Ixtapa Don’t Stopa

If your idea of a perfect day is basking in the warm sun on a beach in Mexico playing volleyball with a bunch of awesome people then you belong on a South of the Border Volleyball Vacation. I just got back from spending nine pretty awesome days down in Ixtapa, Mexico with 240 SOB-ers on my second trip with this organization. My first one was in Puerto Vallarta circa 2013 and I’ve had a hard time fitting in another one since then until the FIVB tournament in Fort Lauderdale (Feb. 4-10) got cancelled and my schedule unexpectedly opened up! 

img_96782

I immediately reached out to SOB’s fearless leader Tom Davenport to see if he had room for me. Luckily he did, but once I was in I got a little nervous. The Puerto Vallarta trip is known for being a little more mellow and a lot less people than Ixtapa, and don’t get it twisted, we Pros are working while we are down there even if it is one of the coolest jobs you can land. I was envisioning it being really hectic trying to get around to everyone, I definitely wasn’t sure I’d be able to remember anyones names, and most importantly, how many tequila shots was I going to have to take?! But I managed to stay in the moment, put myself out there, just accept that I’d be asking for people’s names over and over, gave most of my shots to Troy and Miles 😉 and in the end everything ran really smoothly and I genuinely had a great time.

The new pros to Ixtapa flew down Friday so we could get the lay of the land. New to this particular trip were myself, Sean Rosenthal, Kerri Schuh, Geena Urango, and Troy Field. We checked in to The Park Royal Hotel, which I loved immediately. It’s airy and clean, my room had a gorgeous view, and it’s right on the beach with a picturesque pool. After we threw on our bathing suits we headed out to the beach for a welcome drink and a few rounds of four on four fun volley, then it was back to the room to clean up before heading to dinner. The restaurant Tom took us to was nestled in the hills of Zihuatanejo with an unforgettable view and food that matched. It was a great night with the crew before all the guests arrived the following day. The veteran Ixtapa pros that also joined us Saturday were Caitlin Ledoux, Janelle and Billy Allen, Ty Loomis, Ty Tramblie, Kelley Larsen, and Miles Evans, a pretty solid group of people to spend a week+ with in Mexico!

img_96622

The pros have a few specific responsibilities while we’re down there; mainly playing with the guests in the morning and afternoon for a few hours, leading clinics every day, with a little coaching sprinkled throughout as well. Some of my favorite moments on the trip were playing with the SOBers during the Pro Games each day. All the guests are allowed to sign up for one thirty minute session with a pro and we either play a couple of games or they can ask for something else like a hitting lesson, etc. There’s another pro and guest on the other side of the net, so really you get to play with two pros at once! I had a lot of fun getting out there and playing with everyone who signed up for my games and hopefully I was able to give them a few tips they could take home. I also had a blast playing a few pick up games in my spare time. This really allowed me to meet and get to know some of the people on the trip, which I was thankful for, no better way to break the ice with someone than to play a sport with them! 

Another huge highlight of the trip was the boat cruise that all the new pros got to go on with the first eighty guests that signed up. We rented a huge catamaran to meander the coast of Zihuatanejo, and once we reached our “destination” we anchored in a cove, took turns doing backflips off the side of the boat, and just floated around on life jackets or, in my case, a toddler zebra floatie that I bring with me everywhere there is going to be water. At the end of the cruise we had the opportunity to do something called spinnakering where the guys on the boat attach a harness to the huge sail and use the wind to lift the passenger way up into the air. I’ve been parasailing before, but this was way more fun!

The trip down to Ixtapa is known for having a pretty healthy nightlife, there is something to do every night if you so choose, but I was especially excited about theme night. This year it was Naughty or Nice and I decided to go as Rainbow Brite, which is now my new favorite costume! One of the guests even coincidentally brought some blow up unicorn drink holders, of which she gave me one, to be Rainbow’s unicorn, Starlite! Seeing what everyone decided to dress up as was equal parts entertaining and shocking, and it was a blast dancing the night away at the Sexy Bar (the hotel’s beachside club).

