Game On: 9 life lessons from volleyball  

Valuable transferrable skills I learned during volleyball training, skills that have become crucial in my life now.

My dad is my inspiration for sportshumanship. He always encouraged me to be better in what I eat, how I exercise and in my attitude. He was a soccer and volleyball player when he was young, besides being a boxer. It was our family routine to wake up early and run in the forest. I too became a professional volleyball player and played throughout my teenage and early adult years.

I vividly remember the smell of the court, the sounds our sports shoes made, and how the ball felt in my hands. The yells, the excitement, the rush of winning and the sorrow of losing. It was one of the best investments I have made in myself; I gained tremendous health in my body, mind and heart. 

But after almost two decades, I never thought volleyball skills would have helped me so much during these quarantine days.

Here are the top nine skills I learned during volleyball training that are crucial in my life now:

  1. Falling and Getting Up

The first thing I learned in volleyball was how to fall and get up quickly, even before playing with the ball. Our coach said, “Your physical wellbeing and courage to jump are two important assets we can not risk.” When you know how to fall, you not only protect your body from injuries but you also are willing to act more courageously. 

The fall that I am talking about is an intentional and conscious one, it is called DIVING. You have to jump and dive to get the ball, this way you have a wider physical reach compared to if you just lean forward. Another defensive skill in volleyball is called the PANCAKE, which allows you to dig some of the otherwise IMPOSSIBLE balls.  

We had to learn how to dive or pancake safely without injuring our bodies, with the support of our shoulders, arms, legs, chest and hips, while still being able to dig a volleyball and GET BACK ON OUR TWO FEET FAST. (Competition likes to play on the fallen players and you don’t want to keep on playing from a weak defensive position.)

Fast forward 20 years. The pandemic began and all of the events we were keynote speakers at were cancelled, which is 100% of our family income. My reflexes, courage and gut feeling from volleyball – with my business designer vision on top – guide me to which ball I can dive and save and which one would be only a nonsense risk. So instead of slowing, and losing ourselves in dystopian chats, we sped up our investment on the Conscious Learning Tribe. We know this is time to dive, pancake the ball and serve more value to wider communities.

Your lifestyle and work are probably shaken too. How do you dive to take the ball so that the game can continue, not only for you but also for others who trust you? How can you get back on your feet before another ball (self-doubt, financial crisis, health issues) is sent into your corner? 

  1. Playing in a Team

In volleyball, you are as strong as the weakest player in your team. The competition will sense and attack the weakest one. Your job is not to try to save the game heroically, jumping your place to save the weak players but to strategise accordingly and empower all players.

We understood clearly that we are one team, not only as humans but as Earthlings and the Earth. Even the healthiest of us have to watch out so that we don’t harm others and put more burden on the health systems. The virus is taking the risk factor groups faster and we hurt, mourn together. Just like we had millions of immigrants without homes, systems and designed futures travelling from border to border, with hope to sustain life for those who are still alive. 

Now we come a little closer (but still far from those who lost their loved ones and homes in war) to understand what it means to be left without functional systems, to be in a long dark tunnel hoping for the light. We had pre-events like Amazon fires and Australian bush fires, where we lost 1 billion animals. We said: “our lungs are on fire”. Now this pandemic comes, affecting our lungs once more.

We are responsible for the impact we create on the world. For climate change and pandemics like this. We are one team who need to strategise, think and act together.

We have to be aware of how everything is connected. The harmony of Nature is still a mystery to the human mind. Now is the best time to ask ourselves; How can we be more inclusive to different human groups? How can we empower the most vulnerable, the children, the women, the minorities as early and as systemically as possible? How can we create value for each other and for our wise and very capable teammate Nature, instead of extracting value from her? 

Photo: Thanks to Vince Fleming for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
  1.  Taking Responsibility

In volleyball, you have to take full responsibility for your role and zone. If you screw up, you only have one more person to back you up. You can’t go hide in the corner. The moment you are in the team, that means you will do your best to fulfil the requirements of your role and protect your zone. Even on the bench, your duties are as crucial as the players. You have to support your teammates and warm up in case the team needs you.

When everyone in the team takes this type of responsibility, you build trust and the whole game becomes more peaceful. The best teams with the best coaches seem to have the calmest sidelines. Rather than shouting specific instructions at players — and chastising them for every mistake — these coaches have already taught their players what to do. They trust their players to take responsibility. Sure, the players mess up, but there is a lot to be said for playing without fear. They play better, learn to be instinctive, and — gasp — have more fun.

That’s right, taking responsibility doesn’t have to be serious and overwhelming, it can be fun!

We now see that taking care of our health and our families, our finances and the education of our children are our responsibilities. We have to face deficiencies, acknowledge and work on them, while we mess up too. But we all have to start our own self-sufficient lives, in collaboration with others. This period is also a great time to recognise what drives us and what might be our unique gifts that we can use to create value for others. After all, our biggest responsibility in life is to become what we are born to be, by bringing out these talents and using them.

