Self Discipline

“You either suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Pick a side.” -Jim Rohn (modified)

This topic is a passionate one for me. The first definition of self-discipline I came across said it’s an act of denying yourself. But I’ve also heard of it described as essential to freedom. Counterintuitive for sure, but I totally believe these definitions are the same.  Growing and becoming better at anything, being proud of yourself, and therefore authentically confident, is only attainable through denying yourself what you know you should. If you are authentically confident in your capabilities, whether it be life, or sport, or business, I believe, in a sense, you are free.  Freedom from self-criticism and self-doubt is very liberating, but it’s hard, extremely hard to earn.  I’ve had varying degrees of self-discipline throughout my career, but I’m pretty sure I never even understood, truly, what self-discipline looked like or, more importantly, felt like before I began playing beach volleyball.

Playing indoor for a gazillion years (at least that’s what it felt like) DID NOT show me the need for an individual to have self-discipline.  My fate was in another’s hands.  I was told when to practice (even if I felt too beat up for it to be productive), what to wear (even if it wasn’t comfortable), to lift exactly the same as everyone else on my team (even if I had specific weaknesses I felt needed work), and then, weirdly enough, given total freedom to eat where ever and whatever I wanted.  So, where I would have loved to have some control I was given none and in the area where I really didn’t earn or deserve my freedom I was given it overwhelmingly.  My theory is that because I had all these authority figures and experts telling me what I should do, I was never really accountable for my own self-discipline.  In my mind, if I was being given the freedom to eat where ever I wanted by the same people who controlled every other part of my (athletic) life, I could afford to revel in that liberty.  Bring on Del Taco at 3 in the morning, Jamba Juice on top of lunch (because it’s fruit, it’s healthy!), and pints of ice cream to reward myself for studying- cut to me gaining the freshman twenty-five.   And I’m not blaming anyone for this lack of self-discipline, it’s a symptom of the system, I just wish I had realized it then and seen how much better I could have been if I took it upon myself to control what I could control.  

Make no mistake, I gave 150% at practice and in the weight room, I bought into the team and wanted to win, but at the same time, in the weight room there was no real drive to get as strong as I could get or do anything extra (despite my twenty-five pound weight gain), it was more like, “I’m going to do what my weight coach put on that paper and do it the best I can.”  Same with practice, I went hard everyday and pushed myself and my teammates to be the best we could be, but to be honest, my motivation a lot of the time was, “let’s go hard so we can accomplish the goal of this drill and get out of here.” I never got to work on anything I felt needed work, it was always drills generalized for the team or the outside hitters as a whole. My fate just wasn’t in my hands, the only thing I could really control in the gym was my effort level, which, like I said I always kept as high as I could.  Obviously this worked well, we went on to make it to three Final Fours, and win two National Championships, going undefeated during our second run, so I’m not arguing that the system should have been or should be different, just that it doesn’t foster a true sense of self-discipline.  I’ve had a lot of time to think since my days of indoor and I feel a twinge of regret knowing that had I possessed more self-discipline I could have been better throughout my four years at USC and three years of playing in Puerto Rico professionally.  This twinge of regret is heavily overshadowed, of course, by the success I encountered, but I still wonder… 

As I mentioned, my discovery of self-discipline came after switching to beach volleyball. This was the first time in my life (athletically speaking) I was given full control of my own destiny.  When I started on the beach with Keao (my former USC teammate) we were in charge of when we practiced, when, if, and how we would workout/lift, who would coach us, what tournaments we would go to, how we would get there, where we would stay, what we would eat, etc. It was an awkward time, as all growing stages are.  I didn’t understand the amount of self-motivation and self-drive it took to be as self-disciplined as I needed to be in order to manufacture success.  We didn’t hire a coach, our practices, therefore, were half-hearted or at best unproductive. I can’t even remember how I worked out at that point, IF I even worked out at all…. We didn’t prepare for tournaments, we just showed up, and got knocked down.  Then we partied, flew home, recovered there for a day, which scrapped a practice, and tried to revamp for the next tournament where we would do it all over again.  There were a few tournaments where we did okay, but I KNOW had we used more discipline in our preparation, practices, and planning we could have been MUCH more successful.  To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for that initial season, I didn’t take it all that seriously, and just wanted to have fun, but at the same time I’m super competitive and was upset we didn’t do better, all in all it was a HUGE learning experience. When I decided after that season I wanted to make a real go at professional beach volleyball I looked back at all the mistakes I had made that previous year and became determined not to repeat them and THAT is where my sense of true self-discipline started. 

“The secret in life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” -Paulo Coelho, from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist. 

From that point of enlightenment I have been cognizant about doing everything I can to help myself succeed. That meant, unfortunately, splitting up with Keao, because we were both newbies and couldn’t help each other get better like we needed, it was painful, but the right decision. For me, it meant giving up an indoor season in the winter and the paycheck that went with it to stay in California and train full time. Sacrifice is the sister of self-discipline. In that time between my first “learning” season and my second season (when I paired up with Jen Kessy) I made some life changes- I ended a relationship, I decided to stop drinking, and went on a strict healthy eating plan. I hired a strength coach and subjected myself to double days on the beach. Taking accountability for myself caused my motivation and drive to rise accordingly.  This did not happen over night. I made really tough decisions and had to have really hard conversations with people to put myself in a position to succeed. I had to have really honest discussions with myself. And even harder than all that was learning to make the tiny choices day in and day out that add up over time and make ALL the difference.  I think this is a huge lesson for people to learn, not just athletes, but my point is, had I not been given the responsibility of my own destiny through beach volleyball, I don’t think I would know the importance of or have the understanding of self-discipline, motivation, and drive that I have today.  It has been a wonderful, though at times, painful learning curve and I know it’s not done yet, I have A LOT of learning, growing, and improving left to do.  Life IS a learning process and I’m STILL working on being more disciplined- mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” -Colin Powell. 

