Is Sports Culture Toxic to Athlete Mental Health?

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In early April, I was supposed to speak on a panel at a global sports summit with the Global Sport Institute on the topic of mental health and student athlete populations. The panel had a former wrestler from Arizona State University, Ryan Milhof, who had been public about his mental health struggles as well as Kristin Hoffner, a principal lecturer in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. I was extremely honored to be in the room with these people. It was what I might have called a dream conversation. After all, I’ve been talking about mental health and athletes since I graduated from high school and more publicly on this blog for close to fifteen years – not that any of those things qualify me, but you can see why I’d be excited. (If you want to see my qualifications, you can skip to the bottom to read my author bio).

So why was this conversation so important? Let me back it up a little bit. In 2003 I started my graduate program in Clinical Psychology. In fact, on my mission statement at the beginning of that program, a hopefully 25 year-old me was certain I’d be set up on a college campus as a therapist and the athletes would just flock to me in droves.

Only problem was, athletes don’t need help.

I mean, we all know they need help, but they aren’t going wake up one day after years of being told to “grind harder” or “get tough” or “your fine, man up” to deal with their anxiety, stress, depression or any multiple other variations of mood or mental health issues. Nope, they are going to pretend like nothing is wrong, work harder, train longer, rest less, ignore multiple symptoms that usually originate physically, self-medicate, isolate and then one day an injury will stop them in their tracks or they’ll graduate or somewhere in between those two things, they’ll just break.

But why do coaches, admins, parents, AD’s and all staff have to wait for an athlete to break in order for us to provide resources? Where does sport culture start, how is it perpetuated and what is the answer to the panel conversation “Is Sport Culture Toxic to Athlete Mental Health?”


Let’s begin here. The graphic above is one I created for the panel conversation and demonstrates the various levels of sport. Each color represents a different level of play and each circle anther person or group of people who contribute to an athletes sports journey – from recreational play all the way to the pros. As you can see, the longer an athlete plays, the more people they are responsible to. As for reaching the professional level, I am aware of another graph published and circulated years ago by the NCAA on the percentages from each sport that end up playing beyond high school (the link has since been removed likely because it’s old data, but here’s what the NCAA has published since).

If you are like me and have been following recent studies and trends, you know more than 70% of youth athletes stop playing their sport right around their junior year. This could be the result of many different reasons: when an older athlete doesn’t make varsity and chooses to try something else, developmentally they want to be more social, school and sports and/or family life are too much to balance, no opportunities outside of high school sports besides pricey club options, other financial reasons to stop playing like they need to have a job to support family responsibilities or personal expenses – to name a few.

Enter burnout. Burnout is a physical or mental breakdown caused by over working, over training or excessive/chronic stress as a result of playing sports. But what if there’s another, less logical and more emotional reason for kids leaving sport? What if burnout isn’t as simple as training too much, not having fun anymore and just wanting to live normal lives. 

Though I’ve not conducted research studies, I have had my own experience as a collegiate and professional athlete and have coached thousands of athletes as a sports coach. My main theory on burnout is that instead of only being a function of doing too much or training too much, it’s a function of mismatched values. Values between a coach and an athlete, a parent and an athlete, a sports culture and an athlete.

Ahhh, there’s that word, culture.

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From the moment a child kicks his first soccer ball, throws his first tiny, plush baseball or bounces a Spiderman bouncy ball we start dreaming big dreams for them. If we’re honest, we’ll look back at baby pictures and see we’ve dressed them in little miniature jerseys of our favorite sports teams. If we played sports, look out because they will either be better than we were or they will never live up to what we’ve dreamed up for them.

And, they aren’t even five yet.

Whether we want to see it or not, our kids first exposure to sports culture is our homes. This doesn’t matter what demographic or socio-economic status you fall under. What we think about sports will trickle down to what they think about sports. Even the parents with the best intentions will struggle to separate their own desires for their kids with what is actually best for their kids. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. Here are a few things I’ve heard at ball parks, soccer pitches, volleyball gyms and everywhere in between.

“Oh, they want to train six days a week.”

“They beg me to take them to weights and conditioning.”

“She’s had a tennis racket in her hand since she was 2!”

Now, I’m not saying those things aren’t real and those things won’t benefit a child or a future athlete, I’m just saying they came from somewhere. Babies are not born with intrinsic drive to perform. They are born with intrinsic drive to be nurtured and loved and be cared for and as they get older, they will do anything (even practice six days a week) in order to feel that.

LESSON #1: The first place sport culture starts is in the home and from our first caregivers. And, that’s okay, just know you are part of defining that and however you choose to do that will set patterns for future mental health and wellness.

As the child’s sports experience broadens, they will be exposed to various other cultural influences from coaches, the sport itself, the level of sport played and various other influences. My graphic above shows that from the moment a child begins sports, the opportunity to start building healthy mental wellness habits and skills is available.

Most sports programs are aware of mental health issues at some level, but most programs, including recreational leagues, have no idea how to implement skills and exercises that address it at these younger levels. Coaches at these levels are often volunteers and parents who are doing crowd control. And before you think I’m dissing the volunteer and parent coaches, I’m not – my husband and I have done our fair share. I am saying that we can coach and add in good, healthy mental skills at an age. An hour of fun from a supportive, encouraging parent or volunteer coach is a mental health skill. 

LESSON #2: Even at the most introductory levels of sport, we can begin to implement mental wellness skills like fun breathing exercises, communication skills and having a basic understanding of the developmental stages of the kids they are coaching. Support, safety and encouragement are a priority and those habits begin at the youth level. We create the team culture at any age.

As athletes progress to high school and club levels, their cultural exposure shifts to whatever values those clubs and institutions embody. Some higher rated clubs and programs may focus on outcomes, win/loss records, getting athletes seen by scouts or college coaches. Other programs may be more focused on the whole athlete experience, academics as a priority, community service and the athlete’s goals after sports. Developmentally, however, the high school years are when we start seeing more burnout and injuries as pressure mounts for them to do more as they begin their foray into young adulthood.

