Friday, December 26, 2014

"How does it feel that your team is better off without you?" Retired Athlete Problems

In case you aren't involved in the volleyball world, December is the month of the NCAA Tournament. On my trip to Rome earlier this month I stayed up way too late in order to watch my old teammates win, and make it to the Elite 8, a HUGE accomplishment for a team that my freshman year wasn't even eligible to make the NCAA Tournament.

The year after my career ended I helped out on game days producing highlight videos, and still hung out with the team on their off days. This was my first true season away, and I found myself living vicariously through them as they beat dook, FSU, won the ACC Championship, and made it farther than any other UNC team in history.

Today at work a colleague who's daughter plays collegiate volleyball as well, asked me if I still followed the UNC Volleyball Team. I told him I feel like I do more than follow, that I'm a borderline groupie I'm still so invested in their success. To which he followed up with this question that I didn't have an answer for- How does it feel that your team's better off without you? 

On my drive to pick up some lunch today, Ariana Grande's "One less problem without ya" followed by Beyonce's "Upgrade U" played back to back, apparently in honor of one of the radio hosts going through a breakup- and the irony was not lost on me. I was so happy for these girls, and jealous I wasn't apart of it that I had never even considered that us older girls could have been the cause of our team's lack of championships. I felt a longing to suit up and play when I'd watch the team play in Notre Dame and IL this year, and now I realized they probably wouldn't even want me or any of my teammates anymore.

I was fine with this chapter of my life closing, but I thought I was breaking up with Volleyball, not the other way around. Like anyone who's involved in a breakup, I could only hope I'd be the one upgrading, going onto bigger and better things. And I began to be really sad and think about what I could have done differently during my time at UNC that would have produced my teams better results. However the more I thought about what each team was able to accomplish, I realized we were laying the groundwork for the teams ahead. The girls older than me at UNC started something that made great players choose Carolina, and I'd like to think the cycle continued every year.

I never really understood what it meant to be apart of the Carolina Family until I left it. I used to think once I graduated from Carolina and moved away, that chapter of my life was over. But it's no different than how my great grandparents (many who I've never met), influenced my grandparents, who influenced my parents, who influence me, can still play a role in my life even though they are no longer with us. I'd like to think some of our major failures or learning experiences were able to be passed on to younger teammates, who didn't have to go through the screw ups in order to learn from them. You may no longer be in the official team pictures, but you really don't ever stop being on the team. Your teams' past failures and successes are all building blocks to what the team is today, regardless of if you've met the players. So I'd like to think the team isn't better off without all of us alums, rather we're all still part of the tean and I can't wait to see what we do in 2015.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wayne Brady and a Volleyball Olympian Both Take a Break Due to Depression

Depression has received recent attention world-wide after Robin Williams committed suicide in August. Today, another comedic hero of mine, Wayne Brady, talks about his struggle with depression in attempt to bring awareness to the disease and remove some of the stigma associated with it. Growing up watching him on "Whose Line is it Anyway?", he quickly became one of my favorites. All skits with him in it were instantly funnier because of his wit and ability to play off others jokes so perfectly, managing to make everyone else in the skit funnier just by being in it. It's no wonder there has been a lot of confusion and surprise around this announcement, because on the outside he seems to be so happy and successful but speaks of a life with so much hurt.

Another star who spoke out about depression this past week is Matt Anderson. A household name for many volleyball families, Matt has helped grow the sport globally by his skill and passion on and off the court. When I was trying out for the Olympic Team, thinking about living and breathing the sport seemed like a pretty cool job. While I was staying there Michael Phelps walked by, meeting him was crazy- but living with him year round seemed surreal. A lifestyle that many could only dream of, he has been living the past decade.

A star his entire career, Matt played at Penn State and helped them win the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship in 2008 when he was a junior, where he was named the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player along with several Player of the Year/All-American Honors.

Instead of competing his senior year, he began his career in Europe where he's played ever since (Helping lead his Russian teams to National champions the past two years). At 25, Matt Anderson was the youngest player on the 2012 Men's Olympic team. He has been the US Men's leading scorer every year since 2011 and can touch 12 feet, 3 inches. When his games are televised, it's not uncommon for fans to tweet about how impressive he is on both the court and the eyes, often having a line of teenage girls hoping for an autograph after his matches.

"Big Things Ahead and I Want to be Ready!" is his recent post where he explains more about his decision his blog about his accomplishments thus far, and how busy he has been- and that it is in his best health interest to take a break to come back stronger than he is now.

It is not uncommon for an athlete to take a year off due to injury (concussions, torn ligaments, broken bones etc.) however the idea of an injured brain is something that is much less common, and definitely not talked about. There is a stigma around depression, and many see it as a choice to be sad- however how Matt describes it as perfect- it is an injury. People often are asking why or how he is depressed- but depression is a chemical imbalance. It is often hereditary and is biological hereditary no different then other diseases such as epilepsy or allergies. Where sadness normally has an outside trigger such as a death of a family member- the brain sends these signals without a trigger. So although it may seem like people with Depression have so much going for them, their brain is sending mixed signals that are extremely difficult to overcome.