I write this for two reasons, one, so that maybe those playing indoor in college or juniors will see that if they take the “controllables” into their own hands, they can, in some cases, drastically influence their future chances of success.  And two, for any aspiring beach volleyball players, so that they know it’s not a picnic out here.  You have to fight, and grovel, and outwork others to have any chance of success on the beach, but more than anything you have to be accountable for yourself.  It’s all up to you, no excuses, set yourself free.

2013 Season Highlights

It’s hard to know where to start when looking back over the 2013 season, there was just so….much. There was so much I have no idea how to fit it all in- that’s partly what I get for not regularly updating my blog during season…but nonetheless, now I feel I have to condense everything I want to say so that it fits under a singular topic.  Therefore, I’ve decided to share with you just my favorite parts of this past season and thankfully there are enough to fill what narrowly passes for a blog :)

In (mostly) chronological order:

  •  Being the centerfold of Dig! Thanks Sherry Wong for taking my favorite photo ever!

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  • I got to go to a new country! After years of going to the same (for the most part, great) locations for our World Tour stops, they added a stop in Argentina this year! I thought it was a great addition and the fans made it even better.  They definitely gave Cali fans a run for their money, I felt like I was at a futbol match with how loud and enthusiastic they were.  The people there, in general, were so welcoming, friendly, and warm, I really hope it becomes a mainstay on our schedule. Image
  • The epic international Ace game we had in The Hague, Netherlands (Ace is a six on six fun sand vball game we often play after tournaments)- I ripped my jeans, people got punched in the face (by other people trying to hit the ball), we had standing jousts that lasted minutes, and more sky balls than you could count.  Then I did the worm and busted my chin open, don’t worry, it didn’t stop me.

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  • Getting to the finals in Rome! Currently my favorite tour stop, I love playing (and just being) there.  The coffee, the food, the sights, it’s amazing. The arena we play in is surrounded by marble Zeus-like statues, the weather is usually great, and we can hang out at the “club house” all day and watch other teams play.  It was the first WT final we got to this year and after losing in the semis in Argentina it felt great.

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  • Playing with Whit in World Champs.  This is a hard one because it was a final goal of mine and Jen’s to win this tournament, but she was sidelined so I had to pick up someone else to play with.  I had so much fun playing with Whit, I feel like we played really well together, and it was awesome finally getting to battle with her on the same side of the net (as we’ve been friends for so long, but never played in a pro tournament together).  We made it to the semis and lost, I still regret that match, I don’t feel like I was mentally prepared enough and that’s my own fault.  Still, it was a good finish for a team playing together for the first time AND at World Championships.  The player party was just the frosting on the cake, dance circles and pogoing all night, the Polish really know how to get down (proud to say I’m 25% Polish).Image
  • Beating the top ranked Talita and Tiana of Brazil in the finals of the World Series of Beach Volleyball held in Long Beach with Jen. Our family and friends were finally able to watch us at an International event so it felt even better to win. It was the first annual for the event so we’ll be expected to defend the title next year, can’t wait!

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  • Signing a partnership deal with Mizuno! And before you think I’m obligated to write this, I’m really not.  I am so stoked to be apart of their transition into beach volleyball.  I love how they see the future and have invested in this side of the sport. Beach volleyball is just going to continue to grow with the adoption of Sand as a NCAA sport and the quickly exploding sand club programs.  They have great beach stuff so buy Mizuno to support your sport!! If you’re interested in getting involved in sand here’s some info on clinics & tryouts in Orange County: https://www.facebook.com/pages/OC-Sand-Volleyball-Club/1421570491390722Imageo
  • Going back to Berlin.  We did terrible in that event, but I love that city so much it was still so fun being there.  And Smart Car hosted another epic player party that involved trust falls, sliding across the dance floor slip & slide style, and dancing with life-size cardboard cut outs of Phil.
  • The reemergence of the AVP!! We had seven AVP tournaments this year and they were all run professionally, with great fans, in great locations.  Jen and I won the first one in Salt Lake City, UT after falling into the contender’s bracket early and fighting our way back to and through the finals.  I was extremely exhausted afterwards, but it was the best kind of exhaustion. We also won in Atlantic City, NJ and split the win in St. Pete, FL after a gnarly storm forced us to cancel the final.Image
  • Playing with Kerri. We officially teamed up in late October for the Santa Barbara Open through the rest of the season.  It has been so much fun being on the same side of the net as her, and I’ve been really surprised at how similar our attitudes and playing styles are.  She definitely motivates me to go harder and get better, in the best way. I’m really looking forward to preseason, it’s going to be super tough, but I think it’ll be really good for me, and us.Image
  • Winning back to back Grand Slam titles!! The first in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the second in Xiamen, China.
    • Sao Paulo was a super tough tournament, we managed to come out first in pool, but we went to three in almost all of our matches including the semi and final. The final was one of the hardest fought matches I’ve ever played.  Germany had nine match points against us and we fought off all of them- in overtime, finally managing to win that set to force a third. We were able to hold on to the momentum and win the match. It was amazing to stand on the top of that podium, listen to the National Anthem, and watch the American flag fly the highest.
    • Xiamen was also tough, we had the added element of gnarly wind to contend with there. We played pretty terrible in our match against Italy 1, losing in two to come out second in pool.  If you come out first you get a bye in the first round of playoffs, going straight to ninth, since we came out second we had to play to stay alive. We drew Argentina, and they gave us everything they had. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team serve tougher than they did, and they constantly kept us on our toes doing things that we didn’t expect, like pulling on perfect sets and setting the ball over on two.  Thankfully some of our USA teammates were there supporting us and I really think that made the difference (thanks Jake & Casey!). We were able to win 16-14 in the third and from there we adjusted, played better wind ball, won the rest of our matches, and took the final against Talita and Tiana for the Gold.Image
  • The Hilton HHonors Hawaii Beach Challenge.  This second annual edition was a great cap to season, this year both China and Canada were invited, we did a round robin plus semis and finals.  It was super fun getting to hang out with some of the people we compete against all year and we were in Hawaii which never sucks. I can’t tell you how it ended up because it has yet to air. Men’s matches air Dec. 2 & 3, and ours will air on Dec. 14th on NBC Sports Network, so watch to find out the results!!Image
  • It’s been a personal career goal of mine to be voted MVP of the AVP and I feel semi-shallow admitting that, but it’s the truth.  So I was really honored and excited to have been named the MVP this year.  I am also really thankful that Jen and I were named Team of the Year on the AVP, it is a really great honor for what was our last season together. If you want to see the rest of the awards given out, check out the AVP’s webite: http://avp.com/news-blog/1415-avp-recognizes-top-performers-as-tour-announces-2013-year-end-award-winners-2

