If you had asked me two years ago: what challenges do you expect to face in moving across to the globe to support your girlfriend in her pro volleyball player career? I would have probably said something like this:
“Well I know I’ll have a lot of free time, so I’m sure I will get bored here and there. And it will definitely be tough being away from family and friends. Aaaannnd, I’m sure the language barrier will be a little frustrating at times.”
Looking back, all of those statements are pretty accurate, and each one of them has come and gone these past two seasons.
However, they were not the biggest challenges I have faced.
Nope, and as I look back now, what I have experienced these past two years would have been difficult to predict.
Yet at the same time, I am a little surprised I didn’t see them coming. I know myself rather well and like to think I have a fairly good understanding of how I react to different situations.
But I guess some things you just can’t predict. And when it comes to playing volleyball overseas, you pretty much can’t predict anything.
I have learned this and so have my friends Holly and Taylor.
All three of us have embarked on the journey of supporting our loved ones in an overseas adventure. Each of us headed to a foreign country with no clue how it will all end.
Well, it’s been two seasons for all three of us and now seemed like a good time to do some reflecting. We all had our own ideas of the challenges we could expect, but none of us really could have predicted what would actually happen.
Each of us had our challenges; some were identical, while others were quite unique to our own circumstances.
What I’ve laid out below is one unique challenge from each of us. Something we have all struggled with and continue to face every single day.
My hope is that it gives you a little more insight into the lifestyle of a Daily Athlete and more specifically the life of the ones supporting them.
Holly’s Biggest Challenge
When I spoke with Holly she shared some of her biggest challenges, I was immediately blown away at how much I could relate to everything she was saying. But there was one thing that really stuck out. She articulated something I knew deep down I was struggling with, but never fully thought about it.
“I am no longer in a spot that I get to show the skills and talents I have. It has really humbled me to become mainly the “supporter”. All my life I’ve been the athlete, and the one that is going through those daily struggles– with coaches, training, teammates; all of it. It was harder than I expected – to be that person where I’m no longer immediately viewed as the athlete when I meet new people.”
For both Holly and I, we are now former athletes. We both played our sports for the vast majority of our lives; Holly’s being basketball and mine being volleyball. And after graduating from university, we both decided to give that lifestyle up.
Now, you’re probably thinking, okay we get it, sports were a big part of your life and now that’s over. Boohoo!
And yeah okay, maybe you’re right. But here’s the thing, sports may be over for us, but we didn’t get the chance to make a clean break.
We’re still in it. And it’s not going anywhere.
Most athletes when they retire, they move on, get a job, join the rest of society and try to blend in. The transition is difficult at first, but over time you sort of forget about what it’s like to be an athlete. You find new hobbies, interests, and you begin to associate with the rest of the world.
But we don’t get that chance.
We may have stopped playing, but our degree of involvement in sports has hardly changed. If anything it has increased. We are now in a foreign country with limited people to talk to and the main reason we are here is because of the very thing we left behind.
It’s an everyday struggle. Especially when it comes to giving advice. In the past it was simple. We would use our actions, instead of our words.
We would say something like this, “when I’m dealing with ‘X Problem’, I do ‘Y Solution’, watch me next game and you’ll see.”
Boom, it was that easy!
But we can’t do that anymore. Instead we now only have our words. We have to take complex ideas that made perfect sense in our heads and try to explain them in a way that can be helpful.
As Holly and I have both realized, we may be done playing sports, but we are still heavily involved in it.
So the next step is adapting. How can we take experiences from the past, combine it with new ideas, and apply it in a supporting role?
It’s a new challenge for sure, but one that I think we can take pride in. Most athletes playing overseas don’t have someone to come home to at the end of each day. So how can we make ourselves as useful as possible and give something those other athletes would die to have?
The time for self-help is over.
Taylor’s Biggest Challenge
I’m always blown away by Taylor’s passion for other people. She’s an incredibly supportive friend and I think anyone who knows her can attest to that statement. I know she has her struggles (and we all do), but it’s amazing to see how willing she is to address those with a positive attitude and do her best to overcome them.
One of her biggest struggles is something that I cannot highlight enough. The stay-at-home support role is a little bit odd for some people to wrap their heads around. We have so many norms in our society and one of them is that, unless you are taking care of a child, both of you NEED to be working. I get where this sentiment comes from, but does it really matter that much?