His official statement released from the team he's playing on in Russia spoke more about his state of depression.

"I decided to stop my career, and this is entirely my decision is because I feel tired of volleyball. Ever since I started playing professionally, I almost had no chance to see my family. Because of this I do not feel comfortable and have been dealing with stress.

This critical condition and home sickness have reached their peak before the start of this season. I thought I could stand and overcome depression, but in the end I was wrong. I will miss the remainder of the season, but I am not finished with volleyball yet. I just want to have a break. I think that this break will help me get back the passion and love for the game."
Matt has a tattoo relating to his autistic cousin Tristin on his wrist, it's one piece of a puzzle with his cousin's name. He even put it on his right wrist since he's right handed and that's where he said he thought it would get the most television exposure for Autism Awareness. In April 2014, Matt was in an interview where his tattoo and cousin were brought up, and was asked if he believes everything happens for a reason- his response was pretty interesting:

"I believe things happen because they happen. I don’t think there’s a grand plan for everyone. I think that we are people, we are part of the world and the world is not ours. I think that we fit into the structure of our consciousness and of our reality. I think that things happen because you are here at that moment.If things happen for a reason, why do we live? Why do we have our consciousness? Why are we not just robots?
 If there’s a grand plan, why do we feel? Why do we have senses? Why do we love? Why do we hate? Why do we feel jealousy towards someone? Why do we motivate other people to be better people if it doesn't matter if it’s just going to happen for a reason beyond their control?"

I mostly agree with him. We are all different and we should not live based on what we think we should be doing or based on what people will think. What makes life so great isn't because we might make a huge difference in this world- but the little thinks like making relationships, making memories, and sharing love which are all things that we can somewhat control.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Letter to the NC Volleyball State Champions

Dear NC High School State Champions,

Let me start by saying Congratulations on winning. As a two-time winner of a 8A State Championship in Illinois, I can definitely say it's an experience you'll never forget and I hope you enjoyed every minute.

Last week I was on twitter before I went to bed and noticed one of my followers had retweeted a distasteful tweet. I assumed it was a joke or possibly from a fan, but ended up stumbling upon several tweets from a team that used to come to some of our UNC Volleyball Team Camps (possibly still does) in North Carolina and I was literally speechless.

First I'm going to start with how you're hurting yourself...

Don't you know that your social media profiles are public? Don't you know that ANYONE can see these? Do you hope to play volleyball in college someday, possibly get a scholarship?  Do you hope to get a job one day? When I played Volleyball at the University of North Carolina all of our social media presences were monitored weekly by our head coaches because we don't just represent ourselves- we represent our school, our team, our sport, and women in general. Many of you have past tweets about sex, alcohol, drugs, etc. and these can be judged by people who have no clue if you're joking or not.

Unfortunately and fortunately, you aren't like everybody else. Others can tweet about going to parties, drinking underage, but what kind of message is that sending to your coaches, peers, and future employers? You are held to higher standards than others, and are subject to more criticism. Any random teenager getting high or drunk at a party and is no big deal, but when you're recognized by others- all of a sudden pictures are taken that you can never get back

And don't get me wrong- when people would see me play I was as competitive as they get. It pained me to high five an opponent after a loss, and during games I would have no problem telling my server who I believed the weakest passer on the team was. Personal jabs, in a public forum, are never acceptable and just come across as extremely jealous and/or insecure.

You are also hurting women athletes...

Women sports already have a stigma in this country, one that female athletes are trying so hard to overcome. Have you seen this video about the girl pitcher who competed in the little league world series? It gave me goosebumps to the message she is able to spend.

Your tweets may be targeted for your classmates to think that you are funny, but think about all the young girls you could be inspiring that could also be following you. You probably look up to certain players in college or the Olympics, and there are currently younger girls in the community who attend your games to look up to you and aspire to be you.

My high school coach taught me the trick to a good interview, and I would like to pass this onto you- after every game every question should be answered with a compliment to your opponent and a compliment to your teammate. How does it feel to win this huge game? (Opponents name) is such a great team who made so little errors, so I'm really happy with how my team played. You set a personal record with 30 kills, how does it feel? Considering (opponents name) is such a good team, it's crazy, but I think that really shows more to how great our defense was and how athletic my setter is.

You are also hurting people...

Calling opposing teammates ugly, annoying, or unskilled to yourself or other teammates is one thing- but sharing it for the entire WORLD to see, with the intent of them seeing these messages is another. Calling opposing players from a team you played derogatory names, from bitch, to thot (hoe), to literally "shoutout to #4 lookin like a mixture between an alien and an acorn" is really confusing to me why you would intentionally try to hurt people that you don't know.

Honestly I didn't know the best way to go about approaching this matter, and decided I would reach out to your coach and principal about the issue. They promptly asked for proof, and unfortunately I still haven't received a response, and many of the tweets are still on twitter which makes me believe they're choosing to wait until after the season to address the issue.

