What’d We Learn: Bergamo

Bergamo:

Getting subbed out sucks, but it happens. It’s a part of the game and it’s a part of team sports. Our 3-1 W against Bergamo was a collective TEAM win that proved that. Just about every one of our team members got a chance to get on the floor and contribute to beating a really strong Bergamo squad. I was subbed out during the beginning of the second set and didn’t get back on the floor until the fourth. It wasn’t my best game and it certainly won’t be the last time I feel like I could’ve played better, but win or lose, start or not, there’s always something to take away from a game. So here’s what we learned.

 

One, mentally prepping for an away match is JUST as important as mentally prepping for a home match, but the process may look a lot different. The way that I prepare for a home game probably won’t be the same as prepping for an away game because soooo many factors are different. I need to be able to find a comfortable routine on the road though because a match is a match and I need to have my mind right! Finding my match day mental routine for away games is a new goal I’m setting for myself. Just a few key things I can stick to on game day that will get my brain locked in on the game. I’m starting with: review the scouting report, listen to my game day go-to song, and elevate my feet on a wall for 5 min just before we leave. Hopefully building this routine will help me feel more mentally awake, aware, and ready to go on game day!

Secondly, I learned that I really need to work on pressing my hands over the net on high balls. I have a bad habit of reaching up to the ball rather than reaching over. So one of the skills I want to work on in practice this week is pressing my hands THROUGH the plane of the net and holding them there for as long as I can. Honestly, it’s a skill I’ve been trying to perfect since college, some things don’t click as well others. But, I’m not giving up on it! I will conquer this skill someday!!!

 

So there’s are my two big takeaways from the Bergamo game. If you have any questions about “What We Learned” please feel free to ask or if you’d like to know more about blocking technique and skills feel free to leave a comment! Thanks so much for reading! Saturday we play Cuneo, so tune in next time to see what we’re going to learn next! Byyyyeeeeee!!

What’d We Learn

Part 1. Intro

Growing up playing volleyball, my dad was a HUGE influence on the values that I developed within the world of sports. He instilled within me a love of the game, pride, integrity, and passion. One of the best skills he ever taught me was a desire to search for the lessons in any loss. Any time I played poorly or my team lost, my dad would have me ask myself what I had learned. What could I take away from that loss? What did I learn about myself, my play, my team and what could I do differently in order to improve my game.  This post competition reflection is something I’ve held on to throughout the course of my career and it’s something I still do to this day. Not only that, but it’s a skill that’s transformed into a post-match state of reflection regardless of the outcome. Winning or losing doesn’t matter, there’s always a lesson to be learned.

Now, this reflection isn’t something I spend hours on. It’s maybe 5-10 minutes after every match where I think about 2-3 big things I want to focus on in the next few days of training in order to improve my game. This habit is one that I rely heavily on within my career and I hope it’s a skill other young athletes are learning to cultivate as well.

Keeping this hope in mind, I want to start sharing what it is I learn after every match in order to achieve two goals. One, I want/hope other athletes can learn something from the lessons I learn because they can relate to the struggle/situation/grind. And two, it can help other athletes cultivate a positive and healthy habit of reflection. It’s basically an “I-do-something-stupid-and-you-can-learn-from-my-stupidity-if-you’d-like” type deal!

Taking time to stop and quickly review your play post competition develops strong mental habits, cleaner more disciplined play, and a growth mindset attitude. All great skills to have as an athlete! I hope this is something younger athletes, especially, can take to heart and use to help develop their game. Great day to have a day, what can we take away from it!

 

Part 2. What’d We Learn: Caserta

I went into the Caserta game with two things in mind. I wanted to have a loaded blocking position when I was in “base” which means at the start of every rally when my team was serving I wanted to be totally still with my knees slightly bent in a loaded position and my hands hips width apart at the base of the net, ready to fly over the net. This would enable me to react to the middle attack more efficiently and be ready to read the setter and react to my read quickly as well. I also I wanted to focus on my mental routine from the service line. I.e. having a good breath in my service routine, keeping my one-liner (a thought that I think to myself before every serve to give me confidence. I switch between “good hand contact, here” and “let’s blow ’em up”) in mind, and maintaining a flat and clean serve.