  1. Being Strategic and Flexible

Every successful volleyball team (like in any other sports, business or social team) must have a philosophy that sets the principles to play. According to the strengths of your team and the opposition team, you strategise for each game with an attack and defence strategy. Our training was focused on making fast decisions based on the guidance of our coach (knowing our strengths and weaknesses, and foreseeing possibilities) and adopting fully to circumstances that might be entirely different to expectations. 

In volleyball, there are six rotational positions. Every player rotates so no-one can hold onto just one position. There are also different roles, which can change within a game. I mostly played as a hitter or a setter. As a setter, I had to decide in split seconds whether and how I will set the ball for the attack. As a hitter, it was when, at what speed and with what angle to hit.

In one game, our best hitter got injured and I had to be the one scoring hits. In another game, the coach decided to change the lineup and I was called upon to be the main passer. Sometimes teammates that we normally counted on to score points had a terrible game and we had to step up and compensate.

The point here is that as the whistle blows for each substitution, your role could change. Take stock of where you are on the court, the strengths and weaknesses of the players next to you and what your team needs on each play to side out and score points. Most of all, you have to be flexible and use your strengths to make your team better.

What does it mean for us today?

We claimed our business models and cultures were too established to change, which justified (!) our use of fossil fuels, production of more plastic and consumptions of more of everything, even if we had to waste most of it and some of us had to die for it (or their lack of it). We changed the climate for the worse for all of us, even for generations to come. We lacked a unified game strategy, and we lacked flexibility. 

But now look at us. The referee showed the red card to human teams and paused the game for us. We all slowed down or completely stopped the way we worked. Many businesses and systems will collapse, many people will lose their jobs, there will be aftershock tragedies that are not only health-related. 

The perfect time (and the only time) is NOW. We have to strategise for a big game plan that is holistic and prioritising life, the continuation of the game. We also have to flex our thinking muscles, starting with our perception of ourselves, our roles and our identities, as well as our skills. So next time when the unexpected occurs (and life keeps on surprising and challenging us), we can remain ready, adapt faster and lead even a better game.

  1. Discipline

There’s nothing worse than the feeling of wishing you had another chance at a play because you weren’t ready. That’s why the Six W’s of volleyball are Work will win when wishing won’t

It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. You are young and capable. What’s tough is being good every day. Discipline may be the most crucial quality that an athlete must possess to be successful. Winning matches takes hard work, planning, preparation, grit, skill and determination — all of which are fueled by discipline. 

The discipline I’m referring to goes by another, simpler name: good habits. Good habits are the key to achieving excellence in our skills and understanding of the game. Without good habits (discipline), talent gets wasted and never reaches its full potential.

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” Disciplined athletes always and consistently strive to do better.

Discipline included taking technical skill development seriously, getting to practices on time, practising with attention to detail and with passion – even at times when we didn’t feel at our best – and taking care of our bodies and minds.  

Coming to the crisis of today; we were caught unprepared. There were warnings for potential pandemics and the effects of climate change. There were reports and invitations to adapt to the future of work, to conscious businesses to face a potentially existential crisis for humanity and economic collapse. We have seen many parts of this crisis before but we have never seen it this fast or this wide. 

If you have regular meditation and mindfulness practices, you’re probably finding them to be a tremendous source of stability and clarity amidst the rapid changes we’re facing. If your immune system is in good shape thanks to a healthy diet and exercise regime, great! Your relationships with yourself, your family, friends and communities define how lonely or isolated you feel these days. Whether you have been integrating design and innovation in your business and prioritising a healthy work culture impacts how you will reshape your work during these months.

Regardless of your situation, you can always start now, learn your lessons and create everyday habits to do better. This is the time to keep on training our minds, bodies, emotions, relations, and businesses more than ever. Improvement is largely a choice. We can either choose to only practice when we feel great and miss out on opportunities to truly grow, or we can commit ourselves to the process of player development even on those days when we’re sore, tired, less motivated or a bit sluggish. Choosing the harder but better path to individual growth requires discipline. Like a muscle, discipline develops into a strong habit when we exercise it regularly.

Photo: Thanks to Samuel Girven for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

  1. Positive Self-Talk

During the game, you shall never let your head hang down. Games are not the time to give up, sit down and grieve. During games, you have to bring out your best. And your best requires you to be your best supporter. No matter how hard you trained, you will make mistakes. But you can not miss a ball and throw angry words at yourself for the rest of the game. What you missed is in the past, now you have to restart your mind; you are here to play a good game, right here right now! 

In my team, we had to learn how to positive self-talk by repeating to each other and to ourselves encouraging sentences like “that was fantastic,” “you got this,” “you’re a star.”

Now if you’re not used to getting this kind of encouragement from anyone besides your mom, the transition to using self-talk effectively can be difficult. It’s hard to go from “I’m playing terribly today” to “I’m the best player I can be.”  However, just as negative self-judgments have a habit of becoming self-fulfilled, positivity can have the same impact! I have seen players jumping higher and moving faster than ever when they are encouraged. It works for the best athletes in the world, it works for children and it will work for you.