One of my teammates killed herself this past year. She was picked on constantly, and although she received a full ride scholarship to a great ACC school, was smart enough to get into a prestigious med school after college, and had a boyfriend that loved her- she still chose to end her own life. You never know what battles people are facing, and it's important to understand everyone has a struggle you know nothing about.

Calling another girl bitch or ugly in order to get favorites is so twisted. We grow up in a society where many judge their prettiness by number of likes pictures get, or their wit based on the number of RTs or favorites on twitter, and I plead to you that this mentality has to change. 

These girls, under my advice, made their twitters PRIVATE- so they wouldn't be bothered anymore, yet you decided to keep taking jabs, tweeting again how she was a bitch.
Your principal wouldn't tell you, your coaches wouldn't tell you, and your teammates wouldn't tell you- so here I am to tell you that this is not cool. Although the screenshots can be removed from this site, other screen shots will never go away. No different than the words you have spoken of hate will stay in people's minds infinity times longer than words of praise will.
Like I said, this is a time you'll remember the rest of your life, however I'm a firm believer high school athletics should be teaching you much more than just passing, setting, and hitting. I don't think anyone is expecting an apology, however I do expect these tweets to be promptly deleted. 
From a former athlete,
Emily McGee

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would You Pass the Marshmallow Test? A Lesson in Deferred Gratification

There was a famous experiment that I learned about in Psychology 101 in college called the Stanford Marshmallow Test. I remember paying close attention because we had to participate in graduate student's studies as part of the class, and I always was looking for one that involved food.

The Test

The studies were a series of delayed gratification tests which were conducted in the 1960's where a small child was offered a marshmallow, Oreo, cookie, etc.. by the exam proctor, and told if they didn't eat the treat when the proctor left the room for a short period, he would then receive two treats as a reward for waiting and then could eat them.

The results for the children ranging in age from 4-6 were that a third ate the treat immediately, the second third tried to wait but couldn't last the full 15 minutes, and the final third was able to wait long enough to get the second one.

This what when I tuned out in class, and thought the takeaway was that young children do not yet grasp the concept of deferred gratification, as there were a lot more 6 year olds than 4 year olds who didn't wait. I considered if I would take the Oreo or not originally and decided I could wait 15 minutes to receive two However, the fact that the proctor didn't tell the kids how long he'd be gone, instead that he'd return in"a short period of time," I doubted that I could wait- my love for food and lack of patience creating the perfect storm.

Flash forward a few months later the final exam, there was a question about these studies on it and I was proud of myself for remembering. The question, however, was regarding a follow-up study about the tests. I picked an answer I thought sounded good, and looked up the answer after the exam while thinking if I couldn't get the one question about food right, I didn't do too hot on that exam.

The follow up studies, were much more interesting than the preliminary study- where the results showed the third of children who waited had better lives. These kids were more successful in almost every area of their lives one would think were important; they had lower Body Mass Index (BMI)'s in fitness, higher SAT scores, faster reaction times, better educational attainment, and several other life situations these kids came out on top.

Immediately backtracking on my previous answer, I reassured myself that of course I would wait for the second Oreo which also means I'm destined for life success... but 6 years after my freshman Psyc 101 class, I'm 99% sure I would have popped the first Oreo right away even at age 20. The sport I played had constant feedback and often instant gratification. If I ran as fast as I could right now, I can get to the ball. If I work as hard as I can in the weight room, next week I'll lift heavier. I talked about the team mentality in my last blog post, and how running a marathon only really benefited me, so I didn't care about my own well being- heck one Oreo is better than none in my book. However if I would have had a teammate, friend, or even stranger in the room with me, I know without a doubt I would have happily waited to share.

I realized on the way to work today I forgot to bring my lunch, so it was a nice surprise when there was an Apple sitting on my desk with a thank-you note for Support Staff Appreciation Week.... Obviously I ate the apple immediately, instead of saving it for lunch and I think we know the answer to if I could pass the Marshmallow Test.
The Climb Never Ends
Speaking to a friend about life after sports, the question was raised of how we know when we are doing enough. I don't think this is the right question. There will always be something more we can do, more challenges to overcome, and I'm not sure if it is possible to be completely satisfied.

Living is so much more than winning. It is about learning, failing, growing, reflecting, sharing, etc. Delayed gratification is what keeps us going because some of the most important things in life can't happen in a day. The trick is you have to appreciate and see each day for what it is too.

The idea of winning has been ingrained in us as athletes, and it's difficult to adjust to having this as the end goal. The Upward Climb begins trying to define your life after sports,  and finding measurable goals to strive for. Landing a first job out of college is not easy, and even once you are hired, most first jobs are meant to be entry level that will hopefully catapult you into a better career down the road. Two or three years at a position sounds like an easy amount of time to wait for a promotion- but there will be a lot of challenges in those early years that make living them hard.

And it's not just in jobs- it might be going for a run or working-out every day to better yourself when your older. Or going to grad school now for the dream job you won't have for another 2-5 years. Putting 5% of your paycheck into a 401k that you won't get for another 40 years. There's a lot of things we have to do now, that are not fun, but necessary for our long term success.

