In 1992 and 1997, I was named NCAA Men’s Volleyball Coach of the Year. The 1997 Stanford Men’s Volleyball Team I coached won the NCAA Championship. And yet, if I were able to go back in time, there are a lot of things I would do differently as the Stanford Men’s Volleyball Coach.

Here are some of those things in the form of a top ten list:

10) I would pay closer attention to “filling the emotional tanks” of my players. I just didn’t do this enough and didn’t take responsibility for it. I try to make up for this every day now with everybody that I interact with in any way!

9) I would keep things simpler and just let my athletes play! I wouldn’t take the game away from them with complicated strategies and tactics, and with over-analysis.

8) I would rest my team more at key times to help them peak. This is one of the biggest differences between my first couple years as the Stanford Head Coach and my last five or six years. Man, I wish I had kept my players “fresher” heading into that 1992 NCAA final against Pepperdine!

7) I would be less defensive. I remember yelling at Stewart Chong one time because he asked me a question about a drill. He just wanted to learn and understand. And insecure me took it as a challenge to my authority and expertise.(By the way, Stewart was a joy to coach. I was so lucky to get to coach athletes like him!)

6) I would avoid standing stoically, with my arms crossed, during practice. The late, legendary football coach, Bill Walsh, called this the position of “judgement.” What an awful feeling to give your players that you are always “judging” them! Instead, I would want my players to always feel that their coach is supporting them, especially during the tough times.

5) (Perhaps this is a continuation of #6.) I would smile more in practice and games, and around players in general. Like when I was an assistant coach. I would let more of my natural personality come through instead of letting it hide behind a need to always seem ‘in charge” and “under control.”

4) I would always recruit “character.” I made the mistake in some cases of ignoring “red flags” because a prospect seemed so “talented.” My desire to win blinded me. I paid a price for this poor judgement. And worse, my assistant coaches and other players paid for my poor judgement!

3) I would be more respectful of the officials. I was probably above average in this area, but looking back, I am not proud of those moments when I addressed the officials in a disrespectful manner. It was bad modeling, hypocritical, and quite frankly, inexcusable.

2) I would talk less about, and focus less on, the scoreboard and winning. Instead, I would always emphasize focusing on what we can control (such as our effort, learning and how we respond to mistakes). I now know that this type of Mastery focus actually produces better scoreboard results!

1) (In a way, I am circling back to #10 above!) . I would more consistently show all of my players that I care about them as a person, not just as a commodity that can help me win volleyball matches. This is my greatest regret – the times when I lost sight of this.

Sometimes, in our PCA Coach Workshops, we ask: “Put yourself into your athletes’ shoes and describe what it is like to play for you.” By using THIS SURVEY, you can do a similar reflection by completing it through the imagined lens of your own players.

About the Author

As Director of Training, Ruben Nieves is responsible for overseeing the training and support of Positive Coaching Alliance trainers around the country. Ruben earned his Masters Degree in Education from Stanford University in 1982. He coached collegiate volleyball for 18 years including stints as the Head Men’s Coach at Stanford and the Head Women’s Coach at Fresno State. Ruben was twice named NCAA Men’s Volleyball Coach of the Year, in 1992 and 1997. He guided Stanford to the Cardinal’s first men’s volleyball NCAA championship in 1997.

About Positive Coaching Alliance

Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a national non-profit organization with the mission of creating a positive, character-building youth sports environment that results in BETTER ATHLETES, BETTER PEOPLE.

Youth sports currently involves 40M children, which presents a tremendous platform on which to develop youth character and life skills. Research has shown that in order for youth to accrue these benefits from sports, sports needs to be done in a way that creates a positive youth development culture. PCA ensures sports are ‘done right’ with programming that is research-based and designed to have an impact at three levels in a youth sports organization or school:

  • Youth experience improved life skills and character development. They also perform better!
  • Coaches become more positive and increase their focus on using sports to teach life lessons.
  • Youth Sports Organizations & Schools see their cultures become more positive and everyone involved has more fun.

Since its founding in 1998, PCA has established 18 chapters nationwide, partnered with roughly 3,500 schools and youth sports organizations to deliver more than 20,000 live group workshops, reaching 19.2 million youth. PCA offers interactive online courses and has thousands of multimedia tips and tools for coaches, parents, athletes, and leaders available free of charge on PCA also runs two annual awards programs: a scholarship program for high school student-athletes and a coach award program to recognize youth and high school coaches who strive to win and teach life lessons.

To learn more about Positive Coaching Alliance, visit To request more information about bringing PCA tools, resources and training to your club, visit