It is during this time when teenagers are at an age that developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, would call “Identity vs. Confusion.” These are the years when children and teens are forming their social identity and figuring out where they fit within their peer groups. This is an extremely difficult time as they are simultaneously separating from their parents and also still dependent on them for many physical and emotional needs. They also need a lot of naps.

Coaches, admin, academic advisors, teachers, college scouts (if applicable), sports med, friends, teammates and yes, still parents, all become a regular part of the culture that builds a system around the athlete. In an ideal world, this system builds physical, emotional and mental health into the sports experience. Unfortunately this often gets silo’d off and instead support it feels like a bunch of people they have to figure out how to please. Sports at this age becomes more stressful and athlete personal values begin to develop as they navigate their own personal identity.

LESSON #3: When athlete values and sport program values begin to differ, there’s an opportunity for growth and learning. When we dismiss their values and who they are becoming (even if it varies greatly with our sports team culture or family sports culture) athletes experience burnout. Sports is no longer fun because now they have to work hard not only to be good at their sport, they have to work hard to be good at a value system they may be struggling to understand or fit into.

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If an athlete makes it to the collegiate or professional level, they have likely already internalized the various cultures they have been a part since they began playing. Each team they played for has either reinforced or helped them rework values based on their team cultures. Colleges usually recruit to their cultures – when those values match, its usually a great experience for the both the athlete and the university or college. When those values are healthy and support mental health and wellness and provide resources that put the athlete first, that’s the best case scenario.

LESSON #4: When values and cultures do not put the athlete first or do not provide resources that athletes have clear access to, mental health issues are sure to continue and perpetuate. Ask yourself, are my athletes better and healthier because of this experience or are they more confused and more stressed?

I love sports and team culture as a vehicle to teach and grow athlete and coaches. Our responsibility as coaches, administrators, sports medicine, teachers, parents and athletes is to have these conversations often. To grow and learn on our own, not just in the systems that create winning records, but in the systems that create winning communities, societies and cultures. I hope I didn’t answer the question for you, but allowed you to think about what your program or family culture looks like and what conversations you can be having to do what is best for the athletes in your life.

If you’re still here, thank you.

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 has also written two performance mindset journals:

“30 Day Reset Journal: An Edge in Sports, A Habit for Life”

30 Day Return to Play, An Edge in Sports, Mental Reps for Life.

She is an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, SEC Freshman and Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s prestigious Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She has coached at the youth, high school, club and collegiate level. She is married with two children and currently coaches performance and mindset journaling to youth and college athletes and coaches.

When Parents Have FOMO in Youth Sports

“Mom, why didn’t you put me in baseball when I was six?”

My ten year-old’s words swirled through the air as we made our way through the parking lot after an evening little league game.

I lost myself in thoughts playing rapid fire in my brain.

Did I rob him of precious reps by not putting him in t-ball or coach pitch?

Had I squandered his preschool and kindergarten years because I wasn’t ready for team sports yet?

I searched for reasonable answers, but decided to remain silent … and anxious.

The tapping of his cleats on pavement brought me back to the parking lot.


“Our anxiety is a call to action generated by the monkey mind’s perception of threat,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

What happened in that parking lot was pretty simple and happens at little league and gym parking lots all over the country. My anxiety, created a response in me and made me want to do something to fix it.

Not fix my kid or answer his question, but fix my anxiety.

It’s an important distinction to understand, because there is a difference between addressing our kids question and addressing our own anxiety. My kid asked a question, he did not question my parenting.

See what I did there?

My kid wasn’t anxious. My kid was curious.

When your anxiety makes you think you are missing out, you are experiencing parental FOMO (Fear of Missing Out for those of you who still don’t know what that is).

Your brain gets hijacked and starts thinking things like “oh my gosh, I’m responsible for my kid missing out on x, y or z.” These initial thoughts, or what cognitive behavioralists call automatic thoughts*, aren’t inherently bad. It’s normal for most of us to question a decision even when we’ve planned or thought it out for months. Most of the time, we experience the anxious feeling, remember why we chose what we chose, and move on. Sometimes though, these thoughts don’t stop in the parking lot and you are no longer addressing your kids question, you are doubting your parenting and that can make us do a lot of crazy things.

“When hijacked by anxiety, we adopt the monkey mindset, which assumes that in order to be safe we must be certain of al outcomes, we must be perfect, and we must be responsible for others’ feelings and actions,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

Here are some of the actions taken because of Stage One FOMO aka YOUR anxiety:

  • Coaching your child loudly from the stands.
  • Comparing your child’s ability to the ability of another child.
  • Scrambling to schedule private lessons for a child who has never played, but is trying out in two days.
  • Yelling or approaching a coach after practice because of playing time.
  • Blame other players or coaches for a loss or bad practice.
  • Yelling at an umpire or referee because of a bad call.
  • Embarrassing your child, their coach or their teammates.
  • Trying to keep your child from the inherent struggle that is built into sports (see all of the above).

Remember, kids are supposed to have a range of experience, struggle, disappointment, success, joy, happiness, etc. in order to develop a wide range of life skills and the resiliency they need to thrive. As a parent of young children just beginning their journey into sports, dance, music, preschool or whatever, it can be confusing to discern the difference between helping your child and your own parental FOMO.


“When there is a perception of threat, the amygdala set off an alarm system that alerts their neighbors, the hypothalamus and the adrenal glands, which in turn send hormonal and neurological signals to the sympathetic nervous system, instructing it to accelerate the heart rate and breathing, bathe you in stress hormones, and shut down digestion and other necessary functions – in short, to go into survival mode,” Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

It’s sort of like a fire detector. Every experience, every sound, smell, feeling or thought passes through the amygdala and when it smells smoke it signals our brain and our body to take action, because, duh, fire. Our brain shuts down even the ability for our body to digest, making the amygdala the ruler of all. We begin to think of multiple scenarios (see automatic thoughts*) as to what might possibly go wrong. Our bodies then summon the proper response for those scenarios: shallow breathing, sweaty palms, signing up our kid for private lessons, yelling at a coach, blaming teammates for making mistakes … Wait. What?

