Book Review: Dream Like a Champion – Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way

There are loads of volleyball books, but there aren’t a lot of books with a biographical and/or historical perspective in the volleyball literature. That’s one of the motivations for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project. Dream Like a Champion โ€“ Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way by Brandon Vogel and John Cook adds to that list. It joins Mike Hebert’s books there, adding much-needed depth.

Try not to be jealous

The first thing you may have to get over while reading this book is jealousy. Nebraska volleyball has access to resources most of us could never dream of having. In some ways, the book is a constant reminder of just how well off that program – and others on their level – really is. I’m sure you can get past that, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

Fourteen chapters, fourteen topics

The book begins with what is essentially a personal biography from Cook. After that, though, each of the chapters has a different theme. They include things like going deeper on player physical development, understanding how to coach the current generation of college athletes, looking at who you work and surround yourself with, and continuing education and development as a coach.

Cook uses stories to make his case on the different subjects throughout the book. I might argue too many in some cases, but it’s not over the top. I’m sure some folks will enjoy them as they focus on elements of volleyball history at Nebraska. I’m not a part of the Husker universe, but I can appreciate Cook’s perspective on the program’s past.

Some real nuggets

A sure sign of a good book is the number of pages or sections you flag throughout the text. I pulled out several along the way myself. Here’s one of the deeper ones where Cook talks about how his coaching mentality changed over time.

“I coached for a long time like that before realizing that it did not have to be that way. I had a choice to make when I walked into the gym every day: I could coach with love or I could coach with anger. I could be in the moment every day and remember why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could marvel at all of the amazing athletes I was getting to work with and really be grateful for the opportunity we get each season to take a group of players, coaches, and staff and try to make our dreams come true.

He continues.

The other option? I could focus on every practice failure. I could take every loss personally. I could try to eliminate mistakes through fear. Every coach gets to make that choice. I write daily reminders to myself to make sure I am choosing to be the coach I want to be. I wish I had recognized sooner that the choice was up to me.”

This theme of personal growth is a common one throughout the book, and it is clearly part of the message Cook wishes to share. I flagged some other, more narrow, thoughts and ideas as well, though. For example, he shares different policies he’s had and ways he’s helped encourage improved team chemistry. And while the book certainly isn’t drill oriented, he even mentions one or two that he likes.

Get it, read it

I think the title, Dream Like a Champion โ€“ Wins, Losses, and Leadership the Nebraska Volleyball Way, probably overstates the whole “Nebraska way” concept in terms of the book’s content. Yes, Nebraska is central in terms of most of the anecdotes, but at the end of the day this is mainly a look into the mentality of one coach – John Cook. From that perspective, it’s well worth a read for coaches at any level.

One bit of advice. At the time of this writing the print book is listed as $19.99, while the Kindle version is $23.70. That’s pretty expensive for an e-book. If you can find someone who owns a copy of the Kindle version, though, they should be able to lend it to you. That’s how I read it.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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