Let’s be real here.
I’ve been unbelievably blessed thus far in my life, and especially in my volleyball career. I’ve been given gifts beyond measure and so many opportunities to refine those gifts. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve relatively always gotten what I’ve wanted. Sure, there’s been adversity and some pretty low points, but I’ve always been given some sort of leverage, always a support system, and usually a second chance. Or a third. Or even a fourth.
Although it may seem like I’ve devoted my whole life to this sport, I’d say its really the sport that has also given me so much of my life in return. I’ve travelled the world, met some of the most incredible people and have learned some crucial life lessons, helping me grow into what I think is a pretty cool person. (at times lol)
Thus far, I’ve used this blog as a way to share all my newfound fun and quirky adventures of life in a foreign place. I think the most common response I get when I tell people my story of playing volleyball professionally, is “oh fun! you’re living the dream!” And yes, maybe I am, but saying it’s all rainbows and butterflies would be one giant lie. So let’s keep being real:
I experienced something very scary recently. And it’s a thing I can’t believe I’m actually admitting. I felt entirely disconnected from the sport of volleyball. For the first time in my life, I really had no interest in lacing up my shoes and getting my hands on a volleyball. I saw no point in it. Sure, every athlete has dreaded going to practice at some point, but what I was feeling was different; for a couple days, I honestly couldn’t come up with a reason to play. (Insert freak out mode for Liz here).
It hit me like a wall. Panic. I have no plan B..volleyball has been my only passion.. Or at least the blatantly obvious one. Where’d the love go? Why I am I playing this sport? What the hell am I doing? Does playing volleyball add zero value to society? What effect am I having on the world, whats the purpose? Ok I may have been a little dramatic, but these feelings were all very new to me.
There’s a fine, and quite dangerous, line between having this sport consume your every thought and breath and the other side where you just want to step back and say this is just a game we play, a game with a ball, some players and score board.
But then you add the element that this is your career, and you have moved yourself 6,000 miles away from anything familiar in your life. The balance gets a little more tricky. It’s the same game you grew up with, yet is also your profession, your daily job, in the adult real world. Having this being my first true abroad experience and full 8 month professional season, I knew I had a lot to learn, but I certainly never expected this feeling, so quickly anyway.
But don’t worry guys, after a very lost few days, I got back on track. 12 years of joy with playing this sport doesn’t just disappear. I’m simply just playing in a very new situation. A new circumstance, and a new environment. It’s been a bit of a puzzle for me to realize the past week or so, that the at the core of this experience, volleyball is still everything it has ever meant to me.
My surroundings have changed 100%, but that doesn’t mean I have to. Sure, I’ve been preaching all about this “oh change is good, change is why I am here” etc. etc. And yes, change can be great, but I guess I mistook change for growth. Growth is good, growth is what I stand for. Growing is adding on to all the good things you already have. Not trying to change those into something different, which is exactly what I was doing. I lost sight of the player and more importantly the person I came here as in hope to change into someone new that my surroundings were asking for. For a moment, I lost myself, maybe I was trying to be just a machine at practice that was all about proper technique, and no gut instincts. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been getting constant feedback and critique from my coaches and teammates at practices, which is really helpful, don’t get me wrong, but that is all I focused on. Someone told me what to do, I tried to do it. On repeat and repeat every time I touched the ball, like a programmed robot. And believe me, this robot prototype Liz was not a person or player anybody wanted to be around. It was obvious to my team that I wasn’t the same player that arrived here back in July and balled out in the gym all of August and early September, but it took me a while to figure out just why. All athletes have slumps. And I have certainly had plenty myself, but this one I had to figure out on my own, and quickly. I didn’t have my best friends as teammates or my coach as my life mentor, or my family seeing my every day.