Yep. Instead of surveying the situation, taking a moment to understand the context and simply fanning the smoke away from the detector, your freaked-out parent self sends in a whole crew of fire fighters and a ladder truck to douse the place. You know, just in case.

The thing is, dousing the place neither solves the problem nor creates a healthy response for you or your child going forward.


This isn’t about saying you’re a bad parent (that’s your amygdala speaking), it’s about learning to recognize our own process so we don’t douse our kid with a fire hose every time they sit the bench or experience adversity in youth sports.

The amazing thing about our pliable brains is that your anxiety isn’t fixed. We can learn to be less anxious and we can learn how to manage our automatic thoughts so we respond thoughtfully and intentionally. Acknowledging our initial thoughts and overactive amygdala takes work. The more aware, the better we can guide our kids through difficult situations instead of keeping them from it. The better guide we are, the more resilient they become and the more prepared they are for the various ups and downs that come with not only playing sports, but living life.

Raising kids and navigating the waters of sports, music, school or anything else is a marathon, not a sprint.

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 was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.


Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

Automatic Thoughts

Chicken and Broccoli: Putting Whole Thoughts Into Your Mind

Location: Durham, North Carolina.

Date: Late November/Early December, 1994

Event: worst game of my collegiate career.

There are only two details I remember about this match. That I played the absolute worst match of my collegiate career and the epic tantrum I threw in the locker room after.

Now, if you want details of said tantrum, you’ll have to ask my former coaches and/or teammates, because, honestly, I try not to beat myself up over things I did when I was twenty.

Over the past couple of weeks, the high school beach volleyball team I coach was playing in our state championship tournament. We had a really great season and headed into the state finals with a 13-0 record. A lot of really good work, consistent practices and managing of schedules had already taken place for us to be here, which was remarkable in and of itself, a state championship was the icing to a well-fought season.

The team we played also had a winning record, so, on paper this should have been a close match. Despite a great win by one our 5’s pairs, we lost the dual 4-1. In high school beach volleyball, five pairs player each other (5’s play 5’s, 4’s play 4’s and so on and so forth until the 1’s) and the best of those five pair matches wins the dual. It’s similar to the pairs tennis format in high school and college. After our loss, the girls were rightfully disappointed, but what I noticed in some of the athletes was more than disappointment.

Trust me, I’ve been there. Far too many times for way more reasons than just losing a game.

See, when a seasoned athlete loses a match or does not perform to their best ability, their brains have to make quick sense of the experience. If you understand your sport or your athletic journey is a process, then your brain takes any unfavorable performance (or any favorable one, for that matter) and says “here’s what I did well, here’s where I can improve, I’m not happy about this, but I’m going to find 1% more on my next effort.” Whether that’s in their nutrition, mindset, strength training or conditioning, sleep, recovery or whatever – this athlete will press forward and find ways to improve at every effort.

I call that CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI thinking.

Let me explain.

One night my son was balking at having to eat broccoli and chicken instead of the crackers and chips or whatever else he was wanting. I told him “every time you put chicken and broccoli in your body, you are filling it with good nutrients and things that will help your body grow and function properly. Every time you put in crackers and chips or something easy, you just fill yourself up and lose that opportunity to nourish yourself.” Of course, he did not love my example, but he understood at a basic level that you can fill your body with fast food or the quick and easy or you can fill it with nutrients and promote growth and performance.

The same can be said with our automatic thoughts after a poorly executed game strategy or a performance you thought was not your best.

Listen, if you do not understand your sport or athletic journey as a process (and if you are young, you probably don’t see the big picture yet), you may say something like this to yourself: “I played terribly. I SHOULD have won. I COULD have done more. It was my fault. I played bad, I should never play bad. I’m better than that.”

This kind of thinking is not CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI thinking. This is crackers and chips. This mindset is fast and easy and it doesn’t nourish our brains to make sense of the experience whether we lose or whether we win.

This kind of thinking keeps us stuck.

This kind of thinking creates entitlement and blame.

This kind of thinking is not sustainable.

Let me repeat that.

This kind of thinking is not sustainable.

After my monster tantrum in the locker room at Duke in which they sent my assistant coach and my best roomie in to check on me, I proceeded to beat myself up mentally.

I didn’t just beat myself up over that match or that night, I continued to feed my brain chips and crackers for years and found ways to blame myself and others for more than just volleyball matches.

I spent years minimizing the good things about my four years of college sports instead of seeing the bigger picture – lifelong friends, a college degree and a chance to play internationally after graduation.

See, we will get good at what we practice whether that’s passing and setting volleyballs or destructive self-talk.

We have to practice being kind to our mind and that doesn’t mean lying to ourselves and puffing ourselves up. It means plugging into the process and finding improvements where we can in the midst of disappointment – and, like, that’s hard.

So, do this for me. Commit to improving your post-match and post-practice thoughts.

Ask yourself questions instead of polarizing the experience of good or bad. Ask yourself “what did I do well today, where can I improve next time? What would I like to see/do next time I’m on the court?”

Then go out and do it.

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 was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball. While mindset is certainly a passion of hers, she still believes in good old-fashioned hard work, strength and conditioning and laying it all out on the line when you get your opportunity.

For more information on CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI thinking, see:

Mindset, Carol Dweck; Capacity, Chris Johnson & Matt Johnson; Integrity, Henry Cloud


Diagnosis. Human: A Story of Childhood Anxiety.

I try to keep this blog to sports content as much as possible, but the truth is, I’m not just a former athlete, mom and wife, turned coach … I’m also just a regular person with regular issues and stuff I deal with like everyone else. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have something even more powerful than answers.