We ended up winning the match 3-1 and I wasn’t completely enthralled with my performance, but I had kept my focuses in mind. My blocking focus went really well and my mental game from the service line got some practice. The key lessons that I learned were these three things.

One, proper body prep before a match is key. In this case, a good full 8 hours of sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep helps me feel my best and is something I need to make sure I have the night before a match. The night before this match I got around 6.5 hours a sleep and I could feel the difference. I wasn’t exhausted, but I certainly felt a more tired than usual!

Two, slow to fast footwork when attacking in front of the setter is crucial. There were a few times during the match where my setter and I didn’t connect all that well. Those misconnects could be remedied if I can be sure to maintain a slow first step or two and then have an explosive third and fourth step before I jump in order to explode off the ground and create a good window for my setter to set the ball too.

Third and finally, that serve routine works really well for me, but I need to make sure I take a breath! Taking a breath gives me a moment to collect my thoughts, not rush to my serve, and help me get mentally prepped to put forth my best serve in that moment. That deep breath goes a long way!

So moving forward this week in practice, I want to be sure that I’m getting a good night’s sleep, that I am going sloowwwww to fast during attacking reps with my setter, and that I really focus on adding that breath to my service routine.

Looking forward to another good week of work before our next match against Bergamo! Let’s get after it!!!

Permission to Feel

Lonnnnnng Read || Honest Read || Felt cute, might delete later

I’ve been thinking about how I can share this story without delving too deep into my personal life. That being said, I have yet to come up with a good way to do that. For those that know me, I’m not exactly the subtle type. I’m pretty straight-forward actually. As a matter of fact, I’ve just decided like twenty seconds ago that I’m just gonna go for it. Our phones are always listening and the government has a record of my search history anyway, so I might as well just get into the grimy details and tell this story like it is. Here it goes.

I’m single. My long time boyfriend of three years and I broke up recently. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been figuring out how to cope with that while still keeping my professional volleyball life intact. Because, you know what, it’d be super easy to crumble.

Details and reasons for the breakup aside, I am still very much in love. I’m grieving over a lost relationship that gave me some of the best years of my life. That hurts. More often than not I’m haunted by some of our most endearing memories and I deeply feel each and every one of them. Each time I start to reminisce about these moments my heart sinks and starts to pull me down into the depths with it. It’s that feeling right there that could tear everything apart. My body starts to turn off, my mind goes blank, I don’t want to move, nothing seems to matter, I shut down. If I dwell too long or think too much about those moments, this feeling will wrap me up in its unrelenting fingers and never let me go. I’ll lie in bed all day, drink no water, eat no food, just wither away in pain and sorrow. I will crumble.

But, GAH, isn’t that a bit dramatic? Like come on? In fact, I was so adamant about not letting THAT happen, within the first day of our break-up I vowed that I would not fall apart. I could collapse. I could feel broken. But I would not crumble. My life would not “be over” because of this. That’s why throughout the next month(?) three months(?) six months(?) one year(?) that I spend getting over him I’ve given myself permission to feel.

Here’s what that means. The first “official” day of the breakup I allowed myself the full day to fall apart. I was devastated. So, I cried. I stayed in bed. I ate very little, drank very little, didn’t even get a shower in. For the full day I was mess. The only condition was, that was my one day to do this. After that, it was ok to be sad, but I couldn’t let it stop me.

The following day I got up and out of bed. I functioned, I worked out, I had volleyball practice, went grocery shopping, etc. Throughout the day I would think about the breakup, acknowledge the wave of sadness that would hit me, but I didn’t let it stop me. I stayed in motion, maybe a bit too much in motion, but if movement and purpose was what I needed then I was entitled to it. The day after that I was angry. I would shake and wanted to throw things. My mantra for the day? “F**K MEN!” But if that’s what I needed I let myself have it. I gave myself permission to be that angry. That’s what this has been about. I have every right to feel all these things.

Giving my self permission to feel the emotions that I’m feeling has been liberating. I haven’t tried to push down my sadness or breathe through my anger. No, I’ve felt it. I’ve felt it all and I’m ok with feeling it. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the sadness is so heavy I can feel my legs giving out. Sometimes I am so hurt I break down and cry. But instead of trying to act like there’s nothing wrong, I acknowledge that the emotion is there, cry/scream/punch something if I need to and carry on.

