the experiences of USA National Team members, and found out that they play professionally in clubs around the world (you can actually get paid to play volleyball)! Here are some example countries: Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Poland, Japan, China, Argentina, and Brazil. This was astounding to me and ignited my dream of playing at the professional level upon the completion of my college degree.

Tim McInosh receives a ball during a Champions League match.
Tim McInosh receives a ball during a Champions League match.
I transferred to Sacred Heart University to compete in my final three seasons of collegiate volleyball. I replaced the stud libero of the EIVA (The conference that Sacred Heart competes in during the NCAA Division 1 season), Josh Ayezenberg, who had gone on to pursue his dreams to play professionally in Israel for Tel Aviv. I became curious about his journey, so I reached out to him and asked about his process. 

(Tip 1: reach out to players who are currently playing overseas, gain insight, ask questions). 

Josh informed me to organize a volleyball CV, and find an agent that would be interested in working with me. In short, a volleyball CV is a document that includes things like where you’ve played, the awards and accolades you’ve achieved (All-Conference, MVP, Statistical leader, ect.), your height, weight, age, vertical jump data, and contact information. In addition, Josh informed me to have 2 to 3 full game matches against my best competition and a solid highlight tape which included my best volleyball  actions. Further, the CV and the highlight tape is often used as a first impression to get the attention of not only an agent, but also the teams that may seek to hire you. Keep in mind that professional volleyball is a business, and you are trying to sell yourself.  If you're curious to see what my highlight tape looks like, or even my volleyball CV, send me a message on instagram, and I will be happy to get back to you.  

There are different pathways to get there. 

That same year (2018), I had gone to try out for the National Team. Unfortunately, I did not make the cut my first time around. During my time at Sacred Heart, I was awarded with two, All-EIVA selections  (Honorable Mention & 1st Team), and was selected to participate with the USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team which was canceled because of the pandemic. After completing my undergraduate degree, I found myself without a contract for a year. I had originally planned to work with an agent, but it fell through. Although it seemed like the odds were stacked against me, I didn’t let that stop me from achieving my goal of signing my first professional contract. If you are determined to enter into the professional sports world, the work starts before signing a contract.

 (Tip 2: Be dynamic not static, you can grow and change as a player. You have to adapt to changing environments, and control what you can).

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to compete in the semi-professional league in the U.S. (VLA). While playing in the VLA, I was able to compile good video and stay in shape while I was waiting for a contract. 

(Tip 3: Staying in shape is important when waiting for a contract, because you never know when you’ll get the call that a club is interested in signing you). 

How did you find your current agent?

I found my agent (Marcus Eloe) through the connections I have gained through the sport. 
After initially having no luck finding an agent on my own, I was simply able to ask a friend of mine, who is connected with some agents, and she was able to connect me with Marcus. 

(Tip 4: Having a sports network can be very beneficial: check out this article here). 

Where to start looking for an agent? 

For North American (Canada/USA) athletes, stepping into the professional volleyball world can be a challenging feat. While you may have gained “a name” in your current country, for the majority of us, nobody knows who you are in other countries. This is where finding an agent can be very beneficial for your career. Agents are well connected and have contacts with clubs around the world. However, finding the right one for your specific needs is essential to “establishing yourself” in your first professional season. 

Looking for an agent may appear to be a difficult and daunting task, but well worth it. Fortunately, most agents are eager to sign new, talented, and skilled athletes. So don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Also, reach out to players in your country that are either currently playing overseas, or have played overseas. You can simply tell them about your aspirations to play professional volleyball, and ask if they have any contacts that they could share with you. There is also a platform online called Volleybox. It’s a huge database that holds so much information. Club names, coach, management, and agent contact information can be found here. It would be valuable to create a profile on this platform.

What makes a good agent? 

For me, a good agent is not only someone that finds you good contracts, but also one that cares for you as a human being not solely as a business transaction. I am grateful to be working with someone that values me as human, not only as a professional athlete. His name is Marcus Eloe. Marcus believes in me and my dreams, and supports me mentally throughout the season by frequently checking in to see how things are going. The working partnership that you have with your agent is unique in the capacity that your agent is not only presenting you to teams and negotiating contracts with clubs, but also going to bat for you when things get difficult during your time abroad. Make sure you can trust them. 

How do I know that they’re the right one for me?

It is completely normal to speak with several different agents. When deciding on an agent, here are some questions to ask: 

  1. How long have you been an agent?

  2. How likely do you think I am to get a contract?

  3. How many players are you representing?

  4. How many players in my position do you represent?

  5. Who do you currently represent?

  6. In which countries are your strongest contacts?

  7. What percentage of my contract goes to you? 

If you feel comfortable and secure that they have your best interest, then that is a good sign. 

How do I get a contract?

After finding an agent, your agent will begin presenting you to teams. If you have preferences as far as what country and league you’d like to play in, you should make that known to your agent. It is the agent's job to present you to teams, speak with teams on your behalf, and negotiate contracts. Opportunities are difficult to come by, and options may be limited. It ultimately depends on your talent and skill level. In my experience, I had only one club that was interested in signing me because of the fact that I’m a libero and I didn’t have any national team experience at the time (libero contracts are difficult to come by, especially as a foreign player).

Tim McIntosh receives a ball during a Champions League match.
Tim McIntosh receives a ball during a Champions League match.
How much do professional volleyball players make?

