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Dear Athlete Sitting the Bench…

Not playing in games can be discouraging and frustrating.  However, you must find ways to contribute to your team’s success while working to get better individually. 

Finding ways to contribute to your team’s success can take on many different forms and getting better individually will require journeys down various paths.  They both require an accurate assessment, and acceptance of, your “Point A.”  Only when you are realistic about where you are can you begin a journey that will get you to your “Point B.”

( To be clear, your “Point A” is your current skill level or starting point and your “Point B” is the end goal.   An inaccurate Point A will lead you on the wrong journey and to an unknown end point.  For instance, if I think I’m in Dallas and plan a route to Kansas City, but in reality I’m in Indianapolis, I’m going to end up in Toronto. )

To start your journey off the bench, turn your frustration into fuel – Use that fuel to identify a true Point A, formulate a plan for getting to Point B, and trust that engaging in the process is the way of the champion.

If you are on the bench and don’t cope with it directly, you will likely stay right where you are—on the bench and at the same “Mistaken Point A.”  Being discouraged and frustrated on the bench is not a good look.  You might think this goes unnoticed, but talk to any coach and they’ll tell you otherwise.

 Many college coaches, myself included, have either passed on recruiting an athlete or refused to put them in a game because of their demeanor on the bench. 

 “The energy contribution you make on the bench is very noticeable. Negative thoughts create a negative energy—an energy that acts like a vacuum—which saps the surrounding good energy.”

Coping – directly involves identifying your “Point A,” accepting it without judgement, making a plan of action towards your “Point B,” and enjoying the journey. From this place of acceptance and engagement – you can grow your skill-set individually while contributing to your team’s success.  The energy you carry while coping directly helps you and your teammates, and makes it more likely that you’ll get an opportunity.  

“There are several factors involved in getting off the bench, and many of those are not in your control.  That is life.  Focus on what you can control, do your best, and you’ll be able to look back at your journey and be satisfied. “

Coping directly also means your energy will be positive.  Instead of draining the team of precious energy, you will be amplifying the team energy as well as your efforts to improve.

I wasn’t a great football player, but I was fortunate to play at the NCAA Division 2 level. Sitting the bench my freshman year wasn’t much of a shock to me because I felt in over my head.  I laid low for several weeks—believing the inner voice telling me I wasn’t good enough—before I decided to make a change.  I decided to compete and find a role that would help the team.  That role ended up being on special teams, where I thrived.  The energy I put out had unexpected results—I earned respect from my teammates and coaches and eventually earned opportunities for playing on defense.

 “Being honest with myself about my abilities was hard, but it also gave me the freedom to be myself.  I began a journey of getting better while contributing to the teams’ success.”

Throughout my 10 years of coaching women’s volleyball I have guided athletes through their time on the bench many times.  Some never started until their senior year—a couple of times it wasn’t even until mid-way through their senior season.  However, they stayed with it and when an opportunity came around they capitalized on it.  Some quit after their freshman year—how could we not see their “talent?”  They never realized that it isn’t about where you are, it is about where you are going.  Others stayed on the team and played the blame game, and when they did get an opportunity they couldn’t capitalize on it—back to the bench they went. Several found small roles to help the team on and off the court.  They were very important in our teams’ success, many times going unnoticed to untrained eyes. 

 “Each athlete had slightly different situations but my message to them was always the same:  Be honest with yourself about your skill-set, accept it without judgement, and start getting better.”  

Once again, remember there are several factors contributing to why you may be sitting the bench.  The scope of this article is on controlling what you can control and the consequences of how you choose to do so.  When you look back at your athletic career it is my hope that you can honestly tell yourself, “I gave it my all and became the best I could be.” Nothing—not even playing regularly—can compare to becoming your best.  Go for it! It is hard.  It is uncomfortable.  It is scary.  It is worth it.  You are worth it.  Be your best!

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a quote and my thoughts on it.  Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, says, “Becoming is better than being.”  I could not agree more.  Being is stifling. It is boxed in and unable to grow.  Being is, in a way, a death sentence.  On the other hand, becoming is invigorating.  It is brimming with potential—just waiting to boil over if you put in the hard work Becoming is life well lived.