Doing this has made it easier to heal. Rather than push my emotions down and deal with them another day, I deal with them in that moment. I face them head on. And you know what? Just like every moment has done for all of time ((unless your conception of time is circular not linear, but that’s a discussion for another day)) it passes, and I can move on. I can see past my heartbreak, past that feeling of betrayal, past my insecurities and into this moment right now.

Now, and I can’t emphasize this enough, that doesn’t mean I see into the future. I don’t see myself eventually being alright. I don’t see myself someday finding happiness again. I don’t picture myself ten years down the road happy and married or whatever. I see myself in the now. In the moment just after that devastating emotional tidal wave, I see myself. And you know what? I see someone strong, capable, and whole. By giving myself permission to endure this pain, I’ve also given myself permission to grow. I’m not being held back. I don’t have to worry about dealing with emotion “X” in the future. I’m moving forward. I’m moving on. If this heartbreak has taught me nothing else it’s that life goes on. So, here I go.

 

Playing with Do’s vs. Playing with Don’ts

The finals in the Women’s Volleyball World Championships were just a few weeks ago. Italy and Serbia were playing each other so a few of my friends and I got together to watch. It was a good game. Both teams fought incredibly hard and played really well. What was most beautiful for me to watch though wasn’t the game itself, but how it was being played. The athletes on both teams were playing so free. They were swinging with confidence and strength. Not with a fear of being blocked or hitting the ball out of bounds or making a mistake. They were playing uninhibited. Free.

Watching that, I thought back to the last time that I had played like that, the last time I had truly played free. I had to sift a few years back and came to the conclusion that the last time I played an entire season like that was my 16’s year of Club at Colorado Juniors. That was the last time I had played without stress or worry. I was just playing the game to play the game.

Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t play ok volleyball from 16’s on. But what it comes down to is, at a certain point it’s impossible for play like that to happen. Eventually when you play at higher level, there’s a need for active engagement that by nature comes with some worry/stress. When you know you have to be ready in this rotation for “X” or when you see that this team is blocking “Y”, you have to worry about things in order to be successful. That being said it’s the way you worry about them that’s key.

You can do so in one of two ways.

One, you can look at the things you need to worry about and say, “I can’t hit into the block” or “I don’t want to serve out” or “What if I hurt myself again?” But, that causes you to dwell on the issue. When you think like that you actively bring negativity to mind and that’s all you can think about. When you think in negatives, your psyche, your physical body, the way you play becomes negatives. Your brain is now filled with can’ts, nopes, fears, worries, stressors, don’ts, pain, and mistakes. It’s no longer, “Let’s do this!” It’s, “Dear god don’t let me mess up.”

BUTTTTTTT (and this is a big butt) When you can shift your mind to thinking with power, that’s where greatness lies. Now, I’m not just talking about thinking with the opposite of negatives, i.e. thinking with positives. No, no I mean thinking with POWER. Where you are so confident there’s no room for those negatives. Where you know you’ve done everything you can to prepare so there’s no chance you’ll do it wrong. Where the idea of can’t or don’t doesn’t even make sense. Here you play with the beauty of true confidence. Here there is freedom.

When you use phrases like: “I’m going to hit the CONFETTI* out of this ball.” Or “I’m gonna blow her DERRIERE* up on this serve” or “Hit right at me!” you play freer (freer? more free? The freest?) and then before you know it there’s no need to be thinking in the first place. Because once you get out of the need to think at all, beyond that it’s just play. That’s what we’re all striving for. That’s what we really want. That sweet spot in the game where it’s just play. So, make it easier on yourself and start your games with power. Play with more than just positives. Play with more than just confidence. Play with the thought that you are Samuel L. Jackson from the incredible 1990’s classic film Pulp Fiction. Then, finally, just play.

^^^This applies to all aspects of life as well.
Don’t limit yourself with negatives.
Find ways to bring power into your thoughts on the daily and see how it can positively impact your everyday life.