I have my story.

So, a slight deviation from my sports content for some real business, because after several chats with other regular humans this week, I figured maybe y’all could use some real talk too.

When I was a kid, I used to bite the skin around my fingernails.

Like if there was a hangnail, I’d just get my teeth on it and pull it right off, quick and easy.

Sometimes I’d get more than just the hangnail and have to work my way around the nail to even out the skin. I didn’t like if the skin was uneven, so I would work at it until it was. Sometimes I would get a piece of skin that was a little too thick or too attached and my fingers would bleed. It wasn’t self-harm, it was just kind of something I did when I was anxious, I guess. Some people bite their nails, I pulled my skin from the nail bed. Sorry, if you think that’s gross, it’s just what it was.

And so, even though I was a quiet, introspective kid, my nervous system was busy running laps, jumping on trampolines and doing cannon balls off the high dive.

My mom did not like this habit of mine. I was told repeatedly to get my fingers out of my mouth and she had me use that really gross tasting “nail polish” on my fingers so as to trick my mind into thinking “this is gross, don’t put your fingers in your mouth anymore.”

My brain was like “pssshhh, childs play.” So, I just washed my hands and continued my skin removing work.

Eventually, she took me to the doctor. My pediatrician to be exact. I’m not sure what she thought he was going to do there. Was there a vaccine for this? Would a prescription for an antibiotic help this finger biting child? Why won’t she stop doing this? Doc, can you give me a medical diagnosis for this ailment?

Turns out, my finger biting wasn’t a medical issue – it was anxiety. But back in the days of Gilligan’s Island reruns and the Brady Bunch in Hawaii, nobody talked about anxiety, especially in my family, especially in children. Most people tried (and still do) to treat the behaviors instead of understanding how/why they started doing it OR better yet what is maintaining said behavior.

I mean, what was all that finger biting about?

A coping strategy, albeit a gross one, to manage my anxiety and I won’t go into it here, but I had plenty to be anxious about.

Alas, I did grow up and every grown up has everything all figured out, so this is where this story ends … haha … jk … nobody’s got nothing figured out completely.

Here’s the thing. Not one human being is exempt from the human experience. Whether we bite the skin around our fingernails or we blame others for our issues, hurt others because of our issues, cut or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or sex or porn or whatever, if we are human we will try to find a way around our suffering.

Here’s the beautiful thing: pain, suffering, sometimes deep or debilitating sadness are all ways to experience joy, peace, happiness and connection. Like, if we don’t understand heartache, we will never understand love. I’m not saying we need to be miserable or harm ourselves or use destructive coping strategies to succeed at being human, but I am saying we will all experience a vast range of emotions, experiences, struggles (and also triumphs) throughout our lifetimes.  When we can talk about these things (no matter how scary they seem) and connect with other people who have gone through similar things, we can grow, heal and move forward ever so slightly.

I don’t bite my fingers anymore.

I pick them.

That’s right, true story.

See, I still have anxiety. I’m also still a wife, a mother, a coach, a writer, a lifetime athlete and much more. My anxiety isn’t debilitating, I’ve learned to manage it and I have healthy coping skills to keep me in a good (great place, actually) 99.9% of the time. But I have my days and I guess my point to this whole thing is everybody is dealing with something. Ain’t nobody up in this place with no baggage.

We all have it.

Most beautiful part is knowing my honesty and authenticity about it might help someone else who is still hiding it. Hiding our imperfections or our humanness is actually scarier than just saying “I’m human. I’m in process and I’m cool with that even if it makes you uncomfortable.” Opening up and sharing real life is owning our process and showing up exactly how we were meant to be.

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 was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed professional therapist. If you or someone you care about is experiencing anxiety or depression, please get help. Anxiety and depression are treatable and there are a varieties of effective therapies and treatment plans. I am thankful for my education in this area it helped me to understand that the best thing I could do was get honest about my struggles and ask for help.

Currently reading: Jennifer Shannon, LMFT (2017). Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Why I Like Training “By Myself”

There are two times my brain is quiet and still:

  1. when I’m sleeping
  2. when I’m training.

See, I’m a processor.

I am constantly taking in information whether spoken or sensory or relational dynamics or environmental or that mosquito that just landed on your leg and now I’m focused on … (slap. sorry).

I don’t try to process all that information on purpose, but being introverted and introspective with a ridiculously keen sense of hearing lends itself to some extra perks, I guess.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to take in more information, process it more quickly and move on instead of getting stuck or slapping flies off strangers when they least expect it.

But, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter?

Here’s why. Because at some point you will have quiet athletes that you coach or play with and they won’t give you the feedback during training, practice or games that you typically see in team players. They might look mad, upset or like they aren’t listening, but it could be that when they are playing, their mind is completely quiet and that quiet is good for them.

As a coach, when I see these players, I don’t try to transform them into cheerleaders or change their game completely, but I do try to move the needle a few degrees and get them connected – after all, a team sport does require interaction with other people and having a coach (or boss, spouse, children of your own someday) means responding to feedback isn’t just being nice, it’s actually a life skill that transcends playing sports. Here are some examples that may help you understand more of what I’m talking about:

-> “BY MYSELF” IN THE GROUP: I like being in a group on most days, I don’t mind being in a class, but I am constantly keeping track of people (processor, remember). Whether it’s my family, my kid’s schedules, my own schedule, the team I coach or any other information I am tracking, when I get to the gym, I don’t want to keep track of anyone else. Some days that means I do a group class, some days that means being in a quiet gym with no other people and no music. It really depends on the day and what I’m carrying around in my head at that moment. Players can be this way too. Maybe tracking a million things in their mind and their sport is the only time their head is quiet and still. They might seem distant or “by themselves” but it could be they need some time to assimilate before they jump right in.

