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!!

 

6 thoughts on “What It Takes.

  1. April,

    This is exactly what I needed to see tonight. My name is Amanda and I’m a student-athlete at the University of Cincinnati. I’m currently juggling school and student teaching as well as preparing for conference champs which seem to be coming sooner rather than later. I was on the verge of a mental break down tonight due to stress and looking for an excuse to get out of practice. This is the complete opposite of how I should be thinking about right now. Reading this not only picked me back up but inspired me. I do need to pull myself together and I need to work hard no matter what my crazy school schedule and life is.

    Thank you so much & continue to kick butt! You rock!!

    Amanda

  2. Love this! I will be sharing with my girls basketball team tomorrow, and my volleyball squad next fall! Something every kid should read, athlete or not! Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

  3. You know what, I read this with my own vocation (writing) in mind, and it still rings pretty true. It’s not so easy to take, but most good advice isn’t. Very good post April!

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