I am a big believer that my participation in organized sports, especially team sports, taught me the values that shaped my life and career. I didn’t begin to excel in sports until I was in high school, but those four years, and the years that followed, taught me lessons that continue to guide my professional and personal life even today. While I played a variety of sports (including track, tennis and basketball) volleyball was my main love and what I eventually pursued at a collegiate level. Here are seven lessons that helped me excel both on and off the court.
- There is no “I” in team. There are six players on the court during a volleyball match and all six of them have to work together to accomplish their goal. In an ideal situation, you need one person to make the right pass, the setter to provide a beautiful loft and a hitter who will swing hard and put it down on the other side of the court. Teamwork and trust is imperative to achieve this goal. If you have a “me, me, me” mentality, the system breaks down and everyone loses.
- Communication is key. Because volleyball is a team sport, you have to depend on what your teammates can see when you can’t and communicate that to you. That includes where to pass, where the defense is set up, or if the opponents are putting up a block… making communication an integral part of the game. On the court, this communication allows the team to perform as one cohesive unit, improving play and oftentimes making the difference between and W and an L; in the real world, communication is just as valuable. Most professions will require some aspect of working together as a team, so being able to embrace the people around you, learn from them, take advice from them and communicate your position effectively will allow you to be seen as not only a leader but an essential part of the workplace.
- Hit Hard and Swing at Everything. Don’t be afraid to swing and swing hard. You have to be ready to hit the ball. Even if your shot is blocked, you send a powerful message that you aren’t afraid to go after what you want (and it sounds pretty damn powerful too). Hitting hard gave me the push to be relentless and aggressive in pursuing my dreams.
- Learn how to embrace the angles. As a hitter in volleyball I became successful with shots using sharp angles. And let’s face it…life is all about angles. Your path to success will definitely not be a straight line; not every path you will take (or want to take) is paved or clearly marked — you may have to take a chance on that sharp angle or navigate rockier terrain to get to where you want to go. The more you learn how to better foresee and embrace the angles, the better off in life you will be.
- Don’t just watch the ball. Coaches like to say “Keep your eye on the ball,” but in the game of volleyball and life it is sometimes more important to keep your eye on everything else. Watching the setter will give you clues as to where the ball will be going; watching the defense will show you the best place to hit; and as a blocker, you want to watch the hitter…jump when they jump. Keeping your eye on the ball may work in some cases, but being aware of the big picture will help you see the forest through the trees, teach you to track nuances, anticipate what will happen and read non-verbal cues. Learning to be an observer helps you make smarter decisions in life and in business.
- Losing builds better winners. Let’s be honest, losing isn’t fun… especially if you have a competitive fire like most athletes. But losing has taught me some powerful lessons. Losing fuels your fire to win and win BIG. It offers you the opportunity to evaluate how you can improve and be better prepared in the future. The desire to continually improve and grow is what drives success. Losing can hurt, it can be a huge blow to your ego and it can even sometimes make you want to cry. So cry. And cry hard. Then dry your eyes, wash your face, dust yourself off, and leave it on the court. You can’t change the past, but you can learn how to pick yourself up and move on to the next challenge.
- Coaches are just as useful off the court. Coaches have been extremely influential in my life and career. In fact, I credit my volleyball and track coaches in high school with setting me on my career path. Twenty-five years later, I am still close with them. I respect and admire them greatly and will never forget how they shaped my future. They taught me to not only be a successful athlete, but a successful student, therapist, business owner and role model. Even after my playing days were over, coaches have not departed from my life. I believe having coaches and mentors in my professional career has helped take my success and growth to the next level. Having someone to listen to me, guide me, watch me grow and help me improve has been invaluable to my career. Mentors and business coaches can help navigate both personal and professional choices and give a fresh perspective on big decisions and hold you accountable for your choices and decisions.
I have never lost sight of the lessons I learned playing sports and the strong relationships I built playing volleyball. These lessons have served me far beyond the court and into the boardroom. The rewards I have reaped from learning hard work, focus, communication, trust, and working with teammates are skills that have allowed be to successful both in life and in business and will last me a lifetime.
Christa Gurka, MSPT, PMA®-CPT