Lessons from the Rectangle w/Courtney Thompson

You would think that with Ellen retired from coaching we might put volleyball on the back burner, you know, sit back, go to the movies, enjoy walks with the dogs at the park.  We do all of that, but somehow we have squeezed in even more volleyball by going to local high school and college matches and catching other matches via livestream and conference networks.  Last Friday Ellen watched Emory at 4:00, I came home from work, we had dinner while watching Emory again at 6:00(stunning sweep of #1 Juniata) then Big Ten at 7:00, a little SEC at 8:00, then we nodded off to Washington beating then #1 and undefeated USC at 11:00.  Sounds like an exceptional amount of volleyball, but let me remind you, we are SuperFans!!!

I love to think about and observe this game.  It really makes no difference to me about the level.  I find high school matches compelling as well as college, international, and the National Team, but all for different reasons.  Yes, I love the technical side of this game, maybe more than any other sport I watch, but what I love even more is how the game is THOUGHT.

Luckily for me, I have access to some of the best in the world, and I LOVE quizzing them about volleyball at the highest level.  I think most of them would agree that sharing their thoughts here, or anywhere, pulls back the curtain and allows you the reader an opportunity to look at the game from their eyes.  There is so much to consider in a game as random and technical as volleyball.

Recently I wondered about how it feels to be really dialed in.  There have been a few times(too few) in my athletic career where things were so clear, and I felt so at ease and in control.  I wondered what that was like on a huge stage like the one Courtney Thompson performs on, and #3 had some awesome insights.

"I think athletes at the highest level prepare their bodies, and their minds, and their emotions- so that they can be totally present when competing... and when you have a trust in your preparation and your ability to perform what is being asked of you- you can in a way be free in that moment, present in that moment, and let your instincts take over.  What you described during hockey when it's effortless and clear... is because you're mind isn't gettin in the way.  You're not 'thinking' about what's happening or even thinking that this is you doing good things... you're just kind of flowing with the game, you're apart of it.  You know what you need to do and you do it."

Is there something great athletes do to achieve this?  

     "So how you get there is to train for a ridiculous amount of hours... training your technique, eye-work, fitness, and just seeing different situations on the court.  One reason Karch was so good was because he started playing volleyball at such a young age... he could read the game better than anyone because he had so many opportunities to respond to what happens on the other side of the net.  I think instincts and anticipation happen for high level athletes because they've been in so many situations- it's a feeling, but they're always in the present moment too.  So they're preparing for what could happen next (ex. talking about it in between plays in volleyball) but also present in that moment and once the play is initiated the mind is ideally quiet and the body takes over.  In my experience that what it feels like when things are going really well.  You prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally- and then just try to stay present and as we say, let it rip."  

How about the mental side?  What has helped you train to become more present?

     "There's also a ton of research on training your brain and how much meditation, visualizing, breathing techniques, etc. can help accelerate your performance as well.  All because it helps you stay present and connected to who you are, and when you can get good at visualizing and feeling what it's like to perform in a tough environment you're essentially getting extra reps without taxing your body.  And when you get in that situation in real life you've trained your brain to be more prepared."

 You would think that I could let it go after getting such a wonderful and detailed response from a champion like Court, but it just made me think a little more.  Does a volleyball mindset have it's advantages in the real world outside of the gym?  How can I use the games lessons to help me deal with life, be it victory or defeat, elation or despair?   I sent one more observation and one more question...

I have had the honor of quizzing so many of you, and even Karch.

You guys are different.

Win a point, move to the next.

Lose a point, learn, discuss, move to the next point.  Win 25 little games, string together enough "good" as Karch likes to say and you find success.  I have learned from this too.

Right now in our lives, obviously, things are not great, but there is good.  String good days together, and even good can be great.

Some days honestly suck, but it affords us the ability to learn something, then make tomorrow better.  I think loving volleyball is a destiny, a tool I need to compete with the nastiness that has been presented and make it somehow better.

Now, there is this one more thing.

How do we train our athletes and ourselves to value points/days properly?

My answer is a drill that uses flash cards or dice.

Each has a random number between 1-50 say...

You do not tell the teams when the drill ends.  Let them value each and every point as if it could be the last.  Have you ever trained this way?  What are your thoughts on how this applies to "volleyball mindset" and the idea that it is also a great way to understand life.

Classic Courtney, in a hour I had this reply...

     "As far as training to play every point hard... we play a game called blind woman's bluff where we don't know the score, and just compete until they announce who won.  They have the scoreboard out but it's just covered so we can't see it.  This is one way to train the importance of every point because you never know when it could be game point for the other team.  I think aside from games like that, playing every point at your highest intensity has to be something your team stands for and values.  That you choose to play every point with the same intensity, every day.  At Washington we had a saying that we used a lot, Every Play- Every Day.  And that's something you talk about, you put intention on, and you try to help your team make that choice everyday.  Just as you said, we have to in life... because whether it's easy or not all we have is right now.  And you try to make the most of what you have when it's there.  Of course you and Ellen know this better than most."

She's right too.  The game mirrors life.  Today might suck, but I have the power to observe, learn, and seek a better tomorrow.  I also understand that "presence" in the moment is my biggest asset. Dwelling on the mistakes of yesterday and worrying about tomorrow serves no one.  Lessons from the rectangle.  Thanks Court!