I think Taylor explained her feelings quite well, so I will share her insights instead:
“One of the biggest challenges has been accepting that I am not the norm and that’s ok. For the past two years I have moved around the world with Nick and the most common struggle I face is wrapping my head around the fact that I am living an extremely different life than most of the people I know. Our society constantly pressures us to produce and often ties success with money or having a degree. Well I have that degree but I’m currently not doing anything with it. In the beginning, this was a really hard thing for me to accept. Everyone I know went directly from high school to university and are now working in their careers. So many people ask me ‘hey Taylor what are you doing with your life, what are you doing while Nick is playing volleyball and you are unemployed over there?’. Statements like these really got me down and made me feel like I was wasting my time over here. But the reality is (and it took me almost two seasons to figure it out) that I am not wasting my time, being lazy, or unsuccessful because I choose to support Nick in his career. There is no monetary value in supporting someone for 8 months a year in a foreign country, but it has given me so much more than money could ever give me. I’ve had time to work on improving myself in ways I never thought possible. I explore the world, and I am able to give back to Nick by being the absolute best partner I am capable of. So basically what I’m saying is: people need to stop asking ‘what are you doing with your life?’ because I’m living it and it’s pretty damn awesome.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
None of us have even hit our high school reunion yet, there is still time to find a career and have kids like we are supposed to…
Just because we’re not doing “normal things” doesn’t mean we are wasting our lives. Our society is so focused on improving our own lives, but rarely do we ever stop to ask, “How is what I am doing improving the lives of others?”.
As I see it, this is just prep work. If we can practice and teach ourselves to look at every situation outwardly instead of selfishly, we will live much more fulfilled lives in the long run.
My Biggest Challenge
If traveling overseas has taught me anything, it would be the power of scarcity. More specifically, the scarcity of control you have. When you move to a new country, your options are immediately limited. You begin to realize that back home you had quite the abundance. And not in regards to things like restaurants, entertainment, and everyday commodities.
I’m talking about the intangibles. Like the ability to make small talk with a random stranger, or being able to tell someone how you’re feeling beyond just “I’m good”. These are things you take for granted back home, but when you don’t get to do them every day, it begins to weigh on you.
And as a result, I start to overcompensate. If I get a chance to Skype with someone, or I meet a fellow English speaker on the street, I have a tendency to dominate the conversation. I have these backed up thoughts that Alicia has heard a thousand times over and I can’t stop spewing every thought in my head.
Another area I see ‘scarcity of control’ is in Alicia’s pro volleyball career. The up’s and down’s of finding a pro contract, and dealing with a club are a headache, to say the least. For anyone who has played volleyball professionally, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
For anyone about to enter this stage, get ready for the phrase “this team is interested” to have a whole new meaning.
When it comes to my reaction towards handling the frustrations of playing pro, it’s hard to have front row seats and not get a little pissed off sometimes. Seeing coaches make ridiculous decisions, watching incredibly lazy teammates, and not knowing if the team is going to pay her – these can all be difficult things to stay quiet about.
Sometimes Alicia comes home from practice and simply based on how she opens the door, I can already tell if it was a good or bad practice.
When the bad ones come up, I find myself in a difficult position. I see how frustrated she is and I hate to see her like this. And my immediate reaction is to offer up a solution to every single problem she’s encountering.
Tell your coach this…
Ask the president if…
They all sound super insightful in my head and very easy to accomplish. There’s only one problem.
She didn’t want a handbook for how to solve all of her problems. She just wanted to be heard. She wanted to vent. And as easy as my solutions may seem, not everything can be solved in one simple conversation.
It took me a little while to figure this out, and I still struggle with it most days. But at the end of the day, this is what being in a relationship is all about.
Understanding the emotions of your partner and acting accordingly. It takes time, but if you can figure out which moments are the best for giving advice and which are best for listening, you will be in a much happier relationship.
It doesn’t mean you have to be quiet all the time; a time will come where you need to fight back. But just in the same way that parents can’t solve every problem for their child, sometimes it is on them to work through the challenge themselves.
Your role is instead to give them a little guidance and encourage them to work hard, stand their ground and remain positive.
You are the anchor that keeps them at bay.
It all comes down to…
Being the support, cast for a professional athlete is no easy task. And being in a foreign country doesn’t make it any less stressful. However, when I look at our relationship over the past two years, I know it has only grown stronger.
Of the challenges we the “supporters” and the “performers” face, the greatest is defining our roles and creating a healthy balance between them.
We have to do this despite the unfamiliar circumstances, abnormal lifestyle, and limited ability to control everything we want controlled.
At the end of the day, in order for something or someone to be successful, it requires sacrifice. You cannot be perfect in everything, experience everything, or have everything. You have to be willing to give up or put things off now, in order to become successful.
You have to define your priorities and stick to them.
Sacrificing the chance to develop a career and spend more time with friends and family are both difficult things to give up.
But that doesn’t mean we are throwing our lives away. This is a chance to grow stronger as a couple, learn more about ourselves, and live in places we would have never expected to see.
As a result, when we are done with this lifestyle, we will be more prepared to face the real world as a team, instead of two separate individuals heading into their own battles.
No sacrifice is easy. And just because ours isn’t the norm, doesn’t make it any less justified than yours
– The Daily Athlete