I also really enjoyed going out to dinner every night with different groups of people and got to know a lot more of the guests this way. (Thank you to everyone who extended the invite!) I now feel like I’m going to have a mini reunion at each AVP tournament this summer and I can’t wait!

img_95982

By the end of the trip, I had enough chips and guac to last the rest of the year, secured a base tan that no one should have in January, and made some connections that I hope will last a really long time. On a side note, I was stoked it was too hot to do anything in the middle of the day which allowed me to get in a siesta to catch up on sleep each day and then hit the gym before our afternoon session, I actually came back from Mexico in better shape than when I left! I did a ton of yoga and my body held up really well throughout the nine days of going pretty non-stop down there.

I really didn’t know how the week was going to go, but I can’t overstate how much fun I ended up having. I can only imagine how rad it would be for the volleyball weekend warrior to come down and play in the huge week-long ‘King of the Court’ tournament, and/or give the co-ed tournament a go, while relaxing in the ocean side lounge chairs with a pina colada in between matches. If it seems like it’s something up your alley, cruise on over to the SOB website for all the info! www.sobvolleyballvacations.com

Tom Davenport deserves lots of kudos for making these trips happen. The volleyball community is special, it’s full of fun-loving, inclusive people and to get a lot of them together and take them down to Mexico for a week in the middle of winter is simply a perfect vacation. And it also creates an opportunity for us pros to make a little off season money, which all of us appreciate tremendously. Thank you Tom! I can’t wait for my next SOB Volleyball Vacation!

img_9447

Olympic Qualification; the deets.

Since the time is upon us, I figured I should actually explain the process of qualifying for the Olympics as it pertains to beach volleyball.  It can be confusing, looooooong, and calculating the points is tough even for the mathematicians among us, but I will do my best to lay it out for you. 

Olympic Qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Games technically began in September of 2018 (earliest ever), but the first qualification event for us was the NORCECA Championships in the Dominican Republic that Alix and I were able to win (!) towards the end of October.  

The first step towards qualifying for the Games is to play in at least twelve FIVB World Tour events. However, you must take into account that the FIVB uses a star system to differentiate the events. Most important are the 5 STARS, the cream of the crop, where you have the opportunity to win the most amount of points and prize money (unfortunately there aren’t very many of these each season, I think there are two in 2019). Then come the 4 STARS which are a pretty big drop off from a 5 star in regards to points and money, but the competition is usually the same as at a 5 star (you gotta get those points somehow!). You get the idea, 3 STARS are worth less, 2 STARS and 1 STARS are usually good for teams just starting out. Each event counts as one of your twelve finishes regardless of the star count.

Ok, get your thinking caps on because this is where it starts to get complicated.  On top of the star system there is also a “country quota” rule that limits each country to only FOUR teams. Each tournament (regardless of star ranking) is a thirty-two team main draw that takes eight teams from a twenty-four team qualifier.  So you can have four teams from each country in a combination of the main draw and qualifier in each tournament. The caveat is that even if all four teams have enough points to be in the main draw, the team with the least amount of points is automatically put in the qualifier…these rules start to seem even more outdated as I write them.  

You are allowed to sign up for 5-1 star tournaments based on the amount of FIVB points you have, so as you may have put together already, the top performing teams get first dibs on 5 and 4 stars, normally. Some teams that can’t get into those events then sign up for the 3, 2, and 1 stars to attempt to build up enough points to pass that fourth team that is qualifying for the top events. *Sidenote: there are wildcards awarded for each event and it’s possible for both to be awarded to the same country, as has been the case a few times in the last year for the U.S. (normally unheard of), so in that case one country could have up to six teams in one tournament. 

To determine where you rank among U.S. teams trying to get into the top events, teams add up points from their best four finishes out of their last six events in a 365 day period.  Because of this it is detrimental to play 3, 2, and 1 stars if you have good finishes in your last six events in 5 and 4 stars, sometimes teams won’t even play 4 stars in order to hold on to their 5 star points longer. Got it? Sure…haha. 

As far as Olympic qualification goes, you’re in a good spot if you’re able to land in the main draw automatically in 5 and 4 star events, but with such a long qualification period there is room for lots of movement if you don’t perform.  The race to get as many points as possible in at least twelve events goes all the way up until June 2020, almost a full two year period. Then at the end of the qualification period you take your best twelve finishes and stack them against all the other American teams’ best twelve finishes. 