So instead of asking "Am I doing enough right now?" a better question is- "How can I enjoy what I'm doing now and what I have, while I work towards what I want."

The most hiked mountains in the world aren't conquered for the view at the top- but the experience along the way. It is this same moment-to-moment happiness that you can track daily to help identify the triggers in life. These triggers will be different for everyone- but the foundation will be the same. For example, anticipation for a future event and looking forward tomorrow is a big one for me. Or an interaction with another person, getting a lot done and feeling productive, and feeling healthy after working out or a good night's sleep make me feel happy. When you're happy it's easier to have more days of happiness, similar to how when you're sad it tends to come in bunches too. These triggers can easily be controlled by scheduling your day, and is important to remember when you feel like the upward climb is too much.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Retired Athlete Problems - My regrets and advice after my first marathon

Despite my warning where I described my attempt at a marathon, there have been a large number of inquiries about Marathon training advice, tips, and other general questions. Here are some of my regrets and personal accomplishments based on some of the questions I've been asked:

What I would do differently if I did it again....
What should I wear for the marathon? Many people recommended throw away clothes that you could ditch before the start or in the early miles until you were warmed up. I had a pair of sweat pants under my warm running pants that I left in the bag to be picked up at the end of the race, and a hat and a garbage bag that I made my own head hole to keep warm. How the race starts is you are pre-divided into different "corrals" or groups to start. These are selected by your projected finish time (fastest first, slowest last). As this was my first marathon and there were no previous times to go off, I was in the third to last one. The Corrals were groups A-K, and then from there two waves were selected- a 7 a.m. start and an 8 a.m. start. I was in the 8 a.m. start, yet I didn't actually cross the start line until 8:18 or so, and was walking that whole way after I ditched my hat and stylish garbage bag. I wish I would have kept it longer, because although exciting and adrenaline filled, it was a slow, 25 minute walk to the start line.

Wasn't it boring running that long? What did you listen to? I loved training to my Book on Tape- and I picked a book I had never read, but had seen the movie (Divergent) so I thought it would be okay if I occasionally got distracted. However, some of my walking breaks turned extra long since I found myself just casually listening to my book on tape instead of focusing on the next mile. I did like the book on tape but maybe I could have gotten a little farther when my back was still holding up alright.

How did you train for your first marathon? Because of my back pain I was very limited to my training runs. I had to make my own plan, and pretty much ran 5-7 miles a day 4 days a week.... until my back would flare up and I would rest it completely until then. I made it up to 18 miles once, and then couldn't walk the next day either and was in a lot of pain. I only did one run in the three weeks leading up to my marathon, a nice short 4 mile jog 3 days before to make sure I'd survive. I wouldn't personally have done anything differently, as I don't think my body would have held up with the constant pounding- however I obviously don't recommend starting marathon training 3 months in advance, and not running the month before....

What diet did you use while training? So maybe the few sips of beer during the UNC football game the day before wasn't the smartest decision, nor the hot wings. If I had to grade my everyday diet I would give it a B-, and I didn't really change my diet to train for the marathon which obviously would have been smart.

What I surprised myself with
Do you have all of your toenails? Although I wish I had my gear longer, I thought I was very well dressed. I invested in some new running shoes 3 months before, along with the ridiculously expensive socks (about the same as Nike Elites but nowhere as stylish) that I was recommended. I'm not sure if this is what kept me from no blisters, missing toe nails, or foot cramps but my feet were super happy. I also invested in a nice Sports Bra, and wore dri-fit shirts. Because I've heard horror stories, I did lather up with Vaseline in all possible sources of friction, and did pass a few guys getting their bloody nipples taped- so all in all I thought I was very well prepared.

Did you have to go to the bathroom? I got up early enough to take care of my business, and throughout my 5 hour adventure I didn't have to use the bathroom once. I passed a lot guys going in trees and ladies waiting in line, so I thought I did pretty good here.

Did you use gels or Gatorade? I didn't get any cramps and my pee was a nice light yellow color after the day, even after my victory beers. I had 2-3 swallows of Gatorade at every aid station (every 2 miles or so) and felt that this was good, I had a gel that I didn't really use because it upset my stomach on my training runs. I didn't drink any water in fear of it going through me, and the Gatorade gave me a little sugar too and tasted good.

Are you sad you didn't finish? Going to work on Tuesday limp free was a big accomplishment. Two other colleagues who also ran the marathon were still walking funny, and I'm glad I wasn't disabled longer than that evening. Reminiscing on my college days when I kept pushing through the injury, flashbacks of not being able to dress myself or even drive a car haunted me. I'm glad I found a nice medium and listened to my body so I'm fully functional today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why You'll Never Feel That Way Again- Retired Athlete Problems

If someone was to ask me some of my favorite memories in life thus far, the majority of them would be about sports. Whether it was dancing in the lockerroom before a game, or a big upset where nobody thought we would win- all of these situations provide a certain thrill and sense of belonging that's difficult to emulate. Being an undersized athlete, I often had to overcome a lot of odds to get to where I am, which made each victory even sweeter.

