Diane Nelson is the face behind the scenes of Gonzaga volleyball. Acting as the head coach for three years and a member of the coaching staff for nine years, Nelson is determined to lead her team with courage, passion and patience.
She intends to form not only good volleyball players, but good human beings. Her passion exists in the sport and pursuing both goals fulfills her passion for people.
“Coaching is teaching and growing young athletes into great young women,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of things that sports teach and volleyball is an avenue to make an impact on young people.”
Her journey with GU spans back 24 years. She graduated from GU in 1999 with a degree in physical education and enjoyed an impactful volleyball career. Nelson ended her collegiate career as an Academic All-Conference honoree with 1,094 kills and 95 service aces.
After graduation, Nelson moved to San Diego to further pursue her volleyball career. She was not quite sure where her journey would take her, but she knew a passion for volleyball would always be there.
“I have always had a passion for sports, but there is just something different about volleyball,” Nelson said. “Volleyball is something that I enjoy every single minute being on the court.”
She coached club teams, taught high school P.E. and, eventually, played professionally with the International Volleyball Federation and the Association of Volleyball Professionals. From 2006 to 2008, Nelson’s life was taken over by beach volleyball on world tours in pursuit of the upcoming Summer Olympics.
After gaining more experience and knowledge in the field, Nelson made her way back to GU as a volunteer assistant on the volleyball team in 2011. She never thought she would be back at GU but thinks that everything happens for a reason.
Following that first volunteer position, she then became the first assistant from 2012 to 2014. Then, she moved to the second assistant from 2014 to 2015 before assuming the role of head coach in 2016. Her different responsibilities on the team prepared her for all the challenges and duties of being a head coach.
“What I know now as a head coach compared what I knew when I started is crazy,” Nelson said.
As head coach, she focuses on consistent and intentional training, and building a base for her athletes. Every team experiences wins and losses, but creating a strong team dynamic and culture is what GU volleyball is about to Nelson.
“Coach Diane’s commitment to this team never wavers and holds us to high standards that motivate us to be our best on and off the court,” redshirt junior Katelyn Oppio said.
Last year was the biggest learning curve for Nelson because of a shift in team dynamic, caused by players graduating and a team largely consisting of young athletes.
To combat these changes, Nelson, along with the other coaches, began developing training sessions on leadership, which aimed to build a culture with clearly defined team values. She invited the players into the process of establishing these trainings to find out what specific things the team would benefit from and the different ways they can implement them.
“Inviting an athlete into the process is an important piece to building a team because they feel connected and responsible to the goals of the team as a whole,” Nelson said.
Ultimately, the direction of the program will lead to athletic success because of the committed players and coaching staff that have helped to build the core values of the team, Nelson said.
“Every player in the program wants to leave something behind,” Nelson said. “They want to leave their mark, and these girls are hungry, motivated and willing to learn.”
Being a GU alumnus, then coming back in a new role to coach volleyball has introduced a novel perspective for Nelson.
“I wish any 18- to 22-year-old could understand how much people care about their well-being and development,” Nelson said. “And the people I’m surrounded by in the Gonzaga community are people who care about every individual, win or lose. I always knew Gonzaga was a great community but coaching really opened my eyes to that.”