 

Hope you enjoyed reading about all the great moments because I had an amazing time living them :)

Salt Lake City AVP recap and Twitter guide.

I have to admit, going in, I didn’t know what to expect from a beach volleyball tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. Especially once I found out it was supposed to be 100 degrees all weekend. Let me tell you what my experience was like and you can be the judge….

First off, for Brad (@BradKeenan6) and I to fly it would have been almost a grand so we chose the ten hour drive instead. We stopped in Beaver, Utah about seven hours in to spend the night. I felt like I needed a work out and in this tiny town there was no chance I was going to find a gym so I ran in a circle around our hotel for twenty minutes, felt kind of ridiculous, but it got the job done.  In the morning we ate breakfast in one of my favorite establishments- the small town diner, it did not disappoint.  Two and a half hours later we checked in to the AVP (@AVPbeach) player hotel in downtown Salt Lake.

After a delicious food truck BBQ lunch we headed over to the event site to pass and serve, this was going to be the moment of truth…  As we walked up to the site (after parking in the prime “athlete parking” spots!) any doubts I had were immediately dashed.  It was one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen! Green grass throughout, monstrous evergreens surrounding the courts, four pristine courts ready for competition, a picturesque center court complete with jumbotron, VIP suites, and court side seating, AND when we went to start practice we were supplied with as many Wilson balls as we needed! All my suspicions that we had found the right guy (Donald Sun) to lead us (the players of the AVP) were confirmed that instant, and the tournament hadn’t even started yet.

First round on Friday we played Dianne DeNecochea (no twitter), who at 6’4’’ and 45 years old is still baller and not the best first round draw, but we managed to come out on top. That was it for Day 1, so we got some great local Mexican food, saw a movie (We’re the Millers, it was hilarious), and rested up for Day 2.  Unfortunately, we didn’t play very well in the first match the next day and our opponents- Christal Engle (@ChristalEngle) and Tealle Hunkus (@TealleHunkus)- brought their A game.  We ended up losing that one in a close three set-er and therefore dropped into the losers bracket.  BUT we were still alive! After playing every tournament internationally in a pool play/single elimination format we were stoked to be given a second chance and we definitely took advantage of it!

Luckily the day cooled off and we actually got some sprinkles.  We took our next two matches in two each which brought us to Day 3.  The draw would have us play Kerri (@KerriLeeWalsh) and Whit (@WhitneyPavlik) to get to the semi’s, you don’t normally see the 1 seed play the 2 seed in the contender’s bracket… This match-up could qualify for a final in any tournament so we were ready for a battle, and a battle it was!  We were able to pull it out in three close sets winning 17-15 in the third and it felt like we had just won the tournament, but we had only qualified for the semi’s and would have to win two more matches if we wanted the title of SLC champs.

In the semi’s we came up against Christal and Tealle again and were stoked to have a second chance at them. We learned from our first match, adjusted accordingly, executed a little better, and won in two.  On to the FINALS!!!

In the finals we played a great team that we (shockingly) had never played before- Brittany (@BrittHochevar) and Lauren (@LaurenFendrick).  We were tired, it was hot, the stands were packed, and it was on TV (@CBSSportsNet); I wouldn’t expect anything less for an AVP final. Dustin Avol (the MC- @DustyGringo) did a great job getting the amazing fans fired up and after 15 minutes of warm up we were ready to go.

We played well in the first set overall, we had a slow start and ended it in a way that I plan on learning from for a very long time.  We lost the first when they came from behind and scored a run of points at the end.  I made myself wipe the slate clean and start over in the second.  We played much better and took the second pretty handily, on to the third.  Anything can happen in a third set on the beach so you HAVE to be ready to go and not assume any momentum from the second set is going to stay with you.  The third set was a back and forth battle, we were up, then they were up and then thankfully at the end we were up enough to hang on for the victory.