Jason Muñoz

Praus Performance

Dear Injured Athlete…

Injuries mean starting from scratch and most of the time we dread starting from scratch.  We dread it because it means we have to start over.  That we have to get uncomfortable. That we have to challenge ourselves. 

I feel like typically we have to start from scratch not from a personal decision to do so but because something didn’t fall into place the way we had initially hoped for.  

Get broken up with, start from scratch.

Lose a job, start from scratch.

Get surgery, start from scratch. 

Use your entire savings account, start from scratch.

Graduate from college, start from scratch.  

Move across the country, start from scratch. 

Lose a parent, start from scratch.  

I have experience with all of these start from scratch moments.  All of these unnerving, scary and extremely uncomfortable situations. The situations you don’t exactly thrive under, at least not in the beginning stages of them.  The situations that run you down little by little.  The situations that you call “unfair”.  The reasons you believe in luck and the fact that you don’t have any. 

What if we realized though that starting from scratch is a place that we get uncomfortable and place that challenges us, but instead of a place of fear it’s a place of new beginnings and fresh starts.  A chance to become someone knew.  A chance to gain strength after a few moments of weakness.

On December 7th, 2017 I underwent a spinal surgery.  At twenty-five years old I had the body of a much, much older woman.  My back was all sorts of screwed up, which is quite comical now considering they screwed me back together.  Literally speaking.  My L4 was moved thirty percent forward, my disc was herniated, my vertebrate was fractured on both sides and basically my nerves had nowhere to go.  They didn’t have a place to live comfortably which means, Alexa couldn’t live comfortable. 

After twelve years of back pain that got gradually worse every year, finally my legs and feet went numb.  This was my reality check.  

Now, when you tell people you are twenty-five years old getting back surgery the unsolicited advice starts coming.  The advice to not get the surgery because I am too young. The advice to just shoot up some steroids and stem cells. The horror stories of it not working, me waking up paralyzed, or me not waking up at all.  In reality, sure any of these things could have happened but truth was I was too young not to have the surgery.  Too young to have to live my life the way I was living it.  

However, I made my own decision The decision to live life pain free one day.  To be able to go on a walk and not need to take a break.  To sit in the car for a road trip and not want to cry from the pain.  I went under anesthesia for three and a half hours, let my surgeon cut me open on both sides of my spine, allowed him to take my disc out, replace it with a new one and then put me back together with four titanium screws and 2 metal rods.  

Recovery is starting from scratch.  Boy oh boy, is back surgery starting from scratch.  It’s having to pee in a pan because you can’t get out of bed.  It’s not being able to bend, lift, or twist for six weeks.  Six weeks people.  That means not being able to tie your shoes, making it very challenging to put your own underwear on, put your own pants on, and impossible to shave your own legs. It’s dropping things way more often than ever in your life because it’s such a challenge to pick them up and that’s the funny way life works. It’s walking with a walker at twenty-five while people give you dirty looks. Not being able to get in and out of bed by yourself.  Not being able to drive a car. Oh, I forgot to tell you after the anesthesia, pain killers, and other medications they are pumping in your veins you can’t even take a shit to save your life for about four days.  Not only is it not fun but then imagine having back surgery and then having the urge to shit but not wanting to push because it’s a painful push.  That’s fun. I realize this is too much information but I want you to know how much of starting from scratch moments this was for me.  It has been a quite eye opening experience to say the least.  

Now, I hope you’re not considering back surgery at this current moment in your life because I want you to have your dancing shoe on. The thing is we are slightly cruel to our bodies as athletes and as dancers. We do crazy things to it.  We dance through the pain until the moment it simply won’t let us anymore. When this happens we tend to get angry and then sad.  We get angry because we look like we can’t do something and it’s hard to swallow our pride. We get sad because we no longer feel like us.  We thrive on dancing.  We thrive on moving and now we can’t do either. 

The positives of starting from scratch is that it allows you to be creative.  To form new party tricks as I like to call them.  It’s a way to recreate yourself as a human.  Even if that means calling yourself Iron Woman because you now have a bionic back.