The impact of helping teammates overcome obstacles together is one of the coolest feelings in the world. I'll never forget upsetting two ranked opponents in college in the same weekend, and the dog pile from my teammates that followed. We celebrated together, in front of a packed home crowd, and continued that celebration into early hours of the next day. I remember thinking to myself, how can it get any better than this? My senior season during our pre-season conditioning testing, all but a few girls passed on the first attempt. Our sprint test is very difficult for a sport that requires bursts of speed, not long distance at a high speed which this test is. It is more a test of your mental strength than your physical strength, silencing the voice in your head telling you to stop. Running it with your teammates who are all helping pace you makes the world of a difference, and you know if you can stick with them, you'll make it on time. So it is VERY difficult to pass your second time, just one day later, with nobody to pace you except others who also did not make it their first time. I volunteered to run it again with two of my younger teammates I had trained with all summer, and mid way through felt my groin tighten up into a giant knot. I had already passed the test, so didn't need to finish, but worried that if I quit, they wouldn't make it. I silenced the voice telling me to stop, and they both passed the test this time, and I went on with a pulled groin muscle to start my senior year pre-season. Having them come up to me after and thank me for running with them, had me question if I could ever feel this way again.

The truth is- it may not, and hasn't for me. Being an athlete ingrains a certain way of thinking in you. We love pressure situations, and will sacrifice anything for our team- from nights drinking like our other classmates, to our bodies when we question if we can survive this much pain. The sense of community and togetherness is one that no personal accomplishment will fulfill, as my teammates have had my back, both on and off the court, on numerous occasions which made want to be better, and push through indescribable pain at times to get the job done. Whether our goal was to upset an opponent, win a national championship, or survive the season- whenever doubt crept into my mind, I could look around and they were there to pick me right back up and remind me who I was fighting for.

This past weekend I competed in the Chicago Marathon. A big goal for someone who was never much of a runner, but it gave me a sense of purpose in my day and something to train for as I talked about in How To Define Your Life After Sports.  I cringe using the word competing, because I had to quit at mile 21/26.2. I started off great, and my pace was where I would hope it would be after the first 10k- then I felt the slight tightening in my back around mile 8 (that I became accustomed waking up to everyday my last two seasons playing). I trotted on, took a few stretch breaks, and continued when the back pain returned to a manageable level. Passing people cheering with comical signs, and running along side people who were blind, disabled, and much older than me gave me motivation to keep going. Although my back did bother me on some of my training runs before yesterday, it was not any worse than what I had competed with before during my athletic career. My Tylenol PM these past few months didn't have quite the same effect as my Muscle Relaxer/Oxycontin concoction that helped me survive in college after a long day- but I also wasn't diving, jumping, or lifting weights- so I figured I would be okay.

Around mile 17 I began to question my ability to finish, and my stretch and walk breaks began to take longer than my brief spurts of running. The stabbing pain slowly returning, and my book on tape I was listening to which was able to drown out my breath, wasn't able to distract me from the stabbing feeling in my back. So as I made the turn on mile 21 to China Town and saw the aid station, I decided to take a little longer stretch break with some assistance- and when the sharp pain didn't subdue, I didn't want to risk any more damage and called it quits and walked to meet up with my cheerer to head home.

Although today I am quite sore, it really is nothing like some of my soreness in preseason. Instead of going back to practice with the rest of my team the next day after a big win, I decided to take a personal day at work, because I could and nobody was depending on me. And although the pain I had yesterday was quite bad, it still didn't compare to some of the pain I had my senior season. The difference, was however this was for my own achievement, my own goal. That is everything that being an athlete is NOT about. If I had a teammate waiting for me to pass a baton off to I have no doubt in my mind that I could have continued and silenced the voice in my head telling me to stop.

Like I mentioned before, I question if I'll ever feel the way I did again as when I was an athlete. Fighting with your teammates, for your teammates, is something that is pretty unique. I feel as though looking over this past year at all the awesome things that have happened to me, still leave me with a void. From participating in a marathon, landing a great job, and getting engaged- all these things benefit me, and honestly not many other people. As an athlete where my results directly impacted those around me, made a difference if they succeeded as well is  completely different mindset than worrying about your own happiness. Before my determination and drive was motivated by others, and is now more of an internal struggle, which is immensely more difficult to accomplish with an athlete's overly high standard we hold for ourselves. I was hoping the marathon would show me that I could feel that sense of accomplishment again, but accomplishing things for just your self is completely different. So although this experience has helped me get a better grasp that maybe this void isn't meant to be filled- but rather accepted as those feelings are part of the past.

Side note- I do not recommend a marathon for ANY ex-athlete who's sport wasn't cross country or have experienced any foot/ankle/knee/hip/back injury during your career. Then again, if you've survived without any of the mentioned injuries, I question calling yourself an ex-athlete, therefore still can't recommend you sign up for a marathon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 Things I Hate About You (Pre-Season)

As many fall sports are beginning their pre-season this week, I'm remembering not so fondly how miserable I was during that month of August. Sure, your first game is around the corner and at least Spring and Summer workouts are finished, but there are a few parts of pre-season that to this day I still hate. From personal experience, pre-season is a time where you can find a reason to complain about absolutely anything, so just in case you may have forgotten anything, or you never experienced a pre-season, here is a glimpse of what its like.