-> I’M NOT TRYING TO BE COUNTER-CULTURE: Understanding yourself as a coach or a player can help your whole team. When I first came back in to coaching and had my first all-day tournament in a loud gym with non-stop stimulus, I asked my head coach if I could go somewhere quiet and just shut my eyes and put in my ear buds. I explained that I wasn’t trying to be apart from the team, but that I just needed a little time away. In my first year, I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t on board with the team or the culture, but my brain needed some peace. I can handle a bit more these days in noisy gyms, but now the head coach and I both know when I pull my sweatshirt hood up over my head and put my ear buds in, it’s time for my “sensory nap.” I try to recognize this in players as well and distinguish between a player who needs a break from the noise to refocus and a player who has a bad attitude and is destructive for the team – it can look similar, but it’s two totally different things.

-> I LIKE PEOPLE, I LIKE GROUPS AND I LIKE QUIET TOO: I truly enjoy people. I enjoy listening to their stories and processing all the unspoken information so I can ask follow-up questions. I am a sucker for a good story. But at the end of a long day, perhaps at my child’s 7:30 start for a baseball game, I’m just going to sit by myself and enjoy that I have nothing to do but watch my kid. Some players are this way too. All of their social credits have been used up before they get to practice. It’s never an excuse to be rude or take things out on your teammates (sorry to everyone I played with when I was younger), but knowing this about ourselves or the players we coach can help us utilize that valuable 10-15 minutes of warm-up to not only warm up our bodies, but our minds and our emotions as well (yes, athletes have emotions too).

What to do if you think you might be like this:

  1. remember there are other people outside of your quiet mind that are depending on you.
  2. give yourself a high five count and stick to it. Like “I’ll give my teammates at least 15 high fives during this match” – this encourages and communicates connection.
  3. make an effort to look up and at your teammates. Make eye contact during your match to remind your team, I’m still here.
  4. use your warm-up to warm-up everything from your body, to your mind to your emotions – yes, athletes have emotions too.
  5. be thankful for your quiet time when you get it and charge up when you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not being the loud one.

BOTTOM LINE is this: being an introvert or being quiet is not an excuse to be a jerk (again, my apologies to my former teammates), but awareness of how to best utilize this part of your personality will help you become a better teammate AND probably help you win more games – just sayin’ because most of us still care about winning too.

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 was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.

I’m Not Anxious, You’re Anxious: 3 Tips For Athletes (Who Aren’t Anxious)

Anxiety is a normal human process. We inherited it from our ancestors who needed it to survive in a pre-historic era of actual, constant danger. Our ancestors, however, weren’t anxious because a bear or lion gave them the side eye, trashed their loin cloth on social media or because they didn’t want to miss the championship winning shot. They were anxious because they needed to survive. While anxiety can and does serve a purpose, it can also be triggered when there is not any actual danger.

Learn how to spot the difference and how to train your anxiety just like you train any other muscle in your body – with consistency, intentionality and lots of reality.

Reality Check: “If I lose this game, I’m a loser.” “If I make a mistake, my teammates will be mad at me and the loss is my fault.” “If I fail this test, I’m stupid and won’t be successful in life.” You may be thinking “why would anybody think that stuff?” After all, it’s just a game or it’s just a test, right? Well, kinda. Anxiety and depression (related cousins causing all kinds of emotional disputes) thrive on these types of distorted, automatic thoughts. A misread glance or facial cue, body language or even the tone of someone’s response can set off what cognitive behavioral therapists call “automatic thoughts.” Not all automatic thoughts are bad, for instance, you see a bear when you are camping and your first thought is “I am not safe, I need to get out of here.” That thought will likely save your life. But let’s say it’s the last play of the game to determine the winner of the match and you think “I am not safe. If I miss this shot, the whole game is my fault. My team, coach and parents will think badly of me. I am a loser if I don’t get this point.” Those thoughts have nothing to do with life or death, they are perceived danger. They feel true, but they aren’t always true. Automatic thoughts happen instantly, can spread like wild-fire and get us “stuck” if we don’t do some reality checking. Reality checking is just that. Checking your thoughts for truth.

HERE’S HOW: As soon as you think the negative/automatic thought. STOP. Write it down or put it aside mentally. Then ask a question. “What am I feeling right now?” “What is making me feel this way?” “Is this thought true?” “Have I checked this thought for the truth?” “Have I spoken to the person I think is mad at me or am I making assumptions?” The longer we travel down the road of automatic, distorted thoughts, the more they become our unhealthy truth. We can train ourselves to stop the loop of thoughts if we are intentional about where we allow them to go.

Breathe: Four square breathing, belly breathing, deep breaths. While our bodies do a great job of regulating how fast or slow we need to breathe to sustain our lives, an external stressor such as a test, an unfamiliar social setting, a tight score in a game can change that in an instant – combine that with distorted automatic thoughts and you may get an increase in heart rate and fast, shallow breathing. For some people a big test, public speaking, or a tight match/game may be the push they need to get out of their comfort zone and try something new and challenging. For an anxious person, however,  it may cause them to “freeze up” or feel afraid/in danger. A few deep breaths before serving for match point, might refocus your attention for the few seconds you need to get your mind off your thoughts and your body plugged back in to the play.

HERE’S HOW: Take some quiet time to listen to your breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Breath normally and see which hand rises. Shallow breathing will draw air into your chest causing the hand on your chest to rise. Belly breathing draws air into your diaphragm causing the hand on your belly rise. Try taking three deep belly breaths once a day to start and then practice a couple of times a day. I’ve practiced this for more than fifteen years and find it is second nature these days when I’m feeling anxious.

Head up, Eyes up, High Fives (Interconnectedness): Interconnectedness is one of the most overlooked ways to feel less anxious. With the rise of technology and screen time, it seems like we are more “connected” than ever before, when in reality it’s only a perceived sense of connection. Human connection, even for the most introverted of folks, is vital to a healthy, emotionally-balanced life. Yeah, human beings, relationships, teams and emotions can be messy. But knowing we are not alone in the mess is a powerful feeling. When you feel down on yourself, where do your eyes look? When you are ashamed or feel guilty, what is the position of your head? The physical act of picking up your head and looking another person in the eyes and communicating “I’m still here and so are you” without saying a word can ease anxiety in team environments. It’s the notion that we are seen and that we aren’t alone in the battle, we are in this thing together. We are connected. Oh yeah, high fives help too.

