January 19, 2017
For those who just completed their last collegiate season, congratulations! It is an incredible accomplishment to stay committed to such a rigorous and time consuming task for four years. Although tough, if you had any bit of a similar experience as I had, those four years will now be a memory…a seemingly long lasting yet very short memory consisting of the most amazing times and moments of your life. Cherish them and embrace them because I hate to break it to you, but you will never get that time back.
So, what is next? Well, probably a clusterf*ck of emotions…so much so that you may diagnose yourself with bipolar disorder. Let me guess, it probably started with that overwhelming feeling of relief. NO MORE PRESSURE! You are realizing that you get the next semester (those who haven’t already left to go overseas) to be a ‘normal student’ for once…sleep in till 10, go to weekday frat parties, focus on school, and hey, you even get to skip the weights section in your workout (hello muscle atrophy and new jeans).
This sense of freedom will hit you hard and you may love it! Or, you may be doused with a slight state of panic realizing that sh*t is about to get real and you don’t have any idea where to go or what to do next. BUT, don’t be surprised if you feel a little bit of both. It is not uncommon to have that devil vs angel inner dialogue back and forth like “Yayyy I’m done!” “Uhhh wait I’m done?!” “No I don’t want to be done!” “But wait, I have so much freedom. Yes!” “How do I even deal with freedom?” “Should I keep playing!?”…AKA you feel bipolar.
For the most part, I would assume that the majority of you are sort of bouncing back and forth between two options, playing overseas and not. Do I continue to ride the volleyball train and dip my toes into the professional athlete life? Or, do I end on a high note and hang up the spandex for a big girl job? This “profound” life decision may leave you completely dumbfounded and anxious, but understand two things…nothing is permanent and you aren’t alone. A lot of your fellow volleyballers are struggling to make the exact same decision and don’t let the hard, confident faces fool ya…a lot of us have no idea how to feel or what decision to make.
Although I would never try to sway an athlete one way or another, it is my goal to try and help. So, here are my top eight tips for deciding confidently whether you should play overseas or not play overseas.
1. Don’t Make Your Decision Based on Emotion
Be aware of your emotional state during the decision process. Post-season you are most likely pretty drained, both physically and mentally…especially if the season didn’t necessarily pan out like you had hoped or expected. When we are physically and mentally exhausted, our emotions tend to run on the high side. In fact, you may find yourself in the “I am never playing volleyball ever again phase” for quite a while. Just be careful not to make any rash decisions before taking the proper amount of time to decompress. It is okay to take some time away from the game, in fact I completely support that. But during that decompression, it may be in your best interest to keep your options open because once you close them, you may never be able to get them back open.
2. Don’t Let The Mystery Lead You Astray
To me, playing overseas always sort of seemed like a mythical fate or way of living. I mean, I knew it was a reality and understood that the opportunity would present itself at some point, but it felt so distant…so abstract. Just the whole process of playing overseas felt mysterious. How would you get recruited? Do you find an agent? What would life be like? Would my team be good? How much would I be playing? Will I even have friends? These very simple questions were left completely unanswered for a long period of time.
The fact that we don’t have pro leagues in America completely separates us from the professional volleyball world. Plus, in college, nobody really talks about overseas volleyball. Coaches don’t necessarily promote it, college administration doesn’t usually know much about it, American television doesn’t broadcast it, and the time difference/distance makes it difficult for us to even follow it. But don’t let the mystery of the professional volleyball life scare you. Volleyball is volleyball and although there are big differences between college and pro, if you love the game, than you should continue to play!
You may have heard horrible things about overseas volleyball, you may have heard great things about it, or you may have absolutely no idea what the lifestyle entails. But, don’t rely too heavily on the things you hear. Everyone has different experiences that vary depending on the team and the culture surrounding that team. Therefore it is merely impossible to try to replicate the experience through the stories and personal opinions of others. The fact of the matter is, you will never know what it is like until you try it.
3. Understand The Reality
The American corporate world will always be there, overseas contracts and playing opportunities may not…simple as that. The unfortunate reality is that the year you finish college volleyball is generally the year that you are most marketable. Agents and pro teams (of all levels) follow collegiate teams and specific players throughout the collegiate season. If you possess the appropriate skill sets, your name will most likely be thrown onto a ‘watch’ list and as you near graduation and begin reaching out to people, they will have a much easier time identifying who you are and what your skill level is. As soon as you take a step away from the volleyball world, your name and your projected abilities begin to dissipate. Although we may be better players after a year or two away from the sport, agents and teams may have a hard time assessing your “current” ability and may also associate your “time off” with a lack of commitment. Key word…MAY…not always.
In short, you can always get a big girl job..but you can’t always get a contract. So, if you are on the bubble, it may be in your best interest to just try it! Worst case scenario…you come home and never do it again. Best case scenario…you love it and go back for more. Other possible scenarios…you don’t like it, finish the season, come home with an incredible journey/learning experience and move on to something else. That six to nine months merely becomes another seemingly ever-lasting but very short memory in a sea of other memories throughout your long life.