I was the captain in my teams so my responsibility was leadership. I learned that the minute I get negative, that it will have an influence on my team. You are the leaders in our families, friend networks and workplaces, and – even if you don’t notice – you have an impact! Be aware of how you talk to yourself, make an impact on yourself and others, especially during times like this.

Start with being conscious of your emotions, if you feel bad there is probably negative self-talk going on. Be aware of that thought and take a look at it, and see if you can switch to a better one. If you think you are not good enough at something, tell yourself you are learning, and appreciate the learning journey as well as the mistakes. Create room for empathy and compassion in your family, work and community: starting with yourself.

  1. Focus 

Eye on the ball! Or the game is lost. No matter how good you are, you don’t stand much chance if you are not totally present on the court. And it is not enough to only focus on the ball. You have to be one with your team and ALWAYS expect the ball. One of the most common mistakes of volleyball is not moving feet to the ball and waiting with poor posture, killing your ability to move fast. 

It requires a total alignment of mind and body. You have to listen to what the coach is directing, communicate with your teammates about how to defend or attack for each scenario and mute the noise of the audience, avoiding distraction at all costs. At those focus moments, I sometimes had the chance of feeling zen; things slowed and I moved effortlessly, one with the game itself.

Today, we are bombarded on so many levels. There are decisions to be made, children to be taken care of, concerns about health, new ways of communication, noise on WhatsApp groups, media and virtual rooms. I invite you to find your focus: what is most important to you at the moment? And when this process is over, how would you like to feel and accomplish?

That’s your ball. Keep your eye, mind and heart on the ball. Be aware of the players and scenarios. Shut down all the noise, either by turning off your phone and TV or by scheduling your day, outsourcing/declining/rescheduling some tasks. Create zen by tidying your home, your desktop and even your mind – through techniques like meditation and mindfulness.

 

Photo: Thanks to Raja Tilkian for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

  1. Feeling Supported

I was 17, and we were losing a game with a huge score difference. My team was falling apart and I was mortified with our performance. We were making mistakes that we would never make in practice. Our morale was zero and all I could wish for was for the game to end.

It was my time to serve, and I couldn’t even feel my arms. My heart was beating like crazy, I was praying to serve well. I don’t know how it started but I heard the fans cheering my number and supporting my serve. Just then, I had a realisation. This was not just my game, I was a part of a bigger game that mattered to many people. I was there to do my best like my teammates. I was supported beyond my skills, experience and current emotions, my prayers were heard and the whole stadium was yelling the universe´s response: I am supported because we are.

My belittling thoughts that I was letting myself and my teammates down shattered. I allowed this support to manifest through me as a series of strong services that the opposing team were afraid to receive. We lost but that day I won a new consciousness about how life works.

We are supported in so many ways we take for granted: the services, products, utilities that we think are our normal required more than two centuries of evolution. Gems of nature: the fruits, vegetables, the trees, the earth, the air, the water… we are supported to play the game called life. Look around you, on your mobiles, social media, how many people are within your reach. 

One of the main reasons for the Conscious Learning tribe is to remember we are supported and we are needed by someone else needs to feel supported today. These days you may find yourself confronting inner and outer struggles that are stretching you in new ways. This is the call for you to go deeper into your inner centre than you ever have. In the silence of your inner being, you will hear how life is calling you to step up, for yourself and for us, as you and I – my fellow soul – are never alone.

  1. What Matters

During my volleyball years, the scores and our league ranking were very important. Equally, we cherished the times of trust, joy, celebration and sharing with each other. As a young women’s team, we were all having our own challenges that we could bring to training, share with each other, and sweat the stress off with exercise. I had teammates who were being abused at home, some of us were close to being burned out from exam stress, some of us were going through health issues. But in the end, we were a team. We knew how that abused girl or stressed friend could become a new version of themselves on the court. Our team was bonded on many levels and ranked top on our emotional leagues.

I also gained a large proportion of my automated willpower and self-determined positive actions from this wonderful team. I scored top in my university exams and always aimed at whatever my mind and heart could dream of. Now the games are over, all the fields are closed and I am 20 years older, I feel the responsibility and joy of carrying the torch and spirit of volleyball through my projects and lifestyle. My biggest wish is to inspire good action for my daughters, my communities and future generations. Because, in volleyball, almost all coaches were once players. They grow new players so that the game continues, and more lives are elevated.

When the Coronavirus threat is over, we have to create new norms in our businesses and lives, remembering what is really important: how we take care of ourselves, of each other and Nature. I encourage you to reflect on the learnings from your life – both before and during this quarantine time. Think of ways to apply them more in your life and work, and inspire others to foster those cultures, mindsets and rituals in their lives and works. What would be your torch to carry forward? Who would you like to keep on inspiring when your time on the court is due?

That’s how we become a more conscious learning tribe, in millions of little subtle gestures, realisations and actions for transformation. Like volleyball, life can be perceived as a game, one that invites all of us to serve with full potential, together. As long as we are here, this magnificent game is on! 

NOW SERVE!

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.