HERE’S HOW: Try to get twenty-five high fives between you and your teammates over the course of a practice or a match. Make concerted efforts to slap a hand after a mistake or something positive. Keep your head up, make eye contact and say a quick “let’s gooooo” when you can between plays.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist, these are my opinions only. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, get help and talk to a professional therapist. Some of this can be managed on your own, but nothing can replace the expertise of a professional licensed therapist.  While seeing a therapist may not last a lifetime, the skills and strategies you learn most certainly will. As always, never underestimate the power of NUTRITION, SLEEP and EXERCISE in managing anxiety.

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 was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball. 


Automatic Thoughts,

Mindset Training,

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Self-Help),

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT Overview)

Mind Over Mood, Second Edition


Coaches in China Shops – What’s Your Role in Coaching Youth Sports?

Two years ago, I made the decision to get back into coaching. I didn’t come from a particularly decorated coaching career (if you can even call it that). A short three-year stint as a club coach in Southern California for a 16-3’s team and one season as the 4th assistant at Long Beach State (basically a practice dummy who hit a hundred balls at the end of practice against a live defense) in my twenties isn’t really a top-notch coaching pedigree. But, it was enough time to decide it wasn’t for me and I stepped away for almost twenty years.

But after a graduate degree in clinical psychology, a couple-three years in therapy, marriage, children and enough time in between to really miss the sport that gave me so much, I found myself dipping my toe into the proverbial coaching pool with clinics and guest appearances here and there. I finally jumped in with two feet and began coaching with a local high school team.

Since then, I have taken an intentional and consistent approach to defining my value and purpose for coaching and have seen an inside look at what our teenagers/high-schoolers are dealing with on a daily basis (even though I’m an off-campus coach, I still see and hear quite a bit).

Let me tell you. I was a competitive athlete. I like to win. I FEEL frustrated when my teams don’t win. I FEEL competitive and inferior when I don’t coach to my potential. I beat myself up and overthink losses (so, you don’t have to, thank you very much) and see where I can learn and adjust.

WHEN I feel these things, I have the same triggers that probably all coaches have – to work the kids harder, to yell louder, to run more lines, to require a bigger commitment, to change WHO I AM for the win.

But you know what? I AM AN ADULT. I know better. I know what these kids need isn’t another person requiring them to sign their life away to be a part of my team. I coach high school beach volleyball. In the current landscape most of my players are in season for either club indoor or club beach volleyball while they also play on their high school teams. They also have lots of homework, travel for their club sports, family and friend dynamics and everything else that teenagers deal with socially, mentally, emotionally and physically.

I CAN ask these kids to give me everything they are giving everybody else, but I CHOOSE not to. Now, this isn’t to say we don’t work hard in practice or that I don’t teach them everything I can about the game and about winning and about life. I spend hours a week planning practices, educating myself on a sport that is growing faster than I can keep up and researching ways to keep their bodies healthy through nutrition, strength, conditioning and recovery. I’m not a pushover and I know what it takes to be successful, but I’m not going to compromise my values or what I am about to win.


Not sorry.

At all.

When I decided to come back to coaching, I decided to come back as a resource. As a mentor. As someone who is flawed, makes mistakes, but cares deeply about these kids, their goal and what they want to accomplish through sports. I also care about my own process, what I put back into the sport and what kind of influence I want to be – though I don’t have control over what people think of me, I do have control over my ego.

My purpose as a coach is to help as many kids as possible achieve their goals through volleyball no matter how big or small.

You don’t have to do it this way, you can nitpick every point and yell after every loss and focus on talent – that’s your choice.

But in light of the way our teens are experiencing a culture of academic and social stress, I’m choosing to be part of the solution.

As adults, we can’t all demand the same standard out of the same kids everywhere they go. I mean, we can – but eventually the system doesn’t hold and it’s usually the kid that suffers. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover or be afraid to let your kids fail or be afraid to push them to experience new potential – it doesn’t mean you treat them like tea cups, but it does mean you don’t have to be a bull in a china shop to get results.

Here’s what I’ve learned: it’s amazing what you can still get from a kid when you show them you truly care about them instead of just value them for what they can help you do. Believe me, they know the difference.

How can you make a difference in the lives of the kids you influence? What mistakes and adjustments have you made and courses of action have you traveled to be the best resource for your teams? What are your values as a coach? How do you intentionally and consistently stick to these values among setbacks, losses and team dynamics? What do you learn about yourself after a frustrating loss?

Let’s know why we do what we do, especially at the youth level.

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 currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball. Though she doesn’t LIKE TO YELL in practice, she typed in all caps for emphasis. She’s not yelling at you either. 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: for more information on my ever-expanding philosophy on coaching, listen to Episode 50 of the Better Than Yesterday podcast with Jake Thompson.

Identity and Self-Worth in Sports

This is not another article about how you are more than your sport.

This is not a post about how identifying with your sport is a bad thing and that you need to find balance.

This is a post about you, having made an informed decision to play/commit to a sport you love, are (yes) a human being first, but also, perhaps, very much an athlete.

This post is about your identity as an athlete (and why that’s okay) and your self-worth as a human being and how to separate the two.


“I had teachers who said I was not good enough. So, I said I will become good enough. So, I became this guy who become obsessed to become good enough. Now I sit down and tell people who I was. Now I say ‘Do you know who I am?” Herschel Walker.

I played a little volleyball in my life. I wasn’t the best volleyball player there ever was, but I played at a high level and achieved enough success to identify myself as a volleyball player for more than half my life. In high school, I discovered this identity kept my shyness at bay. In college, I discovered I didn’t really need any other identities. At the top of my career, I discovered those paying me to play needed me to identify as a volleyball player. Not a problem.