Professional volleyball salaries depend on position, talent/skill level, and the country/league you play in. Different from the sport infrastructure in North America, clubs gather most of their funding from local sponsors. The highest paid athletes on professional teams are as follows: 1) opposite, 2) outside hitters, 3) setters. In general, middle blockers and liberos earn the least amount of money. Athletes who have no national team experience, but were well-rounded collegiate players can expect to earn a salary ranging from $8K-25K their first year overseas. Athletes who have national team experience, will make around $10K-100K as their first year contract. Experienced athletes who have been climbing the European league ladder will range in salaries from $25K-100K. The best and most desirable players in the world will be making anything from $80K-600K. To reiterate, these numbers are general guidelines and will depend on position, talent/skill level, and the country league you play in. In your first or second year, don’t expect to make a great deal of money. Instead be mindful that volleyball extends beyond money. What isn't often talked about is the total experience that you will gain. Professional volleyball presents a unique opportunity  to see the world! You get to live in different countries, experience different cultures, and meet tons of new people.

My first year contract!
My first year contract!
What should I look for in a contract?

When looking for a contract, there are 7 things that are vitally important: Salary, apartment, Visa processes/requirements, health insurance, transport and flights. Your salary is going to be your income for the season. Keep in mind that you will need to live off of this salary. Your apartment is going to be your sanctuary when you are not training. You will spend a lot of time in your apartment, so it is worthwhile to make it a comfortable living space so you are able to decompress from stressful days of training and competing. It’s important to ask the club if it is “furnished” with cooking appliances, wifi, and a decent bed. Visa processes and requirements for the foreign athlete is going to be important to inquire about. Your visa is what is going to enable you to not only enter and live in that country, but it is also required for you to get paid in that specific country. Make sure to have that conversation with your agent or club to see what the process for acquiring a visa is and whether or not the club will cover the fees for that. Health Insurance is probably the most important thing to consider. If something were to unfortunately happen, medical treatment can be very expensive for foreign persons living abroad! Make sure to ask the club if they have health insurance. Transport. Some clubs have car sponsorships, however in Europe, most cars are manual. Can you drive a manual car? Other forms of transport can include a bus pass, train or bicycle for intra city transport. This is not overly essential, but could be beneficial depending on the size of your city. Food is EXPENSIVE! Be aware that although you get a steady income each month, if you don't have food provided by the club, this will take a good chunk of your monthly pay. Some clubs have sponsors for food (restaurants and grocery stores), so food may be provided for their athletes. For me, I spend around $300-$500 a month on food alone. Being provided flights will just make life a lot easier when it comes time to depart for the season abroad and return home once the season is over. International travel is expensive, so if you can have your club cover that expense, you can save a good amount of money.

So you’ve signed your first contract….Now what?

You’ve signed with a professional volleyball team, and are about to hop on a plane, move across the world to pursue your dream, in a foreign country. Here are some considerations to think about prior to your departure that will make the transition to professional volleyball a bit easier. (Tip 5: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail). If you attended a college or university away from home, you know what kind of process it was. Do the same here when preparing! 

  1. Do you have a packing list?

  2. Do you know how to grocery shop? Can you cook? 

  3. Do you know how to manage your body for an 8-9 month season? 

  4. Are you mentally prepared to miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Weddings, Birthdays.


Preserving through your first professional volleyball season.

You will need to prove to yourself, and to the team that you are capable of balancing the lifestyle and pressure associated with performing. Staying mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy is going to be challenging, but is an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as an athlete (and human). Building a routine is going to be very beneficial for allowing you to thrive and compete at a high level. Check out this article on the daily routine of a professional volleyball player here. Additionally, below are some other things you can do to give yourself the best chance for a successful year abroad! 

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

You’re going to be in a foreign country where you don't know anyone and don’t speak the native language. This can be insanely difficult to navigate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask your club’s staff if they will be able to provide you with language courses. If not, Duolingo and Google Translate will be your best friend. Something that helped me was getting out and exploring my new home. You will spend 8-9 months in this place so get out and explore! 

Have fun.

Volleyball is just a game and games are FUN! So remember to compete with a smile and enjoy the time you spend on the court, because one day it’ll come to an end. 

Remember your why and express gratitude. 

On the tough days when it feels like nothing is going right, you’re having a bad week, and you’re missing home, remember your why. My why is my family and friends. I hold it in my heart that those close to me are cheering me on and supporting me. They believe in me so I know that I can believe in myself. 

You didn't come this far, just to come this far.

You’ve come this far because you fell in love with a sport that has given you a lot of opportunity. You get to travel, see different countries, and experience different cultures and meet new people as your job. Many people can only dream of being in your shoes. Be grateful that you get to live the life that you do. Although it may be challenging at times, it’s so worth it.

Final Action Step!

Thank you for reading! If you thought this article was helpful, please click the share icon and share the article to your profiles so other athletes and coaches can benefit.

Follow along here on Instagram where I provide weekly tips on foundational resources including training, recovery, nutrition, and mindset!

Also, be sure to check out other articles within the  The Athlete Toolbox.
Author
Timothy McIntosh
Team USA Libero | Professional Volleyball Player | Coach

Author
Cameron Branch
Founder | Lead Coach | Branch Sports Performance
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