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I can’t tell you how excited I was and still am to have won this AVP Open!! Especially since it was the first stop, we hadn’t seen a lot of the competition for almost a year, it was our first competition with the Wilson ball this year, and in a place we’ve never competed before.  And, to add to it, I know my time on the court with Jen (@JenniferKessy) is slowly dwindling and that makes the win that much sweeter.

I am so thankful to Donald Sun (no twitter) for taking over the tour, putting his heart and soul into it, and creating an inaugural event that really sets the bar for the sport.  The fans that came out were awesome and I have a strong feeling we’ll be back next year, so you better be back too! And to all the sponsors that make it possible to play this amazing sport for a profession, my personal ones (@MizunoVolley @TheWilsonVB @4point4) and the event sponsors (@RockwellWatches + others), you guys rock!

The Conover Chronicles.

Jen and I are in Berlin this week and just finished playing in the Grand Slam here. I definitely love this tournament, but this time it signifies the end of an era. It was the first tournament with someone other than Jeffrey “Jefe, It’s a 10” Conover as our coach. And before you think we fired him, (we’d never!) I will tell you he got a job offer he couldn’t refuse with the new and improved AVP (avp.com- check it out if you haven’t already!), so he’s off to bigger and better things… i.e. not living off of prize money.  Though I am super happy for him I’m definitely going to miss him.  Not just because of his talents as a coach, but even more so for everything he added to the Krossy team dynamic for all these years.

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If you don’t know the story of how we ended up working with Jeff, here’s the short version.  We needed a coach asap, saw him on the beach one day and said “Hey, what’s up?… Wanna coach us?” and he said “Sure, why not.”  He ran us through some practices and then we threw him in the deep end.  Our first event together was the FIVB World Tour event in Brasilia where I think we made it to the finals eventually losing to Brazil…. that’s when we knew this thing might actually work.  Next up was a little tournament called World Championships in Stavanger, Norway, one of the most remote places we travel to, and, for frame of reference, I’m pretty sure Jeff had to order his first passport right before we took him to Brazil. Whatever magic the three of us thought we might have was solidified in Norway when we avenged our loss in Brasilia and won the World Championships.  That was 2009.

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For the next five years we went through some ups and downs as a team, but Jeff was always in it 100%.  He went above and beyond on and off the court.  In hindsight he might be able to list “team therapist” in his job description. If I was super down on how I played he’d always help me find the positive, he’d (at least pretend to) understand my complaints and gripes that naturally occur when you’re with the same people 24/7 on the road. To know he understood how I was feeling just helped, to have someone you trust enough to vent to was really an asset to me. He always pumped me up whether I thought I deserved it or not and I’m sure he did the same for Jen. He took his job seriously and worked really hard, but I think a big part of the reason we succeeded together was because he is such a great person as well.

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It wasn’t all work and no play, we had  a lot of fun too.  We traveled the world together and got to do some pretty cool things in the process. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than when we had our feet cleaned by bacteria eating fish in Thailand, where we also took scooters and explored all around the island of Phuket, dumping rain or shine.  We celebrated many birthdays, but one of Jeff’s was especially memorable when we all dressed up in a Mexican 80’s night theme and went to Sharkeez in Huntington Beach.  Laughing AT each other was another cherished pastime and one of our favorites was when Jeff got owned by a chair (the back legs slowly caved in and he just kept sinking backwards until he was laying on the ground) in Marseille while holding a gyro and proclaiming “Touché France, touché”.   We pogoed dusk til dawn, at maybe the best party any of us had ever been to, at the original costume party in Klagenfurt, Austria (Jeff dressed up as a ball boy).  We all lived through and made plenty of fun of his medieval bob hair cut he showed up with in Gstaad, Switzerland.

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There are too many memories to recount here but some other notable ones include zip lining in Puerto Vallarta, the sobering tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, the many many hours spent in European dance clubs, the seemingly endless “That’s what she said” jokes at my expense, the unanswered pizza eating contest challenge (I would still win), epic ACE games, countless great conversations, and much much more I can’t recall right now, but will look back on with fondness for the rest of my life.

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The ultimate experience, however, was going to the Olympics and I’m so extremely happy that we all got to do that together. That’s what we came together for in the first place and to fight so hard for four years (up to that point) and see all of our hard work come to fruition made the journey just that more meaningful and successful.  Our Olympic medal is something that will bind us together for the rest of our lives and that’s something I will always be thankful for.

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So I guess the only thing left to say is thanks Jefe for everything you brought to our team, it wouldn’t have been nearly the same without you!

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Change and Strengthen.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified trainer! Make sure you consult experts before taking any of my advice (as good as it is ;))!

This is going to be my eighth year on the beach, and I’m happy with how things have gone thus far, but am I satisfied to the point of complacency?? NO way!

Every year is a new opportunity to get better, work smarter, and add to your game. I go into each new preseason with an open mind. I am constantly on the lookout for a better way to do things, or a crazy idea that might just work. I probably annoy Jen and Jeff with all of it, but I’m always applying a tweak here or there to see if it improves something in my game.  The game is changing so quickly and becoming so much more competitive each year I can’t afford to just do the same thing over and over, even if it has been successful in the past.  I know some people don’t agree with that thinking, hence the age old saying, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”  But, in the world of competitive sports, if you don’t adapt and change to stay ahead of the curve you run the risk of being passed by, by someone who IS willing to innovate and be a risk-taker.  