And, it’s easy for me to slip back into that identity when I’m around other athletes. Here’s a recent exchange I had with another former volleyball player:

Fellow Former Student Athlete: Were you a pretty good student in college? Did you know what you wanted to major in when you were in high school?

Me: I went to college to hit volleyballs.

Both of us: lolz

I say this tongue in cheek, but being a student was not my main identity in college, being an athlete was. I did what I had to do to stay eligible and I did what I had to do to graduate college in four years and I did just that (turns out I really did more than just hit volleyballs). See, our identity is something we do, something we are, something we’re probably good at and those things are going to supersede pretty much everything else.

Try this. Answer the following questions to see where you might be placing your identity:

  • What things am I good at?
  • What things do I spend most of my time doing?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • How would my friends and family describe me?

While this might not be everything you identify with, it will probably hit the biggies. For example: I am a mother, a wife, an athlete, a coach and a friend.

But our identity can sometimes be co-dependent. Let me explain.


“Growing up, I started developing confidence in what I felt. My parents helped me to believe in myself. I wasn’t the best looking guy, I wasn’t the best athlete in the world, but they made me feel good about myself,” Herschel Walker.

Self worth is not self esteem. It is not confidence and it is not your identity. While our identities are ever-changing and ever-evolving, self-worth is rooted a little deeper and the two can be so closely intertwined at times they seem like the same thing.

Self worth is how we determine our value.

It’s what makes us feel worthy. There are many contributing factors to this (including our identity), but, parents, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends, coaches, mentors, clergy, culture, belief system, teachers, siblings or employers all play a part in shaping our self-worth. Our self-worth is, in part, character traits, virtues, our values, our ethics, and our belief system to name a few.

Answer the following questions to see how you might determine your self-worth (hint: use character traits or virtues instead of identities or roles you play):

  • What makes me valuable?
  • Why do people like spending time with me?
  • What do people say are my best characteristics?
  • What is my best character trait?
  • How would my friends and family describe me?

How did you do? Some of your answers might look like this: I am kind, I persevere though hard things, I listen well, I am compassionate, I share authentically, I have good work ethic.

Unfortunately, if we receive mixed messages from important people, we might say things like this: I am worthless unless I win my games, I don’t have value if I don’t perform well, my friends only like me because I am good at sports.

Unlike identity, self-worth takes time to develop and it begins in early childhood development. If you struggle with a low sense of self worth, my guess is most of what you think isn’t true, but you can get help. Sports psychologists, therapists, counselors, mentors and conversations with other athletes who have wrestled with the same topics are some great places to start.


It okay to identify with your sport, some of us need that to compete and achieve our goals. Remember, however, your identity is ever-changing and ever-evolving but your self-worth can get stuck in a bad place if you allow the two to be one in the same. Start looking at how you add value to the world and people around you, it might be through sports and it might be through something else, you just have to be willing to look closely enough to see it.

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 volleyball at the University of Georgia where she was given the nickname “The Spikedoctor” by their Sports Information Director – because, you know, she could hit volleyballs.

Additional resources on Identity and Self Worth:

Understanding Athletic Identity, Rebecca Symes

When You Lose Your Sport, What Happens To Your Self?, Carey Goldberg

Is It Really Burnout?, Priscilla Tallman

Is it Really Burnout?

At the beginning of this year, we pulled the plug on Tae Kwon Do for our kids. We first started it for my son, who was four at the time, because it was recommended to us by our Occupational Therapist as a way to gain body awareness and develop some core strength. I was game, and my son loved it. What Ninjago-loving four year-old wouldn’t love the prospect of using nunchucks and yelling “kiya!” as they kick or punch into a padded mitt?

My daughter, who watched her big brother for two years before she was old enough to participate, quickly followed suit. We signed her up as soon as she turned three.

But, despite our joy in watching our kids and their joy in living out their real-life ninja fantasies, the Master had given us this early warning: “if this is their thing now, it will always be their thing. If this is not their thing now, you will know when to move on.”

(Okay, say it again in your best Mr. Miyagi or Sensei Wu voice).

It’s not like my kids didn’t like Tae Kwon Do anymore, or, as parents, we stopped enjoying the benefits or the instructor or whatever, whatever. It’s that my children started developing other interests and had opinions about what we signed them up for. They began saying things like, “I don’t want to go to Tae Kwon Do today” or “I don’t really like sparring” and, I agreed with this one, “this bag is too big.” For a while (like more than a year), we encouraged them to stick with it, told them they were learning so much and that these were good skills for them to have for other sports. But, eventually, it was time to bow out.

Were my kids burned out? Had I pushed them too hard? Were they on the verge of quitting sports all together?

“If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals,” quoted in an article written by Saul McLeod,, 2015.

As a student of psychology in both undergraduate and graduate programs, I love the childhood development theories of Erickson, Piaget and Vygotsky, to name a few. Like any theory, these aren’t an end-all, be-all in childhood learning and development but they have helped me develop a framework to see my children (and those I coach) outside the scope of the athlete. Our children aren’t just football players or cheerleaders or scholars or black belts or musicians or chess champions or ballerinas, they are human beings first. Human beings that develop differently, if not, along a fairly predictable path toward adulthood, like those discussed in Erickson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development.

Though my children aren’t at the age we typically see burnout, they are at the age where they are learning whether or not their voice and opinions matter. They are in what Erickson calls Industry vs. Inferiority, the stage preparing them up to take initiative and resolve conflict and crisis in the years to come.

“If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and, therefore, may not reach his or her potential,” quoted in an article written by Saul McLeod,, 2017.

And who doesn’t want their kid to reach their potential? How many parents are afraid if they don’t start their kid early enough they will “miss their opportunity?” How many parents push their kids while simultaneously try to mitigate burnout?