4. Don’t Think About Regret
Regret, regret, regret…ugh…regret sucks. I actually hate the word and everything that it entails. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of regret and not wanting to have any, but the fact of the matter is, everyone IS going to have regrets. We can’t let the fear of regretting something take over our decision making process.
The notion of regret tends to be hard because a lot of times it is brought up by someone who we really value. We need to remember that these people are usually only concerned with our best interest, and to them, not taking an opportunity like playing oversees seems foolish. But, these people most likely haven’t had the mental and physical experiences you have had, and it is impossible to understand unless they have experienced it themselves.
When you push yourself so hard, for so long, it is not unnatural to want to walk away and try something new for once. That is okay! You can learn from the experiences away from your sport. Even if you do end up regretting “not going overseas”, or on the other hand, “not taking that internship”, nothing is permanent. Although it may be harder to get your name out there, start training or even get that internship back,it isn’t impossible! Trust yourself because if you live your whole life making decisions only because you feel like you will regret something, than you will probably end up regretting more.
5. Don’t Let Volleyball Define You
It is hard to walk away from something that you have been doing for so long because in many ways, it becomes a part of you. For many of you, in some cases, you literally become synonymous with the word volleyball. How many times have you heard, “Oh yeah, the volleyball player? I know her”. But just because people know you as the volleyball player doesn’t mean that you aren’t deeper than the sport. Volleyball doesn’t define you. You play volleyball, sure. You are damn good at it, sure. But you are damn good at a lot of things and you should embrace that.
If you do decide to continue your career as a professional volleyballer, embrace the fact that you are embarking on a beautiful adventure, traveling the world, playing the sport you love and growing not only as an athlete but as a person as well. Take pride in the fact that you are a top level athlete and you have this incredible opportunity, because not many people get an opportunity like that.
But, on the other hand, if you simply don’t want to play anymore, DON’T. Don’t let the fact that you have been a volleyball player for your whole life define your future. You are so much deeper than this sport and you are more than qualified! Use the skills that made you special on the court to make you special in the office or out in the field.
6. Know That You Are Qualified in Other Areas
I have battled with this one for a long time! I always had this perception that employeers would look at my bleak resume and laugh in my face considering my lack of corporate experience. Like many of you, I spent the majority of my summers striving to become bigger and better in the sport that I loved. I traveled to camps, I played in numerous tournaments, I went to tryouts, I committed to the youth national team, and I constantly trained to become the best version of myself everyday. But that tenacity and that relentless pursuit left me very little time to build my resume through internships and jobs…which scared the hell out of me.
It may not ring true in every corporate environment, but the lessons we learn as high-level athletes are lessons that are simply unable to be trained in school, internships or in the corporate environment. These skills put us ahead of others in unique ways because they are skills that can’t be taught by the book. They are skills that are acquired over a long period of time. Skills that are developed in response to defeat, failure, frustration and pushing our bodies past their breaking point.
It is okay to be “inexperienced”. Not many people walk into an office knowing everything there is to know about the job. Just like everything in life, it is a learning process. Being good at the job will simply come from characteristics like your ability to learn and lead, persistence, and the relentless pursuit of a goal.
7. Take Note of Your Current Opportunities
Before making your decision to play or not to play, simply weigh out your opportunities and options. Do you already have a dream job set up? Do you have a path? Or, are you a little lost? A lot of post-college life comes down to opportunity. When you have any amazing opportunity (in the working world or in the athletic world), take it, because life-changing opportunities don’t come often.
In general, playing overseas can be a great time to figure it all out. You can take the year to step away from American culture, school, friends, family and sort of find yourself…awaken your passions, identify the things you love, cherish the things you miss. It is crazy how much you discover about yourself when you step out of your comfort zone and are forced to find peace and happiness in a completely new world. Similarly, the amount of time you will be spending alone really allows you to learn about yourself in a whole different way.
8. Follow Your Heart
Finally, my favorite tip. When it comes to playing overseas, the most important person to listen to is yourself. Now, don’t get me wrong. You should definitely be using outside resources to help you in the decision process, but use them as a support system rather than as a deciding factor. When you stray away from what you truly want, you will most likely be wasting a significant amount of time sulking in your own despair. You may have a tough time making the initial decision but deep down inside your gut will be swaying you one way or another. Just trust yourself. Although scary, every new adventure is exciting if you embrace it in the right way. It is completely natural to be nervous, but just remember that nothing has to be permanent!
* For anyone considering playing overseas, I highly recommend watching Court & Spark. Staring Courtney Thompson, this production aims to document what it is like to be a professional volleyball player at the highest level. It is inspiring, eye opening, honest and who the hell doesn’t love Courtney Thompson.