If there’s one thing I always say, it’s that I would do my four years of collegiate sports over and over again… maybe minus the school. I absolutely had a a blast at Cal State San Bernardino. Sure it was a Division two, and there are tons of perks at Division 1 schools that I missed out on, but I don’t regret my decision to play there for a second. I’ll focus on that topic for my next blog. But really, I had an amazing time! Now thats not to say I don’t love playing abroad. How often to people get to play the sport they love for a living? There’s so many young athletes who would dream to have this job, so I never take it for granted. But with that said, playing abroad is a completely different experience than playing for your university. There are equal highs and exciting moments but all for different reasons. Here are two huge differences every athlete planning to go abroad, from the states to Europe or Europe to the states, should consider.
Your social life
In college you are around your teammates a majority of the time, but you also spend most of your day in the classroom balancing your work with your sport. There, you have your non athlete friends. You’re surrounded by people and you’re kept busy daily, whether it be in training or with classmates. Not to mention weekends, where parties are the go-to events to shake and drink off the weeks stress. Obviously, as student-athletes we can’t always party. But what fun would the college experience be without a party from time to time. College athletes have it made. You’re known around campus and you have a very special bond with all athletes from other sports. Mainly, you play with the same group of girls/guys for the duration of your 4-5 year seasons. You grow to learn who they are in and outside of practice. This is your family.
When you’re abroad, social life is different. It can be a shock when you’re used to your college team and teammates. You’re now a loan fish in a brand new pond. Hopefully, there’s other americans to bond with. But chances are high that it’s just you. This is where you adapt. You train to twice daily but there are hours in-between with time to kill, no more class. You can try some team bonding and grab lunch or coffee with your new teammates or you can hide in your room and binge watch Game of Thrones until the next practice. The latter is very common. Depending where you play, it’s also common to be known around town, which is a familiar aspect to college. Playing for teams abroad usually changes year to year. There is no growth like with a college team over several years. You are placed in a team and must do all that is possible for that team in that one season. Because next year, whether you stay or go, the team will be different. This can test your dedication to yourself and to your sport. As I said, I love being abroad, but I also know that it’s my job. No matter the circumstance, I must do all that I can to play my best. That’s not to say your team wont be amazing, but regardless if they are or if they aren’t, you’re still being paid to do a job. But hopefully it’s the job you absolutely love to do!
Training can be a major change from the college arena to a european sports hall. In college, you have a hell weeks, where you wake up at a ridiculous hour and train, then go back in the afternoon and do it again. Luckily, this lasts for a few weeks and then you continue your regularly scheduled once a day practice with weights once or twice a week. You have one or two games a week and just waiting for Saturdays match so you can kick ass and go celebrate with your team. You spend years doing practice drills and conditioning a certain way and having specific punishments if things aren’t done correctly. Also, you spend countless hours with your coach working on very specific techniques and training to perfect the smallest thing in your form. And you hate these in the moment but when it comes to playing abroad, every single aspect counts.
The coaching abroad is very different and can also be tough if you’re used to having a specific style of coaching for several years. For me this was hard because I had the same coaches from high school volleyball to college. They knew me best and I trusted them. But you have to remember that playing abroad is a job. They’re paying you and expect you to give them results. So they want you to already have all the techniques you need to get them to their success. They don’t teach you the small details, they focus on constant repetitions until you produce results. Sure, they’ll tell you sometimes what you can do to be better, but it’s up to you to get it right. Again, this is your job, this is what they hired you for. Your resumé said you knew how to do this already. All the punishments you had in college and drills you wanted to be finished with, suddenly all make sense. Because your new coach won’t punish you the same way and now your college coaches screams are ingrained in your mind and you can discipline yourself. You know when you’ve screwed up and when to fix it, you’re becoming a professional! Also, depending on your league, you could be doing double days all season with little time off and this doesn’t go for all teams or all leagues but it’s highly possible if you’re playing at a high level. This is something you should mentally prepare for. It can be exhausting and some days you want to just check out but it’s up to you to push through and perform your best. This has helped me grow as a person so much and helped me to handle difficult and stressful situations much more positively.
For those looking to go from Europe to the states in collegiate volleyball, do it! It’s the experience of a lifetime! I can only hope you enjoy college as much as I did. And for those looking to go abroad from the states, do it! You get to see the world in a completely different light, where it’s not just a one time visit but a life there and a culture shock you can only gain knowledge from if nothing else. It’s not for everyone but it’s a learning experience. I have had some very difficult times adjusting to playing abroad. There were some days where I just questioned how I felt about volleyball entirely. I’d say “could I live without this?” And thats when I knew I needed to take a mental break. Because, how could I? Volleyball and playing sports in general has made me the confident and self assured person I am today! I couldn’t imagine who I would be without this amazing passion. Playing abroad has helped my mentality and made me address stressful times with a better outlook. I’ve become an all around better person thanks to my collegiate coaching and life abroad.