 

* Please note that some words have been altered for the viewership of the younger reader and also my grandma.

One More Day

Last week during my first ever home game in Bresica I felt a sharp shooting pain in my knee. It was similar to the knee pain I had had last year around this time right before I partially ruptured my meniscus. My leg was giving out, there was a pain in the back of my knee, and I could barely put any pressure on it.

After the game I took a few days off and on Monday I saw the doctor. That morning was one of the most stressful tear-filled mornings I’ve ever had. I was sure that I had torn my meniscus again. Not a lot, but just enough that I would need to get surgery… again.
I was ready to pack up my apartment and move back to the states for surgery number 3. Just thinking about having to do all of that drags me down.

I was dejected, so sure that this was over before it had even begun. In that moment, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Even thinking back on it now tears at my insides. Because here’s the thing, surgery number 3 is tough to come back from. At that point is it even worth it? Why keep going? I write this still afraid that when I try to play again, because I haven’t yet, I’ll realize that maybe this is it. I’m just not meant to play professional volleyball. This isn’t the path I’m meant to be on.

Nevertheless, after thinking about all this today I came to a realization. There’s a very good chance that every day I am here might just be my last. I have terrible terrible God awful knees and if something goes wrong with them again, which is likely, it might be time for me to hang this all up. Now that doesn’t mean if I get injured I won’t fight to come back, because maybe in that moment I’ll realize it’s worth it. But there will always be a part of me that considers if that’s really true. I am biomechanically designed to not be an athlete. My bones and ligaments and tendons literally wear away when I walk, let alone play, because of how terrible my knees are. I am not built for this kind of lifestyle.

That being said, I am so blessed.

The realization that I came too wasn’t a negative one. In fact, this realization was a beautiful epiphany. I’m not lamenting about how terribly I’m built, I’m celebrating every chance and opportunity I’ve had and will have to play this game. Every day that I get to play the game I love is a blessing and I need to treat it as such. Every opportunity, every play, every moment that I get to be on the court could be my last. The odds are pretty stacked against me. So, I don’t, I won’t, I can’t take any day for granted because every day that I get to play this game is like an added bonus. Any chance I get to impact someone’s life because of this game is even more amazing! I play because I love the game, but I’m blessed to be able to play.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. But I know that, right now, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. So, even though the future is unpredictable, and it can change in the blink of an eye I’m just blessed for the opportunities I have had and looking forward to what’s in store.

 

***To any future coaches or people that may want to hire me to play for them… I do exercises to strengthen my knees, wear inserts, work really hard, and don’t plan on giving up my career so easily. Please don’t take this as a negative review on my character or body…. ***
Lmao at me sabotaging my career….. good stuff!

Transitions

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while now because it seems like this has been the epitome of what 2018 has been for me. Transitioning from college to post-grad life, transitioning from life in the states to life abroad, transitioning from college volleyball to Olympic/International volleyball. The year of 2018, for me, has been a year of transitions.

 

“Haleigh! You need to get off the net.” Russ would shout at me as a freshman, “You need to be up an available in transition.” In volleyball, the transition part of the game is the few split seconds between defense and offense where you’re prepping for the next phase of play. Usually for the middle blocker that means you’ve just landed after a block and now you’re busting tail to get behind the 3 meter line, getting your feet right for your approach, finding where the ball is, timing your approach to where the ball is, then maybe (although it’s unlikely #middlelife) getting set and attacking the ball. A lot goes on in these very few seconds and any hesitation on your part affects your ability to be as effective and efficient as possible. What’s important is that you trust your body, your teammates, and your knowledge of the game and then Go.

In life, the transition game is similar. It occurs, just like in volleyball, in between phases. You’re not quite in one stage or the other but you’re on your way there. What’s important is that you’re making the right moves in that phase to be as effective as possible in your next phase. Transitioning from college volleyball to Olympic/International volleyball this summer is a good example of one such moment. The game at the international level is so much faster. Not to mention, at this level it’s not just about beating the block. You also have to hit the ball hard enough to beat the defense, most of whom are great defenders. The point is, the game is different and tougher. It’s difficult to adjust to.