I’m not going into detail, but I believe this year Jen and I have improved on something that has been done a certain way for a really long time.  I’m also giving myself another option on offense- it’s still rough around the edges, but you have to give new ideas time to take hold.  We’ve played for a long time and mastered a lot of skills so sometimes it’s hard to be patient with new ones.  I know I’m being super vague, but hopefully it encourages some young players or coaches to get innovative with the game.  People might tell you you’re crazy, but if you believe in your ideas, I say, go for it.

One change I AM going to share with you here relates to my strength training routine.  I’ve touched on how to train in the gym for beach volleyball in some of my other blogs, but I want to spend a little more time on it because I want everyone to realize how important it is for a player’s game.  For the past four years I’ve subscribed to a weight circuit workout focused on moderate weight and lots of reps plus some sprint cardio in-between the circuits. So, for example, one circuit might look like this:

  • 10 squats @ 115 lbs
  • 10 burpies with pushups
  • 15 rows @ 75 lbs
  • 20 sit ups on a bosu ball
  • repeat 3 times
  • 2 minute sprint on elliptical machine or sprints on an inclined treadmill

That’s one circuit and we usually do four to five circuits in a workout.

I still love this kind of training and think it is much more sport (SAND volley) specific than Olympic lifts on their own.  In the past I would do this workout three times a week, but this year I wanted to increase my strength.  I can’t tell you why I chose to tinker with my strength, it was just an idea.  Then I thought more deeply about it, looking at the men’s game and how generally they are more powerful than the women. I have to assume this is because naturally they’re just stronger…. so I decided to learn from the disparity between men’s and women’s strength and adapt accordingly.  (I think the men can learn a lot from the women’s game as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog!)

I did that by committing one of my weekend days to lifting heavy for the duration of preseason.  I give myself more rest between sets to recover so that I can handle the extra weight.  I’m loving the results, I feel much stronger, AND what I didn’t see coming is that my endurance has gone through the roof!  It’s something I didn’t expect from weight lifting, but now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense.  If I’m stronger, it’s easier for my body to do everything it’s called to do in volleyball and therefore it can handle playing longer.  I’ve always looked to cardio to improve my endurance, but I am so happy to have found this added benefit of increasing my strength through weight lifting! This revelation may seem obvious, but it wasn’t until I took control over my own training (when I started on the beach) that I really started paying attention to how things benefited or detracted from my performance.

I still believe, with longer rallies in the women’s game, that cardio endurance is very important, as well, which is why I’ve only dedicated one of my three days to lifting heavy, the other two I still do circuit training.

I’ve lifted since I was 14 (as a freshmen in high school).  We did Olympics lifts about 3 times a week in preseason and twice during season, though I did not continue to lift during club season.  Based on my own experience, and after speaking with my trainer, I think creating a strong base through lifting when you’re in high school and carrying it on through college is smart move for athletes.  Everyone is different and ready to begin lifting at different ages and you always have to listen to your body, but 14/15 years old is  usually a good starting point.  Playing indoor I always lifted heavy with less reps, maxing out every now and again.  It wasn’t until I started on the beach that I eventually switched to circuit training because, like I said, I think it’s more conducive to the demands of beach volleyball.

There are so many benefits to weight lifting, I could go on forever, but the last thing I will say is that it’s great for injury prevention.  With the demands these days on club athletes the amount of overuse injuries is through the roof.  Juniors need to be strengthening their rotator cuff muscles, back muscles, and hamstring muscles, among others, to prevent injury to shoulders, backs, and knees, which in my experience are the most common in volleyball players.

If you are in sports and take it seriously, you need to include weight lifting in your training plan.  Definitely consult professionals before you begin a lifting program, it is NOT something you can learn on youtube or from your friend! There are many places that train high school athletes (and adults looking to improve their game as well!), we work out at CDM Fitness (if you’re looking for one :)), but if you are just starting out make sure you learn from an expert, bad lifting technique is way worse than not lifting at all.

Happy lifting!

The Transition.

A lot of people assume beach (or sand) volleyball and indoor volleyball are the same game, just that sand volley is played in the sand and with less people on a team…I can’t tell you how much that frustrates me.  Attention everyone: BEACH VOLLEYBALL IS IT’S OWN SPORT!!  The only thing that’s the same is some of the basic skills, such as passing and hitting, but even those have to be performed in much different ways in the beach game.  Therefore, you might understand why players have a hard time converting their indoor success to success on the sand.

So just HOW do you transition your game from indoor volleyball to sand/beach volleyball?  I am going to do my best to help you right now, giving you the best tips I can think of …

Number 1: GET USED TO THE SAND! No need for a partner, a coach or balls for this and it’s one of the most essential steps to a smooth transition. All you have to do is run in it, side shuffle in it, karaoke in it, skip in it, jump in it, sprint in it.  After you are done training or playing do twenty minutes of everything I just mentioned, alternating between each. Run in the sand around the court for those 20+ minutes and do different exercises as you go along each end line. I PROMISE you will feel an improvement the next time you play, as long as you don’t go back and forth between indoor and sand. However, even if you do alternate between the two it will definitely help your game in both disciplines, it just won’t have as profound an effect on your sand game.  This idea goes for every type of movement you might make while playing sand volley, you can do block jumps alternated with pulling moves and then do an approach back up to the net, in a kind of circuit- i.e. block jump on the left, pull line, approach jump on the left, block jump on the left, pull angle, approach on the right, block jump on the right, pull line, approach on the right…etc. I hope you get the idea and get creative with it.