IF you find yourself in the top two places among U.S. teams you have a very good chance of going to Tokyo in July.  BUT, and here’s the catch, you must also be in the top fifteen teams in the world (also based on your best twelve finishes). If that happens then the two top American teams (per gender) will automatically get bids to the Olympics, yay! 

If there is only one team that qualifies in the top fifteen, then there are a few other routes that the other team can take. One is through a continental qualification tournament and the other is through a last chance qualification tournament with teams from all over the world who still have yet to qualify (at least that’s how it was in 2016).  If neither team is in the top fifteen then they would both play in the continental tournament and/or last chance tournament (as one team, I don’t have time to explain this one) and then have a playoff versus each other to determine the ONE team that would represent the U.S.A. in Tokyo. Intense!!

There was a time when USAV wanted to hold a “one-off” Olympic qualification tournament in the U.S. with only American teams, but there were too many variables. First, two teams would have to qualify two spots for the U.S. the traditional way I just outlined for you, but that wouldn’t mean they’d actually get to go to the Olympics, they’d still have to make the final of this U.S. qualification tournament, which is pretty unfair in itself.  But also, what if a team that had been dominant all year leading up to the Olympics incurs an injury or gets ill? And the way a team matches up against international teams can be different than how they match up with American teams. A team that beats top international teams that will be at the Olympics, but matches up poorly against another American team could lose out on the chance to go to the Games when they might actually be our best chance. Or a team with no chance otherwise, competing in this one-off event with “nothing to lose” may play super loose and upset some teams that have consistently done well internationally in high pressure situations. However, that team that played well with nothing to lose cannot be expected to play the same way on the biggest stage in the world at the Olympics. The liability of an event like that could be too great. Consistency and strength should have to be proven over time against the best teams from other countries.

One situation I didn’t discuss, but I find notable (especially because it happened to me) is the possibility of having multiple teams in the top fifteen in the world. All technically deserve to go to the Olympics after having proven they are among the best in the world, but because the Olympics has a two team per country quota, only the top two get to go. This is in order to ensure room for teams from countries that may not be as competitive, but wouldn’t be represented otherwise.  Jen Kessy and I were ranked fifth in the world at the end of the qualification period for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but barely missed out because there were American teams ranked first and fourth in the world ahead of us.  I’m very conflicted about this rule, obviously… but those are the rules.

I think that’s basically everything you need to know about how to qualify for the Olympics in this sport… the only other caveat is that if you win the World Championships this year in Hamburg your national federation (USAV) gets an automatic bid to the Olympics, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team that won gets that spot, but ultimately it is very likely that that team would claim that spot in the end.  The race on the women’s side will be competitive, there are many more teams doing well internationally this quad than there were in the quad leading up to 2016. 

This is my fourth attempt at qualifying for the Olympics, it’s exciting. I love my team and I’m having more fun playing and traveling than I have in a long time.  We are super motivated, but have a long way to go. I hope you’ll cheer for us!

Commitment to the Process

DelaBeachOpen2019.jpg

When you’re competitive and all you want to do is win and NOW, staying committed to the process can be tough. Inevitably you will have ups and downs. It is after the disappointments that this commitment is hard, obviously. The impulse to scrap everything and start over because “apparently everything you’ve been doing is wrong” seems very logical while seeing red, but it is something I’m trying to be consciously better about.  If I look at what I believe will be the period of time between when Alix and I started our journey and when we will get to our destination, it doesn’t make sense to train one way with one intention in mind for a little while and then switch it because of an unsatisfactory result. It’s denying my outcome oriented mind in favor of the more logical and self-serving process oriented method. Fake it til you make it right??

Like I said, I want to win yesterday already, which is appropriate considering our tournament in the Hague last week. I love this tournament. It’s in an amazing city, we stay in a cute hotel with a great breakfast, in the city center, get to wear warm cozy clothes to and from the venue. The venue is STATE OF THE ART, it’s heated, the sand is great, center court feels like you’re at a concert, and if all that wasn’t enough, it has working toilets and warm showers for when we’re done competing! (it’s the little things!) AND it’s over New Year’s, and in the Netherlands THEY GO FOR IT. We may not participate (too busy taking shelter), but their firework policy is absolutely nuts. I won’t even attempt to describe it, but you should really check out this video, promise it’s worth it-  How to Survive Dutch New Year’s Eve

