5 things I learned playing beach volleyball that changed my professional life

[Originally posted on my LinkedIn profile]

Volleyball is my favorite team sport. I simply love it. I’ve been playing indoor volleyball for almost 22 years (dang!) and shortly after I moved from Italy to California 5 years ago, I decided to focus more on beach volleyball. Learning how to play this sport, that is extremely different from indoor, has been an amazing journey. Plus, many of the things I learned really changed the way I approach my professional life and growth.

Long story short, these are top 5 things I’d like to share with you…

1. Your weakness will limit your growth no matter how big your strengths are

You think you’re really good at something, right? And maybe you are. But don’t let this talent limit you. Beach volleyball demands you to be a complete player that knows how to serve, pass, set and swing. Think which one of these fundamentals is the one you’re worst at, because that is what you need to improve first. And it’s also what your opponent is looking for, in order to beat you.

Same goes for your professional life. For example, you might be an amazing engineer or designer, but make sure that your communications skills are on-point, otherwise you won’t be able to get to the next level. That’s one reason I wrote this article: to leave my comfort zone and practice my English writing skills.

2. A team of 2 it’s still a team, so it’s not only about yourself

Let’s say you did a good job and took care of point #1. Here comes the tricky part. Beach volleyball is played 2-vs-2, so you need a partner. It might sound easy, but it is not. You’ll need someone that complements your game, to further help you overcome your weakness and make you shine. I’m a 178cm (5’10’’) guy and I’ve found out that a big badass blocker gives me a lot of confidence and support. Still, I have to make sure I’m giving him the best pass so I can get the best set, because nobody will ever dare serving the best hitter.

It’s pretty straightforward to say that in your work life you’ll always benefit from a stellar team, and you should always make sure your personal growth is as consistent as it is your teammates’. Remember that you’re only as strong as your weakest link! Last but not least, when it comes to be a successful team, it often takes more than just skill or expertise. Chemistry, mental toughness, fighting spirit are some attributes of those teams that will go above and beyond.

3. You need to master a number of external factors you can’t control

This is actually one of my favorites. When I started playing beach volleyball, I had to deal with a number of things I’ve never faced before. Wind, sun, sand, a different ball… just to mention some of them. It’s easy to fall in the bad habit of blaming these factors. Well, I learned that these elements make the game even more unique, and require a new set of skills that I had to learn, mentally and physically.

Now, just think of all the things you keep on blaming. From you’re stern professor / boss to your commute. Realize that most of the people have to deal with the same scenario, and probably there’s nothing you can do to change it. Embrace the 5th and last stage of grief: accept it and do something about it. I try to stay positive every day, and by training daily (again, this is probably more mentally than physically) my frustration generally diminishes.

4. Make sure you have both a north star and a tangible objective

Goals, goals, goals. Ambition is a great ally. But don’t forget to be realistic: I’d love to play FIVB or AVP but I know I’m simply not that good. That’s why I always try to find a fairly ambitious north star (such as placing or winning a tournament) and I give myself an reasonable time frame, usually no more than a couple of years, to reach it. This keeps me motivated, even though I know I might not be able to accomplish it. The next thing I do is focusing on what I need to do in the short term to achieve my north star: increase my vertical, perfect a shot, improve my serve, etc. These little steps keep me engaged and are a conditio sine qua non (AKA a necessary but not sufficient condition, pardon my latin) to reach my bigger goal. And most importantly, allow me to be a better player no matter what.

So what about your dream job? Who you wanna be 5 years from now? Make sure to understand what are the implications and the requirements, then start doing some homework and executing your plan. Wether is a matter of saving money or learning how to code, every step will give you some immediate benefits. I personally like to aim pretty high, because it gives you a very good outcome in the scenario of not getting 100% there. Remember there are a lot of shades of gray to move from white to black!

5. Train consistently to improve, but competition is the real skill accelerator

Trying to put together everything I wrote so far, it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to take some time and a lot of training. And training is great. I’m bummed I don’t have the time to practice as much as I used to do when I played indoor, because it really allows a player to experience specific game aspects in a safe environment, to build muscle memory and good mechanics. That said, nothing makes your hearth pump faster than healthy competition. The adrenaline you get by playing in a tournament, the things you learn by facing different opponents with different styles of play… that’s unique. And allowing myself to get embarrassed on the sand out there has been a great lesson, many times.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is simply “don’t be shy”, “don’t be afraid to try”, because real experience is one of the most valuable assets. I’d like to mention two of my favorite quotes: the first one is “you never stay the same, you either get better or worse”, to remind you to keep training and trying. But also “you never lose, you either win or learn”, because even the last place in a tournament will give you some good insight in how to be a better player.

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We’re eventually at the end of this article, and you’re still reading so now let me know your thoughts. What is your favorite lesson learned? Let me know in the comments below.

Hope you appreciated the candid sharing exercise. Full disclosure: I’m not a life coach or a professional beach volley player. Ciao!

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