10 Things I Hate About Pre-Season...

10. Icebaths. Besides the fact it's finally warm out so your hair isn't freezing on the walk (scoot) back to your place, but nothing says misery like an icebath. Hey, good practice body, way to make it through. Now for a treat lets submerge in freezing temperatures to encourage muscle spasms while being surrounded by not only your teammates, but countless of other teams' unhygienic individuals residue as a way to relax after practice. Not only that, its a solid extra 20 minutes its taking away from your between session nap time, and leads to dirtying up another change of clothes after practice or just embracing the wetness. Although they reap physical benefits, they are both mentally and emotionally tolling.

9. Soreness. Even with the ice baths, you are undoubtedly sore. Sure, lifting may not be as heavy as the off-season but you're using muscles that you haven't used in a while. 3 hours of workouts/practices over summer seem like a breeze to the long days of pre-season and physical testing. Your muscles never have time to heal, rather they accumulate soreness day after day after day, causing you to waddle around campus and having others questioning your free-time activities.

8. Freshman. Whether they are taking your spot or not even your position, they come in like deer in headlights, so naive to what a few years of college athletics will do to you. Their soul is fully intact and you aren't sure if you should be jealous or hate them. They don't understand how things work, ask too many questions, and are simply too eager to make friends.

7. Living Arrangements. Whether your coach puts you in a dorm, hotel, or you have to extend your lease, there is always some sort of drama about living arrangements. I still think fondly when the two 5'5'' sophomores I shared a hotel room with my freshman year both got the beds in the hotel and myself and my 6'1'' other freshman middle shared a broken pull-out couch that had a sheet for a blanket. Then when you think you've finally "made it" and are living off campus, jokes on you because someone has to drive to the hotel and pick up those freshman that don't have cars.

6. Coaches. Their expectations are high and they have to put on a good show for the freshman- the y walk the fine line between making sure the newcomers know they mean business, yet are still easier on them since they still get cut some slack. Although they may share with the school newspaper or local media that you are having "great practices" somehow the word g"reat" is far from the words being used to describe the team or individuals in any hudles or meetings..

5. Meetings. I wish I could group this into coaches but the fault is not squarely on their shoulders. If anything, this can be blamed once again on the newcomers, since in fact it is the same meeting you heard when you were a freshman. Only somehow it manages to get longer every single year. Or at practice, just when you think you've made it to freedom, you've stretched AND calculated the time you can be ice bathed, showered, and in bed at- nope, there is a meeting- and any hope of a relaxing evening are ruined yet again.

4.   Everything Bothers You. Whether you've had Purple Gatorade that whole week, or its much too sugary or wayyy watered down, it's never going to be right. Sure, you like most of your team, however the idea of mandatory meals together on your only break is enough to make you wish you packed a PB&J. The concept of new shirts and shoes is awesome- but the blisters that come along with it do not. Or what about practice facilities? Unless you are making the school money (which most don't) you're usually stuck in facilities lacking air conditioning or locker rooms. Maybe your coach can get a parking pass, or maybe you coughed up the $300 for a summer pass, these passes are often still in competition with all the other thousand athletes at the school and you're lucky to get a spot within a mile walk to your facility. Not to mention picture day that you have to not only brush your hair, but walk all over campus creating huge pit stains, and already aren't in the best mood because you have practice immediately following. You're already testy and all these little inconveniences really add up.

3. Preseason Rankings. If you're ranked you haven't done anything to deserve it, putting more pressure on the team and the coaches, taking things into overdrive; if you aren't on it, it just shows how far behind you are and how things need to be taken into overdrive. The true definition of a lose-lose situation and you will probably be running sprints for being on the list or not being on it.

2. Your Dating Life. As someone who has dated an athlete through pre-season and also been one.... surviving pre-season is probably a 100% indicator that you will have a successful marriage. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not leave you when you are constantly complaining, it does not turn down your requests for massages, it is not needy."

1. You're one month closer to your career being over.  Although I still have the occational nightmare about the sprint test, and my joints literally ache thinking about putting on the kneepads one last time for a pre-season, most of this "awful" list is what made for the best memories looking back. As I wake up to go to my 8-5 job, if given the opportunity I would re-live sharing that pull-out couch watching Law and Order SVU marathons during all of our free time with one of my teammates that is one of my best friends still today. Or fighting over the footies for the icebath, as we  would sing Beyonce to pass the time until the head trainer had to yell at us to quiet down or she'd add on extra time. The celebratory dinner for surviving pre-season with my boyfriend after a well deserved back massage wasn't so bad, and having coaches who are just as passionate and anxious as you are to get on the court made practices challenging but rewarding. Turns out you got along much better with the freshman than most of the other team, and at least you were all on the trenches together. It's a special environment and (luckily) only lasts a month, that only the elite few ever get a chance to experience. As another pre-season starts and I feel a little pit of jealousy in my stomach knowing there will be another team picture without me in it this year, I do have a bit of advice for friends and fellow athletes on how to survive- try your best to buckle down, stop complaining, and ask your coaches if the meetings can be for freshman only.