— 

Alexa Glazer 

Founder of Livin’ the dream … THE MOVEMENT

www.alexaglazer.com

Dear College Bound Athlete…

Dear (overly stressed) College Athlete,

“Keep it real and live in the moment.” I probably could’ve ended it with just that sentence but why not elaborate.

In life, it’s standard to desire more – whether it’s a better car, some trending outfit, going on that awesome trip (for all those good social media pics), etc. As an athlete, your desires are escalated with that competitive mindset of yours – you want to be a CEO (no such thing as a glass ceiling), win every game (including some [supposed to be fun] board games), and just really be all around the best you like right NOW.

Let me let you in on a couple little secrets: Being the best you takes a lot of time. No one is perfect so you likely won’t win every game you play but remember, it’s just a game so life will go on. Lastly, you’re a hard-working-don’t-settle athlete so it’s likely that someday you’ll have that dream job. What I’m trying to say is sometimes we just need to be reminded to live in the moment.

In high school you look forward to college.. you worked your butt off to get that scholarship and/or get into your dream school. So when that day comes, but you’re day dreaming about your dream career, getting married, and having babies, take a long hard look at yourself and make sure you aren’t thinking too much on what’s to come. Because right now, you’re living your high school self’s dream. Enjoy this moment and live it up!

Here are some of my college hacks:

1. Say yes to new adventures and things outside of your comfort zone (but don’t let that interfere with your class work – that ish is very important).

2. Share love like it’s going out of style because aint nobody got time for the hate.  

3. Continue to work your butt off. Hard work really does pay off.

4. Live and learn. If you make a mistake, it doesn’t define you. Shake it off. Not every game is a win but there’s always something to learn.

5. Have fun at practice and in games. Laugh and joke through the endless sprints. Go crazy cheering at games! People are watching for entertainment so give them something interesting to see. Don’t be embarrassed for being you.

6. Don’t eat the entire tub of nutella. Just trust me.

7. Left the best for last – Enjoy all the time you have with your teammates and take pictures to remember those times. They’re the people you’ll likely move away from and stay in touch with but it doesn’t compare to bunking with them or spending countless hours on a bus with them.

Serena Liebel

Dear Collegiate Athlete/ Unheralded Walk-On…

I am proof that anything can be accomplished with the right mindset and work ethic. According to Rivals, I was a zero-star athlete with zero division 1 scholarships. I decided to walk-on for the University of Tulsa football team, hoping to be awarded a full scholarship and eventually a starting position. My name is Hayden Carman.

In the summer of 2012, I enrolled in summer classes at TU and was also involved in team workouts. This was an opportunity to take the first step towards my goals and make a great first impression. Making an adjustment to a student-athlete was tough for me. I was a quiet and shy kid who did not have many responsibilities before college, so it was a bit stressful at times.

After the summer, I made the 105-man roster for fall camp and felt the path to my goal would be feasible. Or so I thought. After my 4th practice, I wanted to quit. The weight combination of being an unheralded walk-on, having only a few coaches that knew my name, and being involved with football for more than half the time in a day was too much for me. I wanted to quit multiple times after that practice, but that occasion always comes to memory. Whenever I thought about giving up, I did not want to disappoint my family and friends who wanted me to do well, so this influenced me to keep going.

After my second fall camp in 2013, I moved up on the depth chart and practiced with the 2’s during weekday practices to prepare for the upcoming opponent. I continued to improve and received unexpected playing time during my redshirt freshman season. In August 2014, I was still in the rotation for playing time and achieved my first goal. I was awarded a full scholarship. That was one of the happiest days of my life. Becoming a starter was my next priority.

Fast forward to 2016, this was my senior year (“the last ride”). I had one more chance to show my value. During the winter/summer strength and conditioning phase, no one worked harder than me. I was first in the majority of half-gassers, 110s, prowler sprints, and had significant strength gains. I was hell-bent on finishing with a high note. A team award (Brett Adams Iron Will) was given to me and I was named a starter.

