I read several articles over the past few weeks written by fellow athletes that are helpful and enjoyable because of the ability to relate to the experiences shared. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in the many ups and downs experienced while playing a professional sport in a foreign country. However, I often find myself thinking about the people out there who cannot relate to us as professional athletes. Time and time again I find myself becoming frustrated with family and friends when we have conversations about my professional volleyball career in Europe. I know that many of them are proud of me but they often only want to hear about the “good stuff.” They do not understand the reality of a professional athlete’s life. I believe there is a misunderstanding of what it means to play a sport professionally in a foreign country.
Playing overseas is not always rainbows and butterflies. It is a day-to-day grind that requires just as much out of one mentally as it does physically. Often, when I have conversations with my “normal” friends or relatives I hear comments that sting and I take offense to. I used to be able to brush the comments off but after being in Europe for eight months, I feel the need to address the comments as they come. For example:
“How is your trip going?”
Trip? I am sorry, I did not realize that I was on vacation.
“So, when are you going to join the real world?”
I did not know I was not living in the real world. Am I dreaming?
“How long are you going to put off getting a real job?”
Hello, this is my real job!
“You are going to be in Europe? You need to go to the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful city of Prague.”
Yes I will be in Europe but my work schedule requires me to be in a gym six or seven days of the week.
“I saw you played in Berlin this weekend! How was it? Did you see the Berlin Wall or take a tour of the city?”
No, actually I went to Berlin on a business trip not for leisure. The majority of my weekend was spent on a bus, in the gym or hotel.
These are just a few of the many comments I hear on a regular basis. I do understand that if one has not experienced playing overseas for his or her self then one cannot fully understand what it takes to be a professional athlete. I have to remind myself that most of the time, these questions are not out of ignorance but simple unawareness of the requirements of the job. It is also important to know that I do not take this experience and job for granted. At the end of the day, I am very fortunate to get to do something I love every day. I am truly blessed to be physically capable of playing sports for a living.My goal is to share a few reasons why playing professionally is harder than most people think. I want to enlighten those who think athletes playing overseas are on a paid vacation touring city after city. There are aspects to this job that are harder than ever imagined but the outsiders do not always see those sides. Fans, family and friends often only see the finished product on game day. It becomes hard to empathize with athletes because one cannot see the everyday process. I would like to highlight a few reasons why I believe playing a professional sport overseas is difficult.
Secondly, the body is put under stress every day. Although there are far more dangerous professions, people often forget the physicality of playing a professional sport. Day in and day out, an athlete’s body is pushed to the limits and by the end of the week the only activity that sounds enjoyable is lying in bed. Athletes are prone to injuries big and small and he or she never knows when it could be the last time they play their respective sport. Injuries are often the hardest times for athletes, as they have to stay mentally engaged and maintain their confidence throughout the recovery. Depending on where an athlete is playing and the resources the team has will determine the amount of rehabilitation he or she receives. Besides injuries, sickness is another topic. The majority of athletes know that having a head cold or stomach ache is no excuse to stay at home. Unless he or she is in the hospital, attendance at practice is expected.
I would not trade this job and experience for the world. I am so grateful for the sport of volleyball and everything it has given me in life. However, since arriving in Europe at the end of August to play volleyball I have seen a whole new side of the sport. I wish to share that side with those who may be unaware of what it takes to play in a foreign country. I hope this enlightens those who believe playing a professional sport is a walk through the park. Also, I hope it encourages all athletes who have the opportunity to play overseas to go for it because as difficult as the job can be sometimes, the memories and experiences are invaluable.