That transition was tough. It was a transition that lasted a long time and honestly might still be going on. Right now, I’m figuring out how to get off the net and be up for the next phase of play both literally and metaphorically. It’s choppy and most of the time I’m late and Russ is probably yelling at me for not getting of the net in time, but it’s coming along. The transition to international volleyball is coming along and I’m slowly but surely figuring it out.

Transitioning to life outside of Penn State is another story. Four years is a long time to spend anywhere. The fact that these past four years were apart of my developing into an adult phase of life made them all the more influential. So transitioning to life outside of Penn State has come with its own level of discomfort. The biggest missing characteristic is routine. At school, every day had a structure. There was a class schedule, practice and game schedule, meetings, rehab, etc. All things that made one’s day very structured. Life outside of that lacks structure. Life outside of Penn State is basically silly putty when compared to the Lego Block structure that is life in college. But just like one can create something out of lego blocks, it’s pretty impressive what can come from silly putty. Horrible metaphor, but the point that’s being made is, without structure there’s a lot of room to create WHATEVER it is one wants to create.

Routines now become wholly one’s own. There’s no need to schedule around classes or office hours anymore. The day is yours. Sure, there’s still the “work” factor (can you count volleyball practice as work), but even that leaves you with hours of the day that are completely your own. Transitioning into life after college has been about finding a new routine. Creating structures within the lack of structure your life now has. This transition leads to a phase of incredibly liberating autonomy.

Transitions are still hard though. They’re the toughest phase of the game in volleyball and often require the most unseen work. People rarely understand how much effort goes into the transition phase. But such is life. People rarely recognize the work, they just see what comes from it. What’s important is that when you’re transitioning, you trust your body, you trust the people you’ve surrounded yourself with and you take the necessary steps to ensure the next phase in life can/will come as smoothly as possible. It’s not going to be easy, but whether it’s volleyball or life transitions rarely are.

 

I’m Going to Be the Best

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” – Muhammad Ali

I’m Going to Be the Best.

Top ten phrases that are sooooo much easier said than done. But, decision made. I decided it about a week ago actually after reflecting on how, at practice that day, I knew had gotten better. There I was, stretching my hamstrings sweaty and sticky and gross and I thought to myself in a very matter of fact way, “huh, there’s a chance I could be the best.” I thought about it more, reflected on what the heck that meant and where the heck that idea came from, and here’s what I came up with….

First and foremost, that statement in no way shape or form means I am going to be the best volleyball player of all time.

I felt the need to emphasize that because that first paragraph makes me sound so cocky. To be the best volleyball player of all time? That’s laughable. I probably won’t even be the best middle in my age group. What I will be though is the best Me. I think I’ve said this before, but this is a goal I want to pursue and one of the reasons I decided to play volleyball internationally. I want to pursue the best most elite version of my volleyball skill and see what that looks like. At the end of my career I want to be able to look back and know that I did everything within my power to be my best. In the USA gym they called that “Pursuing Mastery” and I love that phrase. That’s the journey I’m on. I want to master this skill.

The second realization I came to is I can achieve this because this is something I enjoy working towards. Working, being the key word. Being the Best doesn’t mean that I’m going to say that and then it’s going to happen. It means that I’m going to put in hours of work, get beat by people way better than me, and sacrifice a lot and I mean A LOT. I’m going to miss out on friend’s weddings, family vacations, holidays, birthdays, graduations, even my own wedding and kiddos will have to wait because this is my goal right now. This is my priority.

That being said, I love the work. I love the grind. Some days are miserable, yes, and I feel like I’m not getting better. But those days can’t hold me back. Every trial is a step closer to being the best and that’s what I want. That’s what makes this worth it.

The third and final realization is that Being the Best Me is really easy to say, but goals wise it’s a very vague description. If this is something I seriously want to pursue there’s a chance I may need to specify what that is going to look like. Does it mean having a super healthy body (bahahahahahaha)? Does it mean hitting .400 every game? Does it mean averaging 3 blocks a set? Whatever I decide it looks like, the pathway remains the same. It means hard work, sacrifice, frustration, heartbreak, lots and lots and lots of failure, but hopefully at the end of it, it means a tiny bit of success. Just enough to solidify the idea that I Am The Best.