“So, why were you coaching that camp at Ohio State anyway?”
Oh, that’s easy. I was pouting.
At least that’s what I told the coach who asked me that question a couple of weeks ago at another volleyball camp now twenty years later. But after I answered that question, I got to thinking and thinking always leads to writing, so here we are.
Anyway, in 1996, while all my former University of Georgia volleyball teammates volunteered at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA, I was helping coach a volleyball camp at Ohio State.
Now, you may think that sounds ridiculous to pass up an opportunity like volunteering at the Olympics the year after you graduated college – a college, mind you, located only an hour and a half north of where the opening ceremonies were held – but to my twenty year-old self, it made perfect sense.
Chance of a lifetime shagging balls at the Olympics or $400 for driving in cars with random coaches and trying to hopelessly coordinate too many kids per court and come up with drills for three two-hour sessions?
The answer is always in the back story and I’ve always got a back story.
Let’s back it up a couple of decades from 1996.
In 1976, I was two.
(Ok, maybe a little less than two decades). Let’s say 1988.
I was fourteen years-old and ever since I was nine, I had fallen in love with the sport of volleyball. Lucky for me, I was raised in the heart of a town that was just beginning to flourish in that sport.
The University of Texas Longhorns were experiencing conference and national success at the collegiate level and I remember watching many a Texas match in the old Gregory Gym.
I also remember camps and summer shenanigans on that campus. Sitting under the big oak trees or on the wide steps of Gregory waiting for our parents to pick us up. In the late afternoon, the trees would come alive with the sounds of hundreds of grackles who made those big ole trees their home for the night.
Those days and evenings are staples of my childhood volleyball memories and to this day, I’d say Gregory Gym is still one of the best places to watch a college volleyball match.
Anyway, back to the story. I was fourteen.
The summer of 1988 was an Olympic year and I definitely had the fever.
Because from the moment I laid eyes on those tall, powerful Texas Longhorn volleyball players, I dreamed a big dream. I wanted to be just like them.
But like most kids with big dreams – the more I played, the more I wanted. As the ’88 Olympics took over our television screen that summer, I dreamed up another dream. Why not shoot for the Olympics too? So, in 1988 my big plans of becoming a collegiate All-American (yes, that was a real goal of mine) and an Olympian were cemented. Now, all I had to do was figure out how to do that.
Part of my dream came true at the University of Georgia. From 1991-1995, I cut my teeth as an outside hitter for Jim Iams and Jenny McDowell. These two coaches shaped me and taught me how to compete. I had enough talent to get by, but learning how to compete and how to win big matches was largely due to their coaching. I’d say I was one of those players who wasn’t the easiest to coach, but I was certainly one who wanted to win and I was willing to work. We won plenty of matches and our team was full of talented, gritty athletes. I secured one of my lifetime goals of becoming an All-American – twice, actually, (1993, 1994) – and broke several conference and national records.
While still in college, I “played” two tours with the National team (“Extended A” team) and wore red, white and blue for my country at The World University Games. Those teams aren’t Olympic teams and the players are sort of on a developmental/trial kind of continuum. There is still a lot of work that comes after those early tours and for a smaller outside hitter, I saw almost no playing time on either of those tours.
I graduated college in 1995 and 1995 was a weird year for National team stuff. While Terry Liskevych planned his national team retirement, all of us young hot shots got taken down a few notches when we realized it would also be the last Olympics for some of the greatest in the sport. There was absolutely not one person my age on that roster of legends. I’m talking Tara Cross-Battle, Lori Endicott, Caren Kemner, Bev Odeon, Elaina Odeon, Danielle Scott, Paula Weishoff and Elaine Youngs were not only amazing volleyball players, they were THE players I looked up to when I was in high school and college. Volunteering would be the closest I would get to that team.
Now, perhaps I should have volunteered at those ’96 Olympics just to surround myself with the greatness of those players and athletes. Perhaps I would have made some amazing memories and friends out of the experience. But life isn’t about regretting the past or playing “what if” all day, it’s about learning from the past and looking at all our decisions as part of a bigger picture.
After all, had I volunteered at those Olympics, I might not have had a chance to run into that coach who asked that question that inspired this post.
How bow dah?
Why do I tell this story (and any other story for that matter) Well, there a few reasons:
- It’s a good reminder to not pass up a lifetime opportunity because you are pouting. That’s just super dumb.
- Because even after 1996, I still didn’t play in the Olympics. Ultimately, in order to be at a level that high, you have to SELL OUT. You have to decide training/playing is more important than anything else. You have to just sell out. I did not have what it takes to play at that level and that’s okay. Not very many people do. In fact, of the twenty or so people in the pictures above only two of them went on to play in an actual Olympics – Charlene (Johnson) Tagaloa and Allison (Big Earl) Weston.
- Some days I need the reminder that when you set out for the biggest dreams and goals of you life, even if you don’t make them exactly the way you see them, you will still land somewhere outside the ballpark anyway. And if I need that reminder, chances are someone else does too.
So, to the guy who asked me why I was coaching that Ohio State camp, there’s your answer. Short and sweet. And for everyone else, keep dreaming and planning big.
You might not hit every big, crazy goal you set, but what if you do?
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury, The CrossFit Games and OPEX Fitness. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball (indoor and beach) and continues to learn and grow in hopes of inspiring the next generation of amazing athletes.