Number 2: Save every dollar you can.  Sand volleyball requires you to travel to tournaments.  This can become expensive.  Wait tables, walk dogs, babysit, do whatever you can to add money to your beach volley account. It’s never too early to start, if you’re in high school or college and don’t have to pay for travel/lodging/expenses related to volleyball yet, take advantage of it and start saving your pennies for when you DO have to pay for everything! This is probably the hardest thing for players trying to transition to the sand to deal with, and it is an unfortunate part of the transition, but if you do everything I tell you here hopefully it won’t take as long to become successful and make a profit playing on the beach. In the meantime consider it a rite of passage, we’ve all had to go through it.  And on the plus side, the range of beach volleyball events is getting wider, there are a higher number of “developmental” tournaments where you can have a chance of making some prize money while not competing against the BEST in the world right off the bat.

Number 3: Be your own coach. This means so many things.  Be self motivated, push yourself when you think you have no more left to give physically OR mentally, BE DISCIPLINED, ask questions, pay attention, figure out who you need to talk to to get to tournaments. It also means watching players who are better than you and trying to emulate what they do, i.e. teaching yourself.  If you’re having a hard time with a certain skill have someone video you doing it on your phone and then watch and critique it yourself.  It’s amazing how clear some things are when you just watch it back on tape.  Set up practices, networking is huge in sand volleyball, but it’s also easy.  Meet people who are like minded and set up some training sessions where you end with a match.  And if all else fails, get out there by yourself, set up your lines and antennas and practice solo, people will most likely end up asking you to play.

Number 4: Learn the terminology and the importance of signs and communication. This is something I believe Jen and I are the best in the world at and it helps more than most people assume, don’t be most people, this is super important on the sand!  Some of the more unique terms and concepts:

  • Pulling (I didn’t know what this was til WEEKS after I started training!)- as a blocker, if the opposing team has set the ball off the net giving the hitter less chance of hitting the ball down, you move off the net into a defensive position (usually with your hands up to dig overhand). This may be the most unique difference between sand and indoor!
  • Poking (you cannot open hand tip on the sand!)- this can be done in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, it can be done on offense and defense, and occasionally to set. I think a photo best describes what a “pokie” is…if you look at my hand you can see it’s semi-closed and I’m making contact with the flat part between the knuckles on my pointer and middle fingers, you can also get the tip of your thumb in there if you think it gives you more control, also notice my arm is straight.

pokie2

  • Digging- you CANNOT take a “free ball” or a serve with your open hands, you have to get them together before you contact the ball. You also have to be ready to run down a line shot or a cut shot on defense.
  • Hubby-wife- during serve receive it is essential you always talk about who has the middle ball! When someone serves down the middle and both players make a move to the middle and then pull apart because they each think the other is going to get it, this is called the hubby-wife.  ALWAYS call who’s middle it is! Say, “my middle” or “my call” before the serve.
  • Blocking signs- this is basic, but essential.  Holding one finger behind your back on your right hand means you are going to block the other LEFT side hitter (who is on YOUR right) down the line.  Not the shot (unless you can get it), just the hit.  If you hold two fingers behind your back on your left hand it means you are going to block the other RIGHT side hitter (who is on your left) angle.  You can also PULL into these areas and your defender will still know what area to fill, because you’ve told them which areas you are taking on each hitter.
  • Calling- after you set your partner it is REALLY important that you immediately look at the other team’s defense (don’t watch your set!) and tell your partner where the open area of the court is.  In basic terms, if the blocker is blocking line, the defender will be sitting in the angle so the setter needs to call LINE! If the blocker is blocking angle, the defender will make a later move to the line, you have to wait to see if they move and when they do you have to call ANGLE! or CUT! or CROSS!  And if the other team pulls off the net as your partner is going up to hit you must call NO ONE! (refer to the photo, Jen is screaming at me to poke to the open area)
  • Communication- there is NO wrong way to communicate. The only bad communication is no communication.  Talk about everything.  Before the play, during the play, and after the play.  Tell your setter where you want your sets, high, low, inside, outside. Talk about where the other team is playing defense when your partner is hitting.  Talk about where they are weakest and where your team should be serving them- deep, short, to the left, right or down the middle…. etc. Use your imagination.

Number 5: DON’T get drawn into the party culture.  It’s hard to forgo Pier Ave. after the Hermosa Open, which I actually don’t suggest you do (unless you’re not 21 yet!), but you have to keep partying to a minimum.  People are fun, the surroundings are beautiful, and the parties are awesome, but your goal is to be a great beach volleyball player and that is at odds with being a party person.  Plus, you always have to be on the lookout for your next and better partner, if you develop a reputation for staying out late and drinking it will be hard to convince people to play with you.  I didn’t say abstain altogether, you have to enjoy your journey, I just said keep it to a MINIMUM.

Number 6: Learn about healthy living!! Moving and jumping in the sand is hard enough, add a 10 pound weight belt (i.e. muffin top) and it becomes even harder! Beach volleyball is a 24/7 job that includes watching what you eat all the time, yes there are times to splurge, but never times to completely let go, you always have to be on the wagon.  Getting enough rest and sleep is also part of the job, if you burn the candle at both ends your performance will suffer.  You have to make time during the day to sit and rest, use that time to focus on how you’re going to get better…or just zone out in front of the TV, your brain needs time to rest too :)

Number 7: Make sure your lifting/exercise regiment reflects what you need for the sand game.  Static Olympic lifts with heavy weight and a ton of time in between sets is not conducive to the explosive cardio based endurance the game calls for.  I don’t know if that makes sense and I’m not a certified trainer, it’s just my personal opinion that your weight routine needs to include cardio or minimal time between sets, like 15 seconds, with less weight and more reps.  There are only two of you out there, you have to be explosive for up to an hour with minimal rest between rallies, I don’t believe a simple Olympic lift-based weight routine will get you there.  Also, when you are doing cardio make sure you’re incorporating intervals, speed up for a little, sprint for a little, recover for a little then do it again.

