It’s officially May. The beach season is just around the corner, and soon enough we will all be packing our bags for New Orleans. Good-bye preseason. Nice knowing you. Thanks for all your help. I think I’m ready this year.
Pre-season is still somewhat of a mystery to me. When to train. How to train. How much to train. If you are like me you have looked to the examples set by the professionals that came before you. Then you tweak it or spin it to fit your style, your schedule, and most importantly your budget. Life is not always a beach, and money isn’t always flowing, so we make due with the best we have, trying to improve our lot every upcoming season. This is the natural progression of the sport and sports in general.
Every season is a building block upon which you can expect and demand more- more of yourself and more from others. For the most part, as athletes we aren’t aware of our needs during that initial rookie season. Starry eyed fantasies coupled with euphoric optimism push us through that first year, leaving us with a list of goals for the upcoming season.
The first week after season has ended is wonderful. Food tastes better because its loaded with more sugar and fat than you allowed yourself to have during season and you realize that having mornings free to read a book or sleep in is actually something you could get used to. Then as the weeks roll by you start to feel a little uneasy. Your brain swears that you aren’t falling behind, but your gut says otherwise. Your new goals are just sitting there, waiting for you to get up and play. You try to remind your goals that it is only November, but to be honest your goals aren’t really listening. So you lace up those new kicks, head for the gym, and make sure to download that new book aptly titled: “How Champions Think” or “Relentless”- It’s go time.
Fast forward to this moment right now. You feel a sense of urgency leading up to the season and if you are honest it’s mingled with a healthy anxiety, a good place to be. Whether you will be entering your first AVP qualifier this year or heading out for the world tour and your shot at an Olympic qualification, the near future can be a little scary. We know we have what it takes, but we aren’t sure at the same time. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone that you feel this way too. Those goals you set are goals because you haven’t reached them yet. You don’t set the bar lower than what you reached the previous year, you set it higher, perhaps just out of reach. It’s the carrot on the stick that keeps you in the hamster wheel. When reason and logic like to bring up a good point, your goals kindly point them in the direction of the closest exit. Your goals are frustrating, they are demanding, they ruin you, yet they enliven you. If you aren’t careful you can push yourself over the edge. If you aren’t careful your goals can actually take you out of the game. Unmet goals can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy. These feelings are actually vital to your success but can become dangerous when they begin to personify who you are.
“I have failed” vs. “I am a failure”
“I am still not there yet” vs. “I don’t have what it takes”
Your eyes are fixed on the horizon just ahead. You long to progress, to improve and to change. To be a successful athlete you have to hate the standstill. Contentment is akin to regression in the game of sports. You have to keep yourself motivated in order to continue to move forward. If you aren’t moving forward you might as well be moving backwards right? How can we create a lasting motivation? How do we continue to progress even as we face the monotony of the day to day?
As athletes we are very demanding people. We want a lot, and we want it now. We are highly motivated people who are comfortable living with stress and adrenaline. Logically speaking we understand the importance of rest and recovery, but at the same time we know the importance of pushing our bodies to the limit. And that’s just the physical part of the game. We haven’t even factored in the emotional and spiritual pieces that go along with being an athlete, or simply human. We are and we aren’t machines. We run off energy like the kind we find in food, but we also run off of thoughts and emotions. Personally speaking the latter is all the more difficult for me to understand. What kind of thoughts and what kind of emotions will lead to success? How much emotion is too much and how much emotion is too little? Can we even quantify it?
To be completely honest: I don’t know. I’ll leave that one up to the experts in the white coats. However I do know that it matters what you think. Your mind is the first thing to keep you in a game, and it’s the first thing to take you right out of it. It’s vital to your success to build up positive feelings and positive emotions towards yourself and towards your goals. It’s essential to be demanding with yourself, but if it is not accompanied with grace and understanding, then you will inevitably run yourself into an unforgiving wall. This is where unmet goals can begin to tear you apart at the seams. It’s sometimes very difficult to see improvement, especially when your desired goals are slightly imperceptible. Three bad practices and your whole universe becomes unglued. What do you do when two months have gone by and you don’t see any improvement, or worse you feel like you have gotten worse? The reality is that bad practices are going to happen. Your partner might not always get you that perfect transition set (despite your perfect dig) and you may even find yourself having trouble with some skill that came pretty naturally to you last year.
Progression is made up of a million moving pieces. It’s anything but simple and straightforward. It’s more circular than linear. Although we have yet to reach our future goals, we can draw upon our past experiences for help. We can’t succeed without courage, we can’t succeed without hope, and we definitely can’t succeed without being confident in who we are. By looking to our past, we can draw upon those experiences to inspire us to move forward. This can be done through reflection, meditation or prayer (or any combination of the three). By practicing reflection we learn to appreciate and love ourselves as well as our efforts. By practicing meditation we can develop a deeper sense of peace and stability in an ever-changing and uncontrollable world. By practicing prayer we can find purpose and greater meaning in everything we do.
The gym and the volleyball court aren’t the only two places where we learn to be successful athletes. In fact if we only trained here we would never be able to reach our potential as athletes. We have to nurture and develop our minds. We aren’t brainless bodies moving over the sand, but we are complex people, filled with emotions and thoughts. We can learn to wield these in our favor, but it takes time. It takes slowing down on occasion. It takes reflection.
So as we look forward to our goals this season, let’s also think back to all we have been able to accomplish already. Let’s draw inspiration from our past and allow that inspiration to propel us toward our future. We cannot successfully progress and move forward in our goals unless we reflect and look back.
Keep reaching forward as you push yourself in the present. Be proud of your past and all that you have been able to do thus far. The grind can be nasty. We all need a little help along the way.
See you on the sand!