So anyway, despite all the amazingness surrounding this event, the fact that we had a mediocre ending has definitely left me with a bad taste in my mouth. We ended up in fourth place, which, even though it’s better than any place below it (and had we gotten one of those finishes I might be wishing for a fourth), it’s not a fun result. In the semis we drew a young good Brazilian team that we beat in the finals of our last tournament in China, but we weren’t crisp enough down the stretch to pull it out despite being up a few points at both technical timeouts. Ok ok, now you gotta get over it, get fired up again, and play the bronze medal match. Some teams pooh-pooh the bronze medal match, but that was never an option for us, we knew the importance of the match and for many reasons really wanted to win. 

We convincingly won the first set, probably with our serving to passing ratio. One thing you should know about indoor beach volleyball (and this is with the Mikasa ball) is you are able to serve the crap out of the ball and it can drop on a dime for no reason, it requires a sharply increased reaction time compared to outdoor beach. I would bet there were more aces in this tournament than any other tournament all last season. In the first set against the Finnish that worked in our favor. We were able to fight off their serves and we got more aces than they did. I have to think they realized that, because they then stepped up their serving and passing game and outdid us in that category for the rest of the match, and it showed. 

There are a lot of factors involved in those two losses, some will not be an issue again until the next indoor beach tournament (The Hague is the only one as of now), some just come and go as is natural in sport, and some were completely under our control.  Some had to do with preparation, some with our mental approach- not necessarily bad, but maybe wrong. Either way, wether I can control what went wrong or not, one thing is for sure: I’m extremely motivated to move forward, fix what went wrong, and make sure the next time we have a chance to medal we take it. There’s just something different about the motivation inspired by a loss versus a win, no matter how hard you try to maintain it after the latter.

So the challenge now is how do we stick to the long term plan, trust the process, and still fix what we feel went wrong? 

Find perspective– Look at the timeline from where you started to where you want to go as a linear line in your mind. It’s probably decently long, if not never-ending. How much importance do you want to assign what happened during a blip on this timeline? How crucial was it really? If say, your New Years resolution was to eat healthier, but you end up going HAM on left over Christmas cookies one night, how detrimental is that really to your end goal? If you jump right back on the wagon believing you haven’t sabotaged your end goal, you’re going to be in much better shape. 

Trust the people we have put around us– We have a lot of people helping us, and to come back and say, “nothing we were doing worked! We need to completely change our training!” (which I have done before to my chagrin) What is the point of working with these people? We should feel comfortable asking for small adjustments, but if the long term plan has been mindfully created, regardless of short term outcomes along the way, we need to trust the effort these people have put into our goals and the process of getting there.

Study, study, study– The best way to fix what you feel went wrong while sticking with the plan and trusting the process is to watch video of yourself and learn from your mistakes! Not everything is a result of bad technique or lack of preparation, etc. Maybe you will notice something that in the end is really easy to correct, maybe it’s as simple as changing one of your cues. Also I find that by studying others it gives me ideas of things I can try within our training, without changing basic strategy, that may help me improve. Outside of volleyball this can be translated into ‘knowledge is power’.  Research what you’re trying to get better at, the more we know about how to get to our goals, the more tools we will gain to help us get there.

Practice acceptance– Most of us competitive perfectionists beat ourselves up after losses or bad performances. This can serve a purpose, but only if it can then quickly be overcome. I find it extremely helpful when I am critiquing myself to take notes. In the moment I’m hyper aware of what made me uncomfortable, what I feel like I need to get better at, and my mentality during the performance that maybe I want to improve upon.  If I take notes immediately so I know I won’t forget, I find it is much easier to let it go.  After I decompress and we start working on our training plan, I can objectively go back to my notes and reevaluate them. I can then decide what ultimately fits in with the long term plan and will actually help us get better versus something that may have been situational and out of my control.

Meditation will also help with the acceptance of our imperfect selves. My favorite part of the practice is to surround all thoughts that may float through my mind uninvited during meditation with a flood of acceptance. Some thoughts are harder to do this with than others, but with effort and consistency this really works. 