My mind has been racing since I arrived here with trying to gain more awareness from all the new stimuli around me. It took me a few days to step back and think about myself. What is the real reason I’m so attached to this sport? Sure, the fact that I have talent helps me enjoy it, but as a player you can fade, your play sometimes just has bad days.. so that’s not why. Sure, getting paid a lot of money makes things easier, but I’ve realized quickly it’s not a motivator. Although there are some fantastic coaches out there, even they know their players aren’t out there playing for them.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it forever, I love volleyball because it’s a team sport. It requires different roles. Different responsibilities. It’s a game of momentum and therefore a game of emotions. It’s about the ebbs and flows and managing team dynamics and energies through them. For my whole life, my presence on the court has been felt. I have the ability to influence my play. My team. My opponent. The game. For better or for worse.
My presence disappeared when I skipped into lone foreign girl robot Liz mode.
Being the only foreign player has been a harder adjustment than I thought. It’s far too easy to isolate yourself from your team. You aren’t roommates, you haven’t been on this team for years, oh and you really can’t have a conversation with any of them. On the court it’s ever so easy to just slide into the “oh she’s just a foreigner” mode where you just stand there, play the ball when it comes to you. Clap your hands and smile when a point is scored. Go back to your spot. And there’s the countless “oh she didn’t know” cards to throw. Or the “she must be having a hard time” cards. Although they may be useful to play every once in a while, they can certainly be misused.
I became a wallflower. It saddened me to know that after 2 months together, I was still a stranger to my teammates. Although I’d try, it seemed impossible to get to bond with my teammates. You’re always in a group as a team, so it’s irrational to stop the conversation, translate, explain, etc. just for one person (me). There were times where I felt like it was impossible to express myself, I could just imagine how people were thinking I was such a boring person, because even when a situation arose to have a conversation, I could only say the most banal things, like “hello, how are you?.” Some players can deal with this situation fine, but this is definitely not why I play, so therefore I lost my passion a bit. And with that, I completely lost the player I was. The timing of figuring all this out was not ideal, having 2 weeks straight of practice, combined with the start of our season.
I imagined that the first game day after 2 months of double days would feel like Christmas morning to me, but that’s not the excitement that I felt, so I knew it was trouble. My team took the court for our season opener and we were not the IBK team we knew. To be blunt, we got our asses kicked, it was one of those games where nothing went right…foot faults, net touches, missed serves, and even free balls dropping. First game nerves? Maybe. But it was a real reality check for me. As a team, we were down, and a change needed to be made or else the next 6 months would be unbearable.
Me being a wallflower will get us nowhere.
Recognizing this is one thing, but making real changes aren’t easy. I started little by little. Just start speaking in English out on the court, it’s better than silence after all. Celebrate like the lunatic I am when I celebrate points, even if no one else does. Energy is energy after all..no matter what language. I tried a little “fake it till you make it” just to get out of the funk and realized the impact I could have. Our second game came, and all of us were more invested in giving energy, having more “fighting” spirit as Korea calls it. It was an ugly game with a lot of errors, but I think the better atmosphere allowed us to get our first win. Progress.
Our third game came, and resulted in a four set win. Every day has been an opportunity to come out of my shell I’ve been hiding in, and play with the energy to connect with my teammates. Because when I connect there, I find my connection back to this sport. And this sport is my life here, so you can say it’s pretty important to keep my passion lit.
Today I scored a career best 38 points on a .507 efficiency, earned 2 high fives from my tough love head coach, and my first off day in 16 days. You can guess which one I’m most excited about 😉 More importantly, I remembered why I was here and what I was doing. I still have a long, long way to go, and one good game doesn’t solve all problems, but lesson learned. See ya never, robot Liz. It’s time Korea sees the real Liz, who’s capable of so much more.
So let’s start focusing on growing, not changing. I’ve always viewed change as something more temporary, after all I’ve never heard of anyone un-growing. But growth takes time, it takes motivation, and it takes persistence. I’m almost 3 months in, and I’m still really happy to be here in Korea and having this experience. But nobody said it was gonna be easy.
Onward and upward