Five days ago I entered my high school gym for the first time in 4 years… sights and smells all the same. But me, different. As I walked through the lobby and reminisced old times I knew the words I would share with this group of young aspiring volleyball players were ones they needed to hear.
Throughout middle school and high school I was a volleyball gym rat. I loved the game, couldn’t get enough of it. But, I was also consumed by it outside of the gym. I’m not sure when it began but I would literally replay every good, bad, or indifferent ball I touched that day, whether that’d be practice or a game. It took me until my sophomore year of college to learn the invaluable lesson of compartmentalization.
Sometimes as athletes we are encouraged to constantly be thinking about our sport and making it our identity. This mindset is what got me into a deadly trap of worry, anxiety, comparison, and ultimately being unhappy and not enjoying volleyball. Key word in that last sentence; enjoy. Why do we play sports anyway? Because they’re fun, right? At least I hope that’s why someone would play. When volleyball began to feel like a job and the fun was taken away, I knew I had to change something. I wanted to be free of the ever lingering shadow of frustration that came along with putting my personal value into something so futile as a game.
I do not remember exactly when I began training myself in this new mindset, or even when it truly became my new normal, but it has given me so much freedom in sports and life in general. I made the decision that I would only think about volleyball when I was in Hilton, Forker, and the Jacobson buildings (where we competed, practiced, and lifted when I was at ISU). This also meant that I would leave my school, social life, etc. thoughts and baggage outside of the gym. When I would step into any of those locations volleyball would be my one focus. Each ball was an opportunity to get better. I began to push myself harder and not get so frustrated with myself after a bad play because I had the energy and focus needed to make the next one better. Mentally, my volleyball game improved and again I began to enjoy the sport I love so much.
Let’s press pause for one sec.
I know some of you are taking this literally; like, so you’re saying ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is okay?
Nope, it’s unwise to completely put to the side the fact that you’re an athlete. Continue to stretch, eat well, stay hydrated, and be aware of your body, but don’t be stressin’ about the missed serve, low set, or shanked pass – you’re the only one still worried about it, to everyone else it’s forgotten.
Love your sport. Be dedicated and put in the work needed to succeed, and always keep the joy in doing what you love.
Today, I woke up in Pihtipudas, Finland and completed my third day as a professional volleyball player. New sights and new smells, same game that continues to bring me so much joy.