Saturday, December 14, 2013

Life Lessons Learned

I am currently sitting at a coffee shop in a huge mall in Stockholm.  We left for the airport at 7:15 this morning, and arrived in snowy Stockholm at around 9:30.  We don’t play until 5:00 tonight, so we have quite a bit of time to walk around the mall, relax, and of course, drink coffee!  This is Europe after all…

*The Mall*

The past couple of weeks have been a little rough for our team (volleyball-wise).  We had 2 league losses prior to this past weekend, 1 of which we absolutely should have and could have won.  The other we just were not playing very well that day.  Last Sunday we had a must win game in order to qualify for the Grand Prix in January.  The Grand Prix is a big deal in Sweden.  The top 4 teams in the elite league get to go and face off against one another.  The only problem is that the Grand Prix is in Katrineholm this year, so the team in that city gets an automatic spot.  Katrineholm is not currently in the top 4.  They are 5th, which means that your team must be in the top 3 in order to qualify this year.

We trained really hard all week for our game against Gislaved.  All week we knew how important this match was in order to qualify for the Grand Prix.  When the match started, we were a little unorganized.  We didn’t play poorly, but we weren’t playing to our full potential.  The refs made a few bad calls that really upset me and I started to let it effect how I was playing. 

My coach took me out for a minute, and as I was sitting on the bench, a few things came to mind.  When I first got to Sweden, I downloaded old motivational video clips that we used to watch before games as a team at Clemson; I found some new ones on YouTube as well.  I made a playlist in my iTunes that included all of these clips and have been listening to it before every game.

One of the clips includes Derrick Rose.  He says, “Why can’t I be the MVP of the league?  Why can’t I be the best player in the league?  I don’t see why I can’t do that.”  After recalling this in my mind while I was on the bench, I had a brief conversation with myself that went something like this:

"Alexa, you are playing professional volleyball in Sweden.  Do you know how many people would love to have that chance and will never be able to do something like that?  How many years have you played selfish volleyball and let your attitude get the better of you?  How many times is it going to take for you to realize that being a team player, playing with God, and using the talents that God gave you are a once in a lifetime opportunity?  You only get one life on this earth.  Be a good teammate.  Know that your positive energy and love for your team and for God can encourage a lot more people than you think."

Another thing that came to mind was when Emily Childes, one of the kindest friends I could ever ask for, saw how upset I got after losing in an outdoor tournament this past summer.  She pointed out that I am extremely competitive.  Yes, I am an athlete and of course I love winning.  However, she made me think about how I am not perfect, and it's not realistic to play a team sport and never lose a game or set in your entire career.  We are human!  Sports can cause you to react in many different ways.  Sports have their ups and their downs.  You will go through extreme high periods and extreme low periods.  But you cannot let certain outcomes define you and take away what you stand for.  Always be kind, play every point like it's your last, and inspire others to find something they can be passionate about just like I am passionate about volleyball and so many other things.  

As I was thinking about things of this nature, my coach put me back in the game, and I looked at the game in a whole new light.  I was honored to be out on the court.  I was honored to be a part of an experience so much greater than myself.  I was honored to have a gym packed with fans.  I stopped being selfish and started playing for my team and for God.  The game that I love started to become fun again.  

Veri probably said something like this: "See what happens when you stop being crazy!?  We can get points!"

We won the first set against Gislaved 25-22, then lost the second 20-25.  The third set was extremely intense and we ended up falling short in that one 29-31!  I am trying very hard not to play the blame game, however we were called for being in the net at 27-28 which once again tied up the game at 28.  This was rather infuriating, considering NO ONE on my team touched the net.  We asked the ref which player touched the net and he said he didn’t know… This was even more frustrating.  The next thing we knew the set was over and we found ourselves down 2 sets to 1, and then the match was over after a 16-25 loss in the fourth set.

I watched as the three Americans and the rest of the Swedes on Gislaved’s team jumped on the court with joy and excitement.  I couldn’t help but to be jealous, however I still kindly congratulated their team on their win.  Both teams lined up on the court for the post-game announcing of the game MVPs from each team.  I was shocked to hear my name called for my first honor of game MVP as a professional player in Sweden.  If I wouldn’t have collected my thoughts and changed my attitude while I was taken out of the game for a brief period, I would never have received this award.  And THAT is exactly why I wanted to play volleyball overseas.  I wanted to grow up and mature.  I wanted to learn more about myself and about the person I want to become.  If I was still in the United States, I wouldn’t have as much alone time to figure out what is truly important in life.  I would still be trying to please those around me.  This game taught me so much about how far I have come in one year.  Going from depression, to baptism, to graduation, to playing overseas all in the course of this year, I feel like I have grown up in a lot of different ways.

Now, this was a huge loss for our team and our club.  We went from 3rd place in the league to 4th, and our chance of going to the Grand Prix was gone.  The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place teams would be going to the Grand Prix, while we are in 4th place and do not get to go.  Do I think this is unfair?  Absolutely (especially since we beat Katrineholm)!  However, life is not always fair.  Here is another clip from my YouTube playlist I listen to before each game:

Rocky Balboa: “The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you're hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that!”

The Grand Prix is no longer in reach, but winning the Swedish league still is!  My team can still pull it together, train harder, and continue to win more games if we want to.  We can stay down, or we can pull together and fight for the ultimate title.  The thing with volleyball is that it is a team sport and I cannot do it alone, just like I cannot do life without God, my family, and friends.

Nelson Mandela once said that “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”  I’m excited to go back to the United States in May and to see what life will be like in this new light I have recently found.  It is never too late to become a better person.  It is never too late to change your selfish ways.  It is never too late to be a leader and help those around you even when those around you feel hopeless.  I can't predict how things will go once I am back home, but I can tell you that this whole experience is molding me into a better person.  I hope I never forget the lessons I have learned here and will continue to learn for the duration of our season.

I hope this post is encouraging to those reading it.  If you ever need a friend to talk to, I will be here for you.  Please do not hesitate to send me a message via Facebook, email, or iMessage.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

Update since starting this post:
-We beat Sollentuna in 3 sets last night (25-16, 25-17, 26-24).  
-Due to the bad weather back at home, my parents will not make it to Sweden today.  Hopefully their new flight will make it here by Monday.

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