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.

3 thoughts on “Self Discipline

  1. Great life lesson for all of us,your best success sometimes comes after your worst performance,great blog April!!!

  2. I can relate so completely to what you say! I played indoor volleyball my entire life and although it developed me into an athlete, it really opened my eyes when I quit volleyball and joined my college’s cycling team. Being an individual sport, it was difficult for me to understand why I wasn’t as motivated to work hard than back when I was playing volleyball. It was clear to me that if I did not maintain self-discipline, it was not going to happen. Your words about the way indoor volleyball has discipline imposed on you from the team and complete effort does not mean discipline relates so well with me. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. April, just saw blog and read just this last post (from on my bday too!).. In your last paragraph stating what you hope ppl get from your words, I want you to know the broader application has really touched me.
    I like to go 150% in things, but if I feel I have messed up the “canvas” of accomplishing that goal, I allow the “messiness” to take my motivation… Been learning for last few years how to have grace with myself and work hard despite messing up ‘what could have been’!!
    Thanks for the reminder that (in not so many words) God redeems all areas of our lives, as we let Him, and it is right to submit to what is good in order to be free!!! I love that! I know it too… It’s the most unexpected, yet beautiful equation!! Go get ’em, girl!! Thanks for sharing!!

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