Friday, July 18, 2014

How to Define Your Life After Sports- Retired Athlete Problems

My goal is to write about the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and unfortunately is the latter of the both due to some recent events. There is such a negative connotation around the word quitting for any athlete. The goal of practice and workouts is to train our bodies to be fit enough to not quit on us when we need it most in competition, when the other team and maybe some of our teammates are getting tired. Not many athletes I know play the sport for the practices, but instead for when competition time comes. The thought is if you keep going to practice, you will get better, and you will win- making practice both necessary and worth it. Quitting is a choice, and we've all had teammates quit for a variety of reasons whether burnt out or medical reasons, but regardless of the reason usually either their bodies quit or brains quit. Even if your brains don't quit, I've definitely had my body quit a few times on me- one of my more embarrassing moments was when I was attempting to max out on bench press and after a half of a rep laid pinned by my ambitious amount of weight. As my spotter removes the bar from my rapidly collapsing chest, I promise you that my brain wants the bar to move, but my body quit on me. It is for this reason why we go to morning weights at the same time our peers are coming home from a night drinking, and why we go to practice to fine tune the same skills we've been trying to perfect for countless years already. We have to make sure when the game's on the line, our body knows what to do and never quits (or cramps in Game 1 of the NBA finals) and we persevere. We may not lift that heavy of a weight today, but we are able to justify continuing to work towards it since we've come this far already.

The nice thing about sports is our improvements can be measured. You can tell if you are beating your previous best time, are lifting heavier weights, or are hitting at a better efficiency. You can see your hard work paying off, and you get rewarded for the efforts you put in.You are held accountable by your coaches and teammates, and all have common goals to motivate each other towards a specific deadline. What you do in practice translates to competition, and you get both extrinsic and intrinsic satisfaction from improving.

Guess what happens after your career is over? Areas in your life you used to obsess over become meaningless. In everything I did my purpose was to train. I ate healthy so I didn't feel like crap at practice; I didn't go out with my (one) non-athlete friend because I had practice the next day; I lifted weights so I could hit the ball harder. After a work out I would track my progress with coaches, looking over my statistics or watching film. Now all I can do to measure my athleticism is painfully watch my weight decrease as I lose all muscle I worked so hard over the years to gain.This feeling of a loss of purpose is a lot for people to handle. Your identity you've had for the majority of your life is gone, and you need to find new ways to define success. Often times you were competing against others weekly, putting your daily practice to use. Now with nothing emulating competition as a check-in, you're left without any short-term goals.

Around the time I wrote my first post, I learned the heart-wrenching news that an old teammate of mine had committed suicide. She was a strong, independent woman who excelled both on the court and in the classroom. A quick Google search pulls up how concussions, over-training, and post-competition stage of life can all be triggers for depression. I'm pretty sure about 99% of the athletes I've played with can check all three off of those list, or can in the next few years.

I really wish I had the answer for how you can define yourself, and it was a nice easy 3 steps to create an identity post-athletics that works for everyone. It's definitely not easy, but the feeling of nausea that comes over me as I think about losing a teammate is pretty indescribable. After I told my dad, I watched as he looked down silently and shed a few tears. He was hurting for her and her family, but also for his daughter and all of the young athletes really- who grow up with so much pressure to succeed put on by coaches, parents, and the most burdensome of themselves. He's seen me so happy, but he's also seen me so pissed as well- so disappointed in myself for not meeting the extraordinary expectations we all put on ourselves which often aren't practical or healthy. As someone who has gone to too many funerals at the age of 23- seeing parents outlive their child really hurts. It makes you hug your family a little tighter, reach out to friends you haven't talked to in a while, and really evaluate what you're doing in life and if these things are making you happy. So here's a few things that has helped me so far-

Stop the Hype. Looking back on your career it's easy to pick out the fondest memories. Whether it be a national championship, MVP of a tournament, or a big upset win- it's easy to define your sports career with these moments. Looking back I was blessed to have a fantastic career, and I can say I miss it and those were my "Glory Days." Funny, because if you were to ask most people what they want to be doing in their glory days, terms like: cortisone injections, sprint tests, no social life, and power lifts probably wouldn't show up on many people's lists. Everything involves trade offs. You had many things then, but you couldn't see your family on holidays, get a paying job, or start a family. 

Create New Goals. Like one of my exes used to say, lower your expectations, increase your happiness. Results in athletics would happen fast. You would be rewarded (or punished) at the next competition, and have a chance to do it better next time. This short-term focus has slowly shifted to long term. I eat healthy not for games, but to know I'm going to want to be a healthy parent who can keep up with my kids. My scholarship doesn't pay for my housing anymore, so I need to save money to buy a house. I need to continue to work-out and lift weights to relieve tension so my fiance still wants to marry me in 10 months. I don't need to work hard at practice for my teammates, but I do need to work 10x harder to show my family and friends how much they mean to me.