Ok, that’s about all the info I can think of right now that needs to be known if you’re trying to transition to the beach.  I hope it helps!! If you have questions leave a comment and I will do my best to respond!

 

 

 

Health Matters!

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On this past Tuesday I attended the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matter Conference.  I’ve learned a lot about health over the years from some of the best trainers, nutritionists and doctors in the business while training for volleyball, but hearing all the different ways experts are thinking about health care these days was absolutely enlightening.

It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in the USA. But one has to realize obesity causes other problems, that lead to even more problems, that cost the country and tax payers BILLIONS of dollars.  Therefore, this is not just a problem, it’s a CATASTROPHE which is projected to affect the next generation so profoundly that their life expectancy will be lower than ours for the first time EVER.

I am inspired by this.  I would say motivated, but as Dr. Deepak Chopra so convincingly stated at at the conference, “It’s not enough to be motivated.  Nobody does anything after being motivated.  The key to action is inspiration, after you’re inspired you never go back.”  I am so sold on the issue of obesity being one of the most important of our time that I am truly inspired to make a difference.  Even if I can only help one person improve their lifestyle, habits, and overall quality of life, then I think it’s worth it and I am determined to do it.

We don’t exactly know how health care is going to evolve in the near future, so for now we need to stop blaming the health care system.  WE are our health care system.  The “health care system” isn’t as broken as we as individuals and a society are broken.

We need to stop thinking that getting pills from the doctor’s office is the most effective way to reverse illness.  Pills are the EASIEST way to deal with how you’re feeling, but it’s not really FIXING how you’re feeling.  To modify Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “What’s easiest is not always right and what’s right is not always (or hardly ever) easiest.”  Going to the doctor’s office and buying prescription drugs costs money.  With the economy struggling the way it is, people should be paying much much more attention to getting in exercise, eating healthier, and using meditation. (I’m NOT telling you to stop taking your medications, just that adopting a healthier lifestyle CAN reduce the need for prescribed medication). Plus, health care and access to health care accounts for ONLY 10% of our health.  There is at least 40% of our health WE can control, the government doesn’t control it, our genes don’t dictate it, and not having access to health care does not affect that 40% of our health.

It can be daunting if you think the only way to become healthier is to eat perfectly and exercise everyday, that would be impossible.  Not even us professional athletes, whose job is in large part to take care of our bodies, can do that.  There are so many ways to improve your quality of life that won’t take a miracle to accomplish, BUT you have to do them CONSISTENTLY!!! Discipline is like a muscle, you have to exercise it or it atrophies and disappears.  Make your changes small and it will be more feasible to accomplish them on a regular basis.

Some ideas for easy ways to CUT calories:

  • Stop putting sugar in your coffee (I did this half a year ago and I don’t even notice it missing!) AND THAT INCLUDES ALL THAT FAKE SUGAR STUFF!!
  • After you drink your soda, keep the cup/bottle and refill it the rest of the day with water. (you save money doing this too!)
  • Get your sandwich, etc. without cheese (I promise you will hardly notice!)
  • Subway (No, I’m not sponsored by them) is always a great fast food option! It’s inexpensive and if you get a footlong you can split it between lunch and dinner.  That Subway diet is not a joke! And if you have to get something tasty on it, choose avocado instead of cheese, and get rid of the mayo!! Mustard is so much tastier!!
  • If you need dessert after dinner, try some fruit, I know it doesn’t sound as appetizing, but after your taste buds get the sugary taste they were craving and the fiber fills you up you won’t even miss the unhealthier versions of dessert.
  • If you’re not there yet I think hot cocoa is a good alternative, look for Swiss Miss Sensible Sweets Collection and make it with hot water or non-fat milk.

Some ideas for easy ways to BURN calories:

  • WALK to the coffee shop on weekend mornings (even if it’s miles away!), walk the dog, take a walk after dinner, or park far away from wherever you’re going and walk.  I think you get what I’m saying, find ways to take more steps everyday!! (And carry mace if you’re worried about walking by yourself!  If you ever feel threatened make sure you let it be known you have mace and will use it, a proven technique for fending off unwanted attention)
  • Sit on a swiss ball at your desk.
  • Do squats, crunches, and pushups during commercial breaks, you can’t say you’re busy then.
  • Simply go for a run, it really costs nothing.  All you need are shoes and there are brands that sell for $30, or if you’re really in need you can hit up your local thrift shop.  You will get a return on your investment!! (Fewer doctor’s visits)
  • If you have time, there is no reason not to exercise! You can devise a workout (or look up one on the internet) that you can do entirely outside and for free!
  • Basically, just move, even if you’re sitting down. Move.

If you’re tired before work or after work and don’t feel like it- know that, as Dr. Chopra said at the conference, “When you’re tired is the BEST time to exercise because it will GIVE you energy, and you will sleep better at night, which will give you even more energy.”  Being tired is NOT a good excuse to skip a workout.

Our country became obese at an excess of 200 calories a day.  With what I mentioned above you can easily eliminate those extra 200 calories a day and with a little hard work reverse the damage even more.  It will go slowly, you won’t notice results right away or even over a few months, but it will be working, even if it’s not obvious on the outside you can be assured it IS working on the inside and upstairs in your brain.

