Dear Young Volley,
First of all, thank you. It was courageous of you to write this note. I am not sure you ever thought I would see it, but your mom put it on Insta so you can thank her for embarrassing you. More on embarrassing parents in a minute. But first, I want to encourage you to continue your goal of encouraging young athletes some day in the future. That day will certainly be here before you know it and then you will be getting letters from other hopefuls just like I did this week (from you). Second, you asked me for some tips. I usually don’t give advice because if I have learned anything over the years it is that I don’t know anything – and also other people don’t necessarily know what is best for me. But, I do like to talk and I do like to write, so here are a few I came up with.
1. Heroes Make Us Dream – I had several volleyball heroes when I was your age and younger. Most of them were from the University of Texas Women’s volleyball team. I remember going to games as a little girl and just thinking that they were so amazing. They were strong, confident, super tall, competitive and when they played the entire gym would stand to their feet and cheer in such a roar that it made me want to do exactly what they were doing someday. I remember being at a game and hearing one of them was an All-American player and I thought to myself “whatever that is, I want to be that.” My love for the sport was born in gyms just like that. I also looked up to so many Team USA players like Flo Hyman, Eric Sato, Karch Kiraly, Bev and Kim Oden, Caren Kemner, Liz Masakayan…Paula Weishoff, Rita Crockett, Debbie Green – I can go on forever. But I won’t.
To you, I say this: Pick good heroes.
2. Disappointment Comes With Dreaming – It’s true. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but disappointment happens. Do not let it keep you from experiencing what you have right now. Be proud of what you can do and what you are doing today. One of the biggest disappointments that I had as a volleyball player was not making an Olympic team. I don’t talk about it much, but it was heartbreaking. I did two tours with the U.S. National Team and represented the U.S.A. in many different countries. Singing the national anthem with my hand over my chest while wearing red, white and blue will always be something I am proud to have done. Not meeting that last volleyball goal stung for quite some time. So much so that I started to think that what I had done and what I had accomplished didn’t mean anything. I stopped talking about volleyball and I removed myself from the community I had been a part of for so long. Until a very wise woman told me that I shouldn’t be doing that. Lisa Love recruited me when she was at The University of Texas at Arlington in the early 90’s. Years later when she was the Athletic Director at Arizona State, she told me in so many words “Don’t you ever minimize what you did at Georgia. For that sport and for that University. What you did, you should be proud of. Don’t forget that.” That shook me to my bones and although I didn’t start coming around for a few years, those words meant everything.
To you, I say this: Don’t ever minimize what you are doing today, right now. You should be proud of what you are doing. Don’t ever forget that.
3. Today Translates Into Tomorrow, Do Good Things – Speaking of what you are doing right now, know one thing: it will translate into what you do tomorrow. If you slack off today you are practicing how to slack off tomorrow. Whatever you practice becomes habit. Sure, you can change things but change takes a little time – sometimes it takes a lot of time. If you practice today what you want for tomorrow you will be that much wiser. I mean this for volleyball, but I also mean this for life. I’ve made lots of mistakes and have had to change things big time, but I am always thinking about how my actions will play out down the road. Even when I am working for free or for a job that many might think is beneath them, I am doing my best. Remind me to tell you the story about how I sold thirteen $100 throw blankets at Pottery Barn one day.
To you, I say this: Sow good seeds and you will reap season after season of harvest.
4. Get Used to Embarrassing Parents – You have them. I had them. It’s kind of a rite of passage. I remember being like “why do my parents have to come to all my tournaments and all my games!?” I mean they came to all the games (except my freshman year and my dad confided in me that he didn’t come because we weren’t very good – insert laughing.until.crying emoji here). But, once we got good, they were there…and they were not quiet. They were loud. They might have been the loudest. One time my dad even got kicked out of the gym during a game because he carried a small megaphone into the gym. They told him he was not allowed to bring anything like that into they gym to amplify his voice. But because my dad is embarrassing (and quite clever), he went to the concession stand, ordered a large coca-cola, drank the entire thing in minutes flat, bottomed out the cup and began using that cup as a megaphone. He couldn’t get kicked out because it was something they sold at the games. To this day, my parents are my biggest supporters. In fact, my dad is convinced that I won the CrossFit Games last year after he saw me survive workout 14.5 (21-18-15-12-9-6-3 thrusters/barbell burpees) and my mom was screaming at me during the workout saying “you can do it! One more rep. Pick up the bar! Leave it all on the floor!!”
To you, I say this: Your parents are your biggest fans – forever, so get used to it.
5. Whatever You Have Enough of, Give It Away – Be it money, time, influence, knowledge, joy, empathy, strength, confidence, understanding – give it away and don’t expect anything in return. One of the greatest gifts I have is to give away that which is not mine in the first place. I worked hard and I earned a lot of awards during my career, but none of it was just mine. It took lots of people to make that happen. My parents, my friends, my teammates, my coaches (the good ones and the not so good ones), the people willing to take a chance on me, my trainers, my teachers, my academic and athletic counselors, my siblings who played pepper with me in the back yard. Those people gave away their time, influence, money, strength, understanding, knowledge and joy expecting nothing in return.
To you, I say this: Work hard and someday you will return the favor.
Thank you, young volley for making me think about the things that really mattered to me while I was playing. You allowed me the opportunity to put words to a topic that I hadn’t really thought about in years. I used to get letters like this when I was at Georgia and I just didn’t know how to respond to them, see today I got to do that. Thank you!