None of this is easy, but if we can manage to avoid overreacting to our shortcomings, and maintain focus on our strengths, loving ourselves in the process, it will help us trust the process and stick with it. So this is my task moving forward, I’m three quarters of the way there and writing this blog definitely helped me work through my feelings and create a game plan for next time. That’s part of why I want to maintain this blog, it’s as much for me as it is for you. I hope you also found it helpful! And know that even if you’ve had a rough start with your resolutions, be understanding with yourself and know that there will be a learning curve, but if you stay committed to the process you will get there!

New Year, Older Yet Incrementally Better Me :)

Looking back at 2018 I’m extremely grateful for a lot of things that happened, and I’m excited to get to work building on them in 2019. Alix and I have a lot of potential to realize and I have my sights set high. I’m also looking forward to more personal development, more risk taking, and to stepping farther outside my comfort zone. I’m all about that growth!

I like the idea of setting resolutions for the new year to kickstart and/or revisit with renewed motivation the behaviors and thoughts that will lead to living our best life, but I try to avoid holding on to them too tightly. Discipline and commitment are extremely important, but if a resolution ends up feeling like the sharp edge of a popcorn kernel stuck in my throat I’m not going to force it. There’s a difference between challenging and a true lack of synchronicity, and if you’re in tune with your instinct it knows the difference between what is worth the effort and what is not.

If you have big changes to make, it will be hard, but it should feel right. One of my favorite phrases (I believe it’s from Glennon Doyle) is WE CAN DO HARD THINGS! I don’t know where this idea comes from that things should be easy, anything worth it takes work. My advice for challenging changes/resolutions is to start small.  Anything you alter in an effort to improve yourself needs to be sustainable and will eventually need to feel normal, after you’ve integrated a change you’ll need to view it as your new base line and then lean in some more. Over and over. Be patient with yourself. If you fall off the wagon, it’s ok, get back on no matter how hard you fall, it’s worth it. Truly loving yourself is treating your mind, body, and spirit in ways that will enable you to be as healthy as possible, but the journey to health is squiggly and never-ending.

My resolutions usually center on healthy eating (wah waaah), relationships, creativity, and learning. Each new year I double down on my eating habits, sometimes trying a new approach, as is the case this year. I’ve been intermittently intermittent fasting (four times a week) and thus far I really like it. I plan to do more research and continue following it’s guidelines into the new year. (More on this subject in a future blog post.)

I will continue to work on strengthening my relationships with the people who mean the most to me (my marble jar friends, for those of you who read Brené Brown). This, for me, means carving out time to spend with loved ones, even if I have to sacrifice my beloved routine to find it, and checking in when I don’t have the time to be there in person. I don’t know why, but that’s been hard for me my entire life. 

Creatively, I would like to get back to sewing. My mom taught me how to sew and it’s a pastime that makes me feel connected to her. I still have and use her sewing machine and I have piles of fabric waiting to be made into something fabulous!  And finally, I intend to be more disciplined when it comes to reading and writing.  I plan to do this by cutting out TV a few days a week, it’s amazing how productive I can be when I resist the suck of the couch and those bright flashing lights. 

I believe reading books is one of the single best things we can do for ourselves, specifically self-help books (pick up whatever speaks to you!), and books that can help us grow in our passions. I can’t imagine where I would be without the books that have landed in my lap! In conjunction, I find writing is one of the quickest ways to learn and gain clarity about yourself: what you think, how you feel, and what you really want. It’s also a creative outlet for me and I love sharing my thoughts on subjects for whoever is here to listen. 

Despite all of these “resolutions”, I’m not a big concrete goal setter. I believe in the intention to live your best life, in simply doing your best every day, and leaving the rest up to the universe. General goals are good, you need to know where you’re trying to go, but it’s important to be open to alternative routes and destinations. Life flows better and is more exciting that way. So my advice would be to set those goals, lean in, and work towards them intently, but hold on to them loosely and be open to interesting opportunities that come your way.

The one semi-concrete goal I am setting for myself, however, is to produce a weekly blog in 2019. I have fifty-two subjects selected, one focus for each week, which can be subject to change based on what is happening real time in my life. This is mainly a creative exercise I’m using to challenging myself, but if you’d like to check back in and read the fruits of this resolution you are more than welcome to do so! Thank you for reading the first one- blog #52, blog #51 is on it’s way! 

Good luck to you all with your resolutions and I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!!