I have had enough. I know all of us have; the players, the coaches, the staff, the parents, everyone. Enough is enough. Three collegiate NCAA division 1 volleyball seasons and every single one of them has been a losing season with records: 7-19,10-18,10-19. My just ended junior year’s spring season was a losing season. We did not win a single spring game. How is that possible? There has to be a reason why, numbers don’t lie, isn’t that right? Whatever the reason is, I am ready to change the culture and make something what we already have even greater. It is not always about the W, but we have to stop being okay with losing. We have to stop playing to not to lose and start playing with a purpose.
I am so tired of telling people the results of a weekend on the road. I am tired of seeing disappointed faces of athletic departments employees. I am tired of taking part in a culture that expects to lose. It is almost like we would know what is there to come, and that right there needs to change. Are we working hard? Yes. Are we lifting more weight than ever? Yes. Are we jumping higher than last year? Yes. But it is not about that. There is no question if we are working hard, no doubt even. Our team has come together more than I have ever experienced. We all come along really well and you can feel us truly caring and loving each other. We have all the right pieces to do great things but something is holding us back.
Every year we start preseason in the beginning of August. Everyone is expected to return back on campus and get prepared for the upcoming (relatively short) season. First thing that we do when returning back, is meetings with the coaches and without them. All the players know what to expect (at least the returners) and if not, we help each other to make the experience better and guide one of another. We are all aware what the expectations are from our coaches and from each other. Everyone is held accountable from each action whether it was a good or a bad one. We have rules that makes us discipline and makes things easier. Fair enough?
Our days consists of practice and school. We wake up at five am for practice and workouts. After spending three to four hours at the gym it is time to be a good student and go to classes. Some of us gets done with school after eight at night and there should still be some time for homework. All of this might sound crazy and makes you wonder how one can do this, but with managing time right everything is very doable. Practicing hard and lifting heavy is not always enough if an athlete can not see the bigger picture. It is almost a waste of practice if not taking care of the nutrition and making sure that efficient recovery is being done. We all have some work to do in this area. Who wouldn’t want to take a nap rather than roll out or do some rehab. Toughest players are made when they make the right decisions, especially off the court. At the end of the day, nothing comes easy, and I know that every single one of us loves being here and doing this “for living”, so why not take the most out of it.
Imagine your job depending on a bunch of teenage girls who are finding themselves in college and growing through that environment. You would think to be smart enough and refuse from that offer. You have to be a little crazy to do something like this for living, don’t you think? Our coaching staff therefore, little crazy but the best one out there. Every day our head coach together with two assistant coaches creates practice plans, travel arrangements, recruits and most importantly tries to make us our best selves in life whether it was on or off the court. Every morning they get to the arena bright and early, and often I see them leaving the office closer to eight at night. No question if they are giving all they have got. It is easy to point fingers, and especially in sports it can be cruel.
“Whose fault is losing?”
“The coaches”, they say. Or,
“Players being too comfortable and not willing to go above and beyond”, I say.
Never have I questioned the passion and love that the coaches have for this sport. Sometimes only ones who have energy at 5am morning practice are the coaches. Sometimes the loudest ones in our gym are the coaches. Sometimes (or often) we do punishment for our poor performing that purely depends on effort and trying our best. See, here we are facing one of the main problems. We always talk about effort and all of us knows how important that is. You choose to play a ball up, anything is possible. I hate to say it, but we are far away from hundred percent effort being a standard. And that if something makes team sport very difficult. When someone is giving everything they have got and wants to play for the person next to them, makes an incredible team player. Covers, sets you up for success, calls shots, communicates efficiently, is positive, bounces back quickly, celebrates. When someone is only being some of those things because she is playing well makes an incredibly selfish player.
How to not to be selfish in a game of errors? During my first two years I struggled with this and I did not always understand what my coach meant when she said “selfish”. It is much more than the definition makes it sound like. Selfish player in volleyball or in any team sport is a person who only think about themselves, whether it is in practice or in a match. After making an error, getting down on herself or starting to think about subbing out because of the error. It is time to grow past that. Toughest and strongest players will play, no matter what the outcome is. Do you think anybody cares if you made an error in the last set? How about focusing on the next reception so our setter can run the court in the best way possible. We often forget too easily how we are all here for a reason and just because you might have not played or not even touched the ball, does not make you any different than anyone else on the team. Think what to focus on in tomorrow’s practice and earn the spot in the starting line up. One of my former teammates once told me how the players that start have beat you in practice. Therefore, you have made them play harder by being your best self, and that has made your teammates better and our team the best it can be.
Sometimes I wonder if we believe in ourselves enough. Sometimes I think if we believe little too much, or should I say hope. We hope that we win. We hope that the will play good volleyball. We hope that the product is there. We shouldn’t hope for anything if we know how good we are and what we can accomplish. Hope and believe might sound similar, but the meaning is completely different. What I meant by saying “sometimes I think we believe little too much”, is the fact that we believe things to just click, and magically start working like a machine. We might believe that good things will happen, but we are not comfortable when things get little harder.
Like I said earlier, volleyball is a game of errors. The team who adjusts to the game and can limit the errors to minimum is going to be tough team to win. The game never changes, no matter who you are playing the game is best out of five. During my career of ten years of volleyball, I have experienced amazing run up wins, but terrible losses as well. I remember like yesterday, when I was playing for Finnish nationals and our team was up 14-6 in the last set. We needed one more point to move on to the next round and play for the gold. However, we lost. Our opponent got an unstoppable ecstasy on and we couldn’t stop them. Point after point they would fight and finally, they qualify for the final. We were absolutely devastated. Nothing is more frustrating for the opponent than being relentless enough to come out strong from any situation. Ever since that moment, I knew that anything is possible. And if there is something we have to believe more than anything, I think that right there would be a good thing to start with.
What now though? We always talk about what we should do and how we could change things, and fair enough, I don’t think anyone who take a part in our team and program wants to lose. Why would we? But we need to understand that nothing will change if we don’t start making a change. I think everyone should ask themselves, what could I do even better? What can I do to help our team to be the best it can be? How can I make an impact? We are all capable of doing that. I am not saying that now I know what to do or how to change things, but I know that I want to do something. I know all of us wants to give everything they have got. So why won’t we? Let’s go out there and make sure we are not being punished because we did not go for the ball. Let’s make sure we encourage each other when someone is going through a hard time. Let’s make sure that no matter what the score is, we play as hard as we can and we will not stop playing until the referee whistles the game being over. My all time favorite quote says it all: “the team is as strong as its weakest link”. And once we discover what our “weakest link” is and find a way to destroy that link, we are going to do great things.
I have one more year left with this amazing team, and I am ready to achieve big things. It is okay to aim high, dream big and want to succeed. Because when we start dreaming big; wrong decisions will turn into right decisions, recognition will replace punishments, selfishness will turn into selfless, hoping will change into believing and the weakest links into strong together. Once we set the standard to the level that no one can even question who Georgia State is, we are going to be unstoppable and last but not least we will have a winning season.