We finished the 2016 season at a record of 10-3 and were the Miami Beach Bowl Champions. That team was my favorite during my college career. To continue my list of accomplishments, on the Sunday after the 2017 NFL Draft, I received a call from the Minnesota Vikings who invited me to their mini camp as a free agent. I accepted the invitation and spent 3 days with the team. Unfortunately, I was released and decided to retire from football. This decision was easy for me because the NFL was not a main goal and I was content on my accomplishments. It was time for me to move on.

If I could give advice for a student-athlete to succeed, my 3 rules are:

1) Be a student of the sport you are playing

2) Be a “gym rat”, spend hours in the weight room to improve your strength and conditioning

3) Be great at things that require no talent

I hope this letter inspires you to strive for high goals. If you are ever in struggle or feel like giving up, remember why you started. Think about the people who want you to succeed. It may take some time, but the reward is always worth the process. Good luck and I hope you tackle your goals.

Below contains links to articles about my successes if you are interested in more details.

 

Sincerely,

Hayden Carman

https://www.tulsaworld.com/sports/college/tu/tu-notebook-dt-hayden-carman-wins-team-award/article_0df562d0-7033-5576-8811-cc12bf9bf993.html

https://www.tulsaworld.com/sportsextra/tusportsextra/former-tu-walk-on-hayden-carman-vying-for-starting-role/article_4d468665-a0eb-500f-ad69-467ba5b1eb4b.html

https://www.tulsaworld.com/blogs/sports/tu/tu-sports-dt-hayden-carman-invited-to-minnesota-vikings-rookie/article_32e4673f-8fd2-5a31-817e-f9fd5f6a31f5.html

 

Dear College Bound Athlete…

Mental toughness  – the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from excelling towards an objective or a performance outcome that you set out to achieve.

You will hear that a lot as a student-athlete and during your career of whichever sport you participate in. How tough are you? How much can you endure? How capable are you to get up, every single day, sore muscles and all, and compete? Because at the end of the day that’s what you’re doing every single day as an athlete; competing.

Competing against your yesterday’s self, competing for that starting spot, competing with your teammates to earn that conference championship. How do you handle failure? There is no hiding from it, at some point during your career you will fail. I say that with certainty. You might not make your times during conditioning, might miss that game point serve or the game winning shot, have your starting spot taken, or forget to set your alarm for an early morning practice. Are you going to make excuses? Or will you strive to get better and DO better?

Mental toughness – a make or break for all student-athletes.

The term student-athlete should not be taken lightly. It’s an honor to fall under that category! As student-athletes you have an incredible amount of privileges that normal students don’t get. You get to represent your school by wearing that logo on your jersey. You may be receiving an athletic scholarship. How cool is that? Getting your education paid for to do something you love (although there’s no doubting that it is a constant grind). You get to travel, wear free gear, eat more food than your heart can desire, work out and practice the game you are passionate about, and form an undeniable bond with a group of other people who are going through all the same things you are. All the ups, downs, and in between.  

There’s a reason you will be called a “student-athlete”. Student first. We don’t get the privilege to skip class. We go to class, introduce ourselves to the professor, work hard to make up any missed work for our games, sit in the front row, stay off our phones, and make the athletics department proud. Professors will know who you are and respect your grind. And if they don’t, your hard work and consistency during the semester will shine through so much that they won’t forget you.

I believe that now more than ever there is a high amount of pressure placed on you during the recruiting process. Pressure to make decisions quickly and pressure to play at the highest level possible. Pressure from peers, family, coaches, and recruiting coordinators. Looking back to when I committed (back in 2007, ha!), I don’t remember there being that much pressure. Here are my few pieces of advice for you to take or leave. Do. Your. Research! Research the community (crime, involvement in university, cost of living, things to do, etc.), look up the bio of your potential coach, and talk to former and current players of that coach. Take a look into the academics of the university – do they have the major you’re interested in? Look at the culture of the program and the athletic department as a whole.

Lastly, take a deep breath. Enjoy the process. How cool is it that lots of coaches think you’re awesome at what you do and want you to join their family and program? That’s a pretty neat thing and I encourage you to live in the moment and enjoy every single moment!