Re-create Certain Scenarios. Although you may never play varsity athletics again, many of us probably also won't have our first kiss again- and we just have to embrace that that time in our life is over. However, we are able to create new firsts, and recreate many things that did make us happy. There are leagues everywhere for all kinds of activities if you miss competing, and there's always Netflix if you want to reenact how you studied for finals. If you miss training you can train for a marathon, 5k, or tough mudder, and if you wish you could go back to a time that was simpler and you had less responsibility you can just appreciate that you also had less responsibility in Kindergarten and look how far you've come now.

Ask for a Spot. As corny as it may sound, it is always okay to ask for help. Many stories revolving around suicide in the NFL blame that athletics is a culture that often expects an individual to suck it up and keep going. In a hard life that comes with some glamour as well, people point to others less fortunate and explain if they can be happy so can you. If only your happiness was defined with how happy you appeared to be- then maybe this train of thinking would work. But I know I definitely would never try to max out my bench without a spot- and none of my teammates or coaches would ever expect me to, so it only is rational this mentality should carry over post-career whether it be to a therapist, old coach, or teammate. That's one of the best parts about being in athletics- the bonds you form from being together in the trenches- toughing out crazy circumstances- and having each others back. These are some of the most powerful relationships you can form, and these are the life-long friends most sorority sisters could only hope to find.

During pre-season we often trained for the unknown, buying into the concept that if we keep doing this we will be good and we will win. We didn't have anyone to play against so we just had to trust we were doing what we needed to do. Pre-season sucked, and you want to quit sometimes, but you keep pushing through knowing better days will be coming soon. Wrapping our heads around  that there is still a lot of unknown ahead of us can be really tough, especially when our goals are farther out now. But we just gotta believe what we're doing now is setting us up for where we are supposed to be, and keep faith in a bigger purpose in life.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Uphill Climb (aka the Downward Spiral) Retired Athlete Problems

I have recently decided that blogging would be a good way to express myself (and keep my job, since it's required), and here we are. When challenged to think of what I could possibly contribute that other people would want to read, I actually had hundreds of ideas. Personally, I would love to read a blog about someone who's mini dachshund is the cutest, which is perfect because I have one. Or topics on how to flip a house, get the boy to fall for you, or how to live a life as happy as you appear on social media.

Not to say I can't do any of these things- but as an athlete that is your identity, one that you're ever really able to shake off. My LinkedIn head-shot is my Volleyball Roster picture, and my resume consists of about 100 synonyms for excelling with time management skills, working in a team, and leading others, and my e-mail address I signed up for this with ( is the one I used while being recruited in high school since my UNC e-mail address has been deactivated. All my relationships in life have a direct correlation with the number of times we've changed and showered in front of each other in a lockerroom, and almost none of these friends were selected by choice- rather through tryouts or recruitment.

No problem, this is what I know, and writing about volleyball is then the easy choice. I was athletically talented enough to win a national championship in high school, receive a scholarship to play in college, and get recruited by my work league upon graduation. However my previous few months coaching a team that went 1-49 made me question my abilities like never before, and also remind me the absolute love-hate relationship I have with the sport. As the only blogs I know are on Barstool, and all the ones I read have lists- here's mine..

3 Ways You Know You Are a Real Retired Athlete
1. You hate the sport. Sometimes.You kind of hated it while you were playing it, and now you curse it whenever you drop something and your knee (back, shoulder, ankle) almost gives out. You've hated coaches, and loved coaches, but if you ever 100% loved the sport you play you either are playing Park District or you are lying.

2. You have no friends. Always. So these friends that you had everyday, in the trenches, always had your back. If you decided to cancel dinner plans you would see them at study hours later, weights the next morning, or when they returned from dinner since you live with them. Now you have to make friends in a world that there are no tryout, recruitment, or reason to be friends with you. I know what you may be thinking, the reason I have no friends is because I send off very intimidating vibes... Here I will not argue with you and just nod in agreement that this is another causation of being a real athlete at one time.

3. You know true emotion. You definitely know pain. Not just your back/knee/shoulder pain. The pain of losing, the pain of not starting, and the pain of ending a sport that has been such a big part of your life. With pain comes the feelings of insanity. Waking up early, going to bed late, to put yourself through a torture you question yourself regularly on, yet continue to do it anyway. Most importantly you know competing- and this is the emotion that stays with you post-athletic career which eats at your soul. Whether you are playing scrabble with Aunt Cheryl or beer pong on the weekends- you must win. 

This constant need to define your successes in black and white is the upward climb all athletes face. We lost our identity, and our easy way that we measure good and bad in wins and losses and find other ways to define these feelings. Whether it is finishing my personal pint of Ben & Jerry's in under 5 minutes, getting the raise at work before my colleagues, or beating the traffic home from work- I find new ways to attempt to create my happiness- and I'm not nearly as good at these things as I was at volleyball.