As Jillian Michaels mentioned during one of the panel discussions, if you can find something that makes it worth it to you, the consistency can become even less of a struggle.  Your incentive needs to be something you can draw on when you’re tired and unmotivated to make healthy choices.  It can be as vain as wanting to look good in your bikini (my reason ;)), to improve your relationship with your spouse, to be around longer for your children, or to help your children have a higher quality of life as they grow up OR ALL OF THE ABOVE!

And lastly, you can’t wait for help.  You have to be the help. If we as a community, as a society, and as a country are going to change it has to start with YOU.  Be the catalyst in your group of friends, in your family.  Be the inspiration that THEY need.  Order a salad at dinner or a side of veggies instead of fries.  Others will follow your lead.  The impact YOU can have on your small community of friends and family, simply by making healthy decisions, can cause a chain reaction that will reach so many more people than you can even imagine.

And if you’ve gotten this far and still don’t buy into what I’m saying just take an hour here and there when you’d otherwise be on Facebook or watching meaningless TV shows and educate yourself — your future self will thank you!

Take the first step today. Literally!!

What It Takes.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “what advice would you give young kids trying to succeed?”.

I always say number one is hard work.  Hard work is NOT just showing up to practice for two hours and being satisfied with getting through it.  Hard work IS showing up to practice a half hour early to work on stuff you’re not satisfied with. Then while in practice trying to be the best in every single drill and striving to be perfect at every single skill.  You should be pissed if you mess up, and definitely, absolutely, positively NEVER EVER laugh if you make a mistake! Hard work IS running sprints at the park on your day off to become faster than your teammates and opponents who AREN’T putting in the extra work.  Hard work IS hitting that wall, being completely exhausted, and finding your fourth/fifth wind to accomplish the goals in a drill.  It’s being determined to lift the most in the weight room, run the mile the fastest, and jump the highest.  It’s doing whatever it takes to be the best and once you’re the best, doing whatever it takes to become perfect.  You’re probably not working as hard as you possibly can right now, but it’s never too late to change that.

Number two is developing an unshakeable focus and mental strength. This, just like physical skill, takes practice and discipline.  It’s the difference between going through the motions in drills and really making sure you’re doing skills right in order to ingrain them into your brain so that once in competition you don’t have to think about it, you just do it.  Becoming a focused athlete means leaving everything outside the gym besides what you’re there to do.  Have a ridiculous amount of homework? It’s not going to get done while you’re at practice so you might as well not think about it while you’re in the gym.  Family trouble? Boy drama? In a fight with a friend? Same thing- leave it be while at practice or competition and stay focused on the present (a good life lesson as well!).  Another tool is visualizing before and after every practice and match.  If you did a particular thing wrong, visualize doing it the right way over and over before attempting it at the next session.  Playing a daunting opponent? Picture their weaknesses and see yourself exploiting them over and over again.  My favorite time to visualize is the night before at bedtime, that way when I go to sleep it really sinks into my brain.  The mental part of sports is JUST as important as the physical part, so it cannot be neglected (especially in volleyball)!

Number three is sacrifice.  You have to make succeeding a priority.  I can remember when I was a freshman in high school on varsity and my mom got soooo mad because my coach said I couldn’t miss a practice to celebrate my grandfather’s 80th birthday with my entire extended family.  You might say, well, it’s more important to be there for your grandpa’s birthday with the fam, but then you’re making that the priority (which is also perfectly fine if that’s what you want!).  Sacrifice is not easy, and I feel like it’s lost it’s meaning to some people.  I pretty much sacrificed a social life in high school to play three sports throughout the year, but I made varsity in every sport and went to the state championships in high jump my freshman year.  You have to decide how much you want to succeed and a good benchmark is what you’re willing to give up to do it…. Partying on the weekends? Spending a ton of time with a boyfriend/girlfriend?  Thinking about what you’re going to wear to school tomorrow rather than how you’re going to improve in (insert activity here)? You might not want to succeed bad enough.

Finally, say yes to opportunities! I can remember saying no to one particularly big opportunity in my life because I was scared of failing, but luckily my coach didn’t listen and put me on our top 18s club team as a sophomore anyway and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that! Confidence is built by pushing your comfort levels (saying yes to an opportunity), doing something that scares you and conquering it. I used to hate practicing with people who were better than me because I’d get hammered (and even embarrassed in some situations), but that’s when I improved the most! Now I take the opportunity to practice with anyone who I think will give me a challenge even if there’s a good chance I’m going to lose and get frustrated and probably hate it while it’s happening.  Join teams and clubs and say hi to people at school, have all your doors open all the time, you never know what could come through for you.  Looking back, one of the things I’m most proud of is taking advantage of opportunities.  Most of the time it sucks at first, like playing beach volleyball. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I wanted to give it a shot and I was terrible at first, however, I kept saying yes.  I said yes when veteran players asked me to play with them even though I didn’t think I was ready, I went to international tournaments when I had no idea what I was doing, but all that experience adds up and has helped me get to where I am today.  **I’m not saying just jump head first into everything that comes your way, but make sure you give each opportunity considerable thought and if it has the potential to make you more successful down the line, do it.

Those are my main pieces of advice…I feel it’s important to strive for success and to be the best not only for an individual’s future in sports or their career, but because it’s such a crucial cornerstone of American culture and I believe our country is suffering because this mentality is not as prevalent today as it might have been a few decades ago, when our parents were growing up.  So suck it up, push through the pain, and kick some butt!!