As a former student-athlete, I can say with certainty that I’d give anything to go back and play one more match. I know that as a current washed-up athlete, I get so excited for the alumni matches (or stepping in at practices those few times an extra setter is needed). I love being able to get dressed, warmed up, and play the game I am so passionate about (and pretend there are people cheering for me in the stands. HA!). Being a collegiate athlete prepared me for life in more ways than I ever could’ve imagined and I know without a doubt I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not had the privilege of continuing my career through college. I have made friends that will be part of my life forever and memories that I could talk about all day. College sports taught me ownership, humility, responsibility, accountability, discipline, and respect. College sports provided me a sense of pride and fulfillment. All the “blood, sweat, and tears” are so worth it. Do it. Play college sports and continue your career. Put in the work it takes and then do MORE. I promise you it’s worth it.

-Coach Dukic

Arkansas Tech University Head Coach

Dear Athlete From a Broken Home…

For me, playing volleyball was more than just a hobby – it was my way of life; my navigation system. Coming from a loving home consisting of just myself and my grandma, we didn’t have a lot of financial stability. I knew very early that I was going to have to work very hard if I wanted to get to college.

My grandma always encouraged a growth motto of “better to be kind than smart.” …and academics weren’t always held at a high standard. Therefore… getting a scholarship for academics wasn’t in the cards for me. However, I knew that God had blessed me with an athletic ability that should not be wasted. So I worked very hard to be the best that I could be.

Now like I said, I came from a small SMALL family… so sports is where I found my large family dream! Not even kidding – my team is where I felt safe and at home. I learned so much from my “sisters” and my coaches. They truly helped shaped my entire being. So, preparing for college was easy (for me). I packed everything I owned in my car & trusted in the direction I was being led.

I mentally was fully present. So much so, that I may have been too easily convinced into doing things I shouldn’t have. But that was my journey and I’ve never regretted my decisions – I am grateful because I now know better.

Something I was struggling with was not having that family support system, what at the time, seamed like every other teammate was blessed with. I never had a problem with adopting myself into my best friends families… but I definitely had a deep subconscious wish that I had one of my own to support me.

Now that I teach & coach, I pay very close attention to my kiddos that don’t have that certain area of support and make sure to love on them extra hard – so I am grateful to have had the life I have been given because had I not, I wouldn’t be able to connect the way I can now.

Any advice that I would give to an athlete that comes from a broken home, or a home that really isn’t there – God is working in your life!! He is molding you into the man or woman that can make a HUGE change in this world. Only the strong survive the tough parts of life in order to pay it forward.

But REMEMBER… you are a student first and a athlete second. I struggled with this. I had such a hard time deciding what I wanted to “be for the rest of my life.” I would very much rather have spent more time leaning into my counselors and my coaches to really reach my purpose FASTER.

Life after sports? Is there ever life after sports? I live vicariously through my athletes & play with them every practice. I am involved in adult leagues and have become really great friends with gals I considered “rivals” at one time.

Never let the champion in you die! Our sports make us who we are & we have a duty to bring that champion out in our youth!

-Stephanie Brock

Dear Athlete Who Stopped Competing And Lost Their Identity…

Ball Isn’t Life

 

The questions are ones I’ve heard before.

“How tall are you?” … 6’9

Ones I’ve easily answered a million times without a second thought.

“What’s your name?” … Chukwukere Ekeh

But today that changed.

“Do you play basketball?” … Well, uhh, no

For the first time in my entire life, the answer was no. I was no longer a basketball player. I no longer had a team to claim. I no longer had an easily shareable identity to give the world.

 

My ego was in shambles. My dreams and my thoughts so heavily rested on the idea I would one day be a professional athlete who would forever be intertwined with the game I learned to love. Alas, today that came to an end.

 

It has taken much reflection, but in the brokenness I learned my value as a person was greater than the pieces of greatness I displayed within my sport. That there is more to my purpose than slam dunks and blocked shots. That my large stature and presence wasn’t going to waste but instead being re-directed to another use.

 

So my short but simple message to you is this… ball isn’t life. It can teach you life lessons but will never be your sole purpose for being.

 

God, I’m grateful for all the fruitful years of playing this game but even more excited that my story doesn’t end there.