Dearest athletes and friends,
I think it’s time to redefine what it means to be an athlete…
You are an athlete. You have probably been called this your entire life. Your name is synonymous with ‘athlete’. Since primary school you dominated the field, the blacktop, and knowing you probably even the cafeteria lunch line. From adolescence you experienced competition as a constant state of being, it sustained you like the slow, continuos drip of an IV. Your athletic prowess always made you one of the first to get picked for dodgeball or capture the flag, or rather you were the one doing the picking. Age and time only affirmed the inevitable- that you would one day emerge to be an unstoppable athlete in your prospective field, and odds are that if you are reading this, then that field is volleyball.
You are an athlete. You train like an athlete. You eat like an athlete. You sleep like an athlete. You drink protein like its water, and, if you have not already decided, you are contemplating how going gluten-free might enhance your performance. If you are a volley athlete, then you are obsessed about jumping higher, reaching higher, and moving lighter on your feet. You sweat the details, you train harder than anyone else you know, and if you ever found out someone else was training harder than you, you trained even harder the following day.
You are an athlete. You are drawn to competition, and you are ever too familiar with its scrutinizing voice. This voice compels you. This alluring temptress dares you to go places you never imagined and coerces you to experience and endure great suffering all “for the love of the sport”. Or maybe its a dream you chase- a dream that knows no limits. You give everything up to this dream like an offering to a god. Sometimes this dream has prompted you to lie, maybe even cheat at times. You see the end goal and you will stop at nothing to reach it. After all if you want to reach the top don’t you have to be a little selfish?
You are an athlete. Competition draws you. She plays you. Competition is a thief. She steals whats best of you, and in return she gives you an unapologetic drive for success. Some of us make it through unscathed, but many are left chasing our tails, not really knowing what happened or why. I think it’s time we took another look at what it means to compete. Let’s look beyond the record books, lets dive into something that pulls at the heartstrings of our shared humanity.
I think it starts by redefining what it means to be an athlete.
You are an athlete. An athlete, like yourself, is obsessed. Your fantasies are wrapped around performing the most minute skills to their greatest excellence. You would, and/or possibly have, bankrupt yourself if it meant that you could perfect just one more skill. This obsession has its own heartbeat, one in which you and your body are simply trying to catch up to. Your obsession is your art. Volleyball is your art. Your training, your practices, and even your recovery are all aspects of your art. This sport is the canvas and competition is the arena in which you showcase your artistry to the world (or maybe just your local community). Competition isn’t then about the other team, but its more about you and your team. Competition is the stage in which love, design, passion, and suffering intermingle to produce something that is enchanting, and slightly hypnotic. Remember those matches where you became your own hero? Fear was all around you but you rose above it. With reckless abandon you jumped right into the moment. Nothing mattered but your art and your determination to pursue it with excellence, even to the very end. As a result of your courage beauty was created along with joy. You felt free, as did your audience. Smiles as diverse as the people who expressed them caught like a wildfire moving over the hot sand. High fives were exchanged and shouts of laughter were heard, but you created all of it. Love was made, and every fan or passer-by-er felt it along with you. This type of art stops people dead in their tracks, and its pull is as real to the onlooker as gravity is to the apple fallen from the tree.
You are an artist. You see the world in a unique way. Your art has been shaped by many who came before you. There is much to be learned by studying those who came before us, as well as great inspiration to be found by watching our contemporaries. I am mindful of the speed and great force that April can put on her jump serve, and it inspires me to serve with courage and power; but I would be mistaken if I tried to “serve like April”. We can all draw inspiration from each other, but at the same time we must find our own style, our own voice, and our own art.
You are an artist. To be an artist is to create. It is to dream. An artist must find fulfillment in sharpening their trade all the while living and operating in the boredom and nuances of the day. Life tends to be monotonous and boring. We must conform to its rules and learn to accept the conflicts that swirl around us daily. We can’t all be olympians. We can’t all be professionals. However we can all experience the love and joy that come from being an artist and creating art. When we, as competitors, stop focusing on other people’s art, and when we, as competitors, stop trying to sabotage and suffocate other people’s art, then, and only then, can we truly show ourselves (and the world) who we are.
Like I said before, I think it’s time to redefine what it means to be an athlete.
See you all on the sand!