Am I good enough to play at the next level?

One of my biggest fears as a young athlete was that someday, years down the road, there would be a conversation between two old friends of mine that would go something like this,

Old friend #1: Remember Miranda? She was a pretty good athlete. Did she ever go anywhere with volleyball?

Old friend #2: Yeah, Miranda was pretty good, but not good enough to keep going.

Like any teenager, I worried a lot about what other people thought of me, but my true, underlying fear was that I wasn’t good enough to go all the way. At that point in my life, going all the way didn’t just mean playing in college, it meant being an NCAA all-American. I also had lots of dreams about being an Olympian and I idolized players like Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Logan Tom, and Ogonna Nnamani. My dreams were huge! I didn’t know anyone who had played professionally and women’s professional matches are never shown on television in the US, so that wasn’t really on my radar, but I had big dreams of taking volleyball as far as I could.

Dreams and decision-making

You may be asking yourself how big you should dream. In theory, the stars are the limit and you should dream as big as you can! But in practical life, you may be looking for answers to questions like,

  • What types of schools are looking for a player like me?
  • Should I market myself to D1, D2, or D3 schools?  What about Junior College or NAIA?
  • Is it worth the money to play for a club that travels all over the country?
  • Should I pay to go to that summer camp at University X?
  • Am I good enough to play for my dream school?

The reason these questions are difficult is because the answers have an impact on our time and money—two very important things.

Figure out what you want

What are your dreams? Imagine that you could play at any school you wanted—which would you choose? Really think through what you want in a school and imagine yourself in different scenarios. Every so often, take stock of what is important to you in your athletic career and in life. Dreams can change over time. For example, when I was fifteen, I wanted to play for Stanford. At that point in time, I knew three things about Stanford: it was in California, it had a great volleyball team, and it had great academics. However, that dream changed a year later when my little sister was born and I realized I wanted to stay in my home state for college.

Make a budget and prioritize

You can’t go to every tournament or every summer camp, you can’t pay for every travel team or every private lesson. At some point you will have to prioritize in order to save your time, money, and sanity! This type of decision-making can be hard, so I recommend comparing your options against each other (comparing is something the human brain is actually pretty good at).

For example, maybe you’re deciding about whether or not to play on a regional all-star team and competing overseas for a week or two during the summer. How does the exposure to college recruiters as a part of that experience compare to the exposure to college recruiters during large club tournaments or summer camps? How does the cost compare?

Cover your bases

Dream as big as you can, but don’t be afraid to have a plan b (or c or d…). Marketing yourself to some schools that aren’t your first choice doesn’t mean you lack confidence in yourself—rather it means that you’re confident that you could have a big impact at a variety of programs.

Don’t be ashamed of making adjustments to your plans

If your first tier schools (the ones you’re most interested in) don’t seem to show a lot of interest in recruiting you, despair not! There are a myriad of reasons why a school won’t recruit a specific player, even in cases where they would really like to have that player as a part of their program.

If Dream University #1 isn’t interested, there is no shame is pursuing opportunities at Dream University #2! Recruiting resides in the “real world” where you can’t control every variable or everything that happens to you, but you can create great opportunities for yourself through a lot of hard work.

Hustle

The only way to survive disappointment is to know that you gave it your all. There’s a lot in recruiting that you can’t control and you can’t fall apart every time a program turns you down. University of Utah women’s volleyball head coach, Beth Launiere, taught me, “self-pity is a luxury you can’t afford.” The key is to just keep hustling. Hustle like a maniac and don’t let anything get in your way.

Coming Full Circle

In the end, I fell short of some of my biggest dreams. I worked my tail off, but I never made an all-conference team, let alone all-American. Even though I had day dreams all through college of packing my bags and road-tripping to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, I never even tried out for the A2 team (which would have been a big step toward becoming an Olympian). Funnily enough, it was the dream I didn’t know I had that I actually reached—playing professionally.

Did it hurt me to dream big? No.

Sure, coming down to reality from some of those dreams was really hard. Heart-breakingly hard if I’m being honest. But the old cliché is very true: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” I didn’t reach all of the dreams I had as a teenager, but I had an absolutely life-changing, character-forming experience as a college athlete and the adventure of a lifetime as a professional athlete.

My parting advice?

Dream big, hustle big.

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