How many coaching sites or private coaching groups post articles about burn out and/or parental pressure? How many articles have you seen titled: “Five Ways to Prevent Burnout?” “Why Your Child Should Play Multiple Sports to Prevent Burnout?” “How to Talk to Your Child In The Car Ride Home to Prevent Burnout?” “Five Foods and Television Shows to Prevent Burnout?” Just kidding, I made that last one up, but still.

American sports culture wants to grow the sport, prevent burnout, create multi-sport athletes who contribute to their communities and then scratches their head while high school sophomores and junior’s are leaving sports in droves. Perhaps what we are seeing isn’t really burnout at all. Perhaps it’s a combination of a bunch of things or something else all together.

HINT: (it is).

“The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult” from Erickson’s 5th stage of development, Identity vs. Role Confusion.

To go back to Erickson’s stages of development, children between the ages of 12-18 (the “burnout” years) are navigating some really dicey waters. Not only do they have school pressures mounting, puberty knocking at their door, peer interactions becoming more and more important to them, their minds are also developing scripts they will use for the rest of their lives. They search for their sense of self and their personal identity. They decide which values, ethics and beliefs they will take from us as parents and reproduce back into their communities and among their peers. They learn not only from their home environments, but from peers, teachers, coaches, mentors and their friends parents (see supplemental reading link for Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory).

Kids in the burnout years aren’t only dealing with what sport they want to play, they are trying to figure out who they are. Sometimes that means their interests change. Sometimes it looks like burnout.

“In response to role confusion or identity crisis, an adolescent may begin to experiment with different lifestyles (e.g., work, education or political activities). Also pressuring someone into an identity can result in rebellion in the form of establishing a negative identity, and in addition to this feeling of unhappiness,” quoted in an article written by Saul McLeod,, 2017.

Which brings me back to my kids and Tae Kwon Do. My kids aren’t burned out. My kids weren’t being pushed too hard. If my kids loved Tae Kwon Do, nothing would have kept them from it and if they ever want to go back, they will. Looks like the early warning from our Tae Kwon Do Master was dead on: “If this is their thing now, it will always be their thing. If this is not their thing now, you will know when to move on.”

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 can honestly say she never felt burned out by playing. She also currently coaches girls high school beach and indoor volleyball and strives to learn from and teach the next generation of amazing athletes. 



Supplemental reading on psychosocial child development:

Erickson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development

Piaget’s Cognitive Learning Theory

Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory

5 Things That Haven’t Changed About Volleyball

Six rotation outside hitters.

Liberos, defensive specialists.

Contesting a play to reverse the call.

Sideout scoring. Jump float. Kick saves.

Number of substitutions. Purple cards.

It’s safe to say our sport has changed quite a bit in the past decade.

As a former player turned coach who has been told way too many times “things are different now …” and “you come from a different era of volleyball …” I’m just gonna put this out there: while the sport, its rules, its physicality (and its parents) may have changed, there are a few things that haven’t.

CHAMPIONS ARE CHAMPIONS – it doesn’t matter what era you come from, a champion is a champion. How do you determine who the GOAT is for your sport? Statistics, data, court/field presence, leadership abilities, influence on the sport? You can analyze it and dissect it, but when you see it you know it and it’s hard to deny it. Think those players could compete by today’s standards? Who knows. Think those players would scrap, adapt and lead their teammates to empty the tank in every contest? Absolutely. Sport changes, the mental fortitude of a champion does not.

COMPETITORS RECOGNIZE COMPETITORS – 1917 or 2017 people who compete have always been people who compete. I’m not talking about people who are competitive for the sake of being competitive (i.e. that guy walking into Starbuck’s next to you who suddenly picks up his pace to get one spot in front of you in line), I’m talking about those people who compete with themselves. People who have goals no one knows about. People who live life by a different set of standards than everyone else and know the work it takes to uphold those standards.

Regardless of when they played, competitors live with a nagging sense that complacency is not a place they want to be in for a very long period of time and we know one when we see one.

TRAINING MAKES A DIFFERENCE – You may be hard pressed these days to find a Division I volleyball program who does squat jumps in the Smith’s machine or step aerobics with men’s basketball, but what you won’t find is any great sports program or great athletes NOT TRAINING. It doesn’t matter when you played or when you will play, training is still a difference maker between the top teams and the not so top teams. Your team practice in the gym or on the field will teach you the game, your strength and conditioning training will teach you everything in between: grit, perseverance, intrinsic motivation and mental fortitude, to name a few.

IF YOU WANT IT YOU’LL GET IT – I don’t care if you played twenty, thirty or forty years ago, if a team or a player wants it bad enough, they will figure out a way to get it. The 1950’s football player who just came back from fighting in WWII hit players as hard as their equipment allowed them to hit. Ray Lewis hit people as hard as his equipment allowed him to hit. You want to compete? You’ll find a way to compete within the current parameters of your sport and you won’t make excuses for what you do or don’t have.

CHARACTER STILL BEATS TALENT – No matter how many changes they make to the rules (or the uniforms), people still want to play with and coach the people with the best character. The most valuable character traits may vary from team to team or coach to coach, but good people are just better to play with and way more fun to coach.

So, while the game and the rules continue to evolve and change, competitors and champions span decades.

They always will.

You put any top volleyball athlete from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or even 2000’s in today’s game and though they may not be as physical, they will sure as heck work to adapt, compete with the best and not get off the court without giving their best effort and that’s what coaches from all era’s can agree on. Now, whether or not they make ’em like they used to is a different conversation all together and you can discuss that amongst yourselves.

P.S. Don’t forget to tune in to all the NCAA collegiate volleyball action this Thursday on ESPN.

P.P.S. Yes, I played that sport.

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 in the 90’s back when rocks were used as volleyballs and dried papaya leaves were strung across prehistoric bison sinew for a net held by two cave people – no antenna, no video replay, anything goes, winner takes all style.