Dear Athlete, Be A Conundrum

I’ve been playing volleyball for 16 years and I still get jittery and have butterflies before the first practice, first match, and first point of a new season.  Then, instantaneously, I’m swiftly immersed into the familiarity and joy that comes with playing volleyball.  That’s why I can say I’m as excited as ever to enter my 14th season and 19th team!  Some season’s feel like work and those were some of the hardest – physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It took many years, lots of heartache, encouragement, and loving mentorship to get to where I am today – volleyball doesn’t feel like work, it’s just fun!

By the time I was 12 I had played every position on the court and I believed it was time to establish myself as an outside hitter, many coaches begged to differ and encouraged me that my highest potential was as a setter.  During club tryouts that year while I was enjoying hitting lines I was asked to jump in and set.  I did so willingly, but was sure to ask if I could have more chances to hit, reminding them I was going to be an out side hitter… it’s been 10 years and I’m still waiting 😉

Not really, since then I’ve set on all but one team I’ve played with and had the opportunity to set and hit on a lot of those teams.  It’s been a process and sometimes and up hill battle but I am SO thankful and humbled to embrace the role of a setter!

At the beginning of one of these seasons I had a coach walk up to me and state matter-of-factly, “You are a conundrum, Suzie.”

I smiled and asked if that was a good thing.

He answered with a chuckle, “haha, ah, it’s the best conundrum a coach could have.  I just don’t know what to do because our best passer is also our best attacker but also our best setter.  What do you want to play?”

Again, I smiled.  “I’m sorry coach, I’ll do whatever you need me to do!”

During one high school season I even set and blocked out of the middle.

Because of my willingness and enthusiasm as a young athlete to play every position and see the sky as the limit I was able to be used as a versatile player, giving me more opportunities to see the court.

So, to the high school athlete full of jitters and butterflies with the uncertainty of tryouts and your upcoming season, I hope to encourage you with these simple ways to prove to your coach that you would be a positive addition to their team.

Be a team player – do what you’re asked, set up the nets, help take them down, shag the balls, help fill water bottles, open the door for people, make intentional conversation with each of your teammates & coaches, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to fulfill the role you’ve been given on your team.  No matter what that role is, it is important and you need to make the best effort to undertake the responsibilities with humility and confidence.  You could be asked to be a more vocal leader on the court or you might find yourself now playing half the time.  No matter what, those around you are watching how you respond to success or adversity.  I’ve seen teams been built up and torn apart by a single player not fully embracing their role.  Don’t let that be you or your team.

Your coach might ask you to do something outside of your comfort zone or above what you think your ability level is, but odds are they’ve been around the sport longer and might see a quality or skills that you don’t see yourself.  These are the best challenges in life!

Be a conundrum i.e. be a volleyball player – you are not a setter, middle, libero, blah, blah. Be a volleyball player, if you typically play middle and coach asks you to pass in a demo – DO IT!  There is so much specialization happening early on in the learning process of sports that it limits the skillset and mindsets of the athlete. Be open to trying new things and broadening your abilities!

Be punctual, remember your jersey, don’t forget your shoes…etc. – running because you’re late is one of the worst punishments ever.

Keep volleyball fun – it’s a sport, a game, a leisure activity (okay, maybe it’s not always leisurely, but my point is it’s not life or death).  There are a couple ways in which I’ve learned to do this myself:

  • Make jokes, laugh at funny plays, laugh at your coaches jokes, hug your teammates, make an ace cheer, jump up and down after a huge point!
  • Since my sophomore year at Iowa State I only let myself think about volleyball while I am in the facilities where I practice, workout, or have volleyball related activities.  If I am not in one of these places I avoid having intentional conversations or thoughts about volleyball, if someone else brings it up I’ll have the conversation but I typically don’t initiate them myself.  This has given me freedom to think and focus on other things rather than being consumed by a mistake I made in a game three days before.  This mindset has also helped give me soo much freedom in the gym as well,  I feel more focused and I am able to be more fully present – physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Changing to this mindset did not happen overnight, it’s not a fix all, it’s not perfect, & it’s not easy, but for me the change was worth it!
  • Find a hobby outside of volleyball that you enjoy – reading, writing, playing an instrument, poetry, singing, drawing…  Stimulating my mind and body in different ways has helped keep me fresh and focused in volleyball.  Doing things outside my comfort zone and ability level are really hard, and really frustrating sometimes, but so rewarding when I reach my goal or finally feel competent in a new skill.
  • Play pick-up volleyball – this is my favorite way to keep ‘work volleyball’ fun! Grab your friends, find some grass, set up a net, and play for hours! I literally don’t think I’d enjoy volleyball as much as I do today if it wasn’t for the hours of pick-up ball I’ve played over the years!

Go learn, go grow, go be a conundrum!

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