Posted On: 11/21/18 10:07 AM
I have been involved in sports the majority of my life. As a young kid I played several but as I grew older my focus dialed into one, basketball. I grew up in a community just north of Seattle, Washington where basketball provided a lot of opportunity and success for the kids living there. I even think during my senior year of high school all four of our district high schools made a deep run into the playoffs, all teams full of guys I played with and against throughout my youth. Basketball was my haven. It provided a social group. It kept me busy and focused outside of my academic responsibilities. And it created a great avenue for me to learn how hard work can lead to some really fun and exciting outcomes. However, it was not until I started playing volleyball that I really learned what was missing for me as a basketball athlete; that true sense of team, collaboration, and how trust is so important but really only manifests on the court when each individual truly understands their role and that of those around them. All of this elevated my love for team sports and my interest in becoming an educator in the classroom and a coach on the court; helping to develop and inspire these same important attributes in others.
I picked up volleyball late. It was not until college that I actually began to play formalized volleyball, which led to me dropping out of my initial college to move to California to find more structure and competitive spaces to learn the game. Luckily for me I landed in a location where I got to learn from some of the game’s best coaches at the time and among some athletes that went on to have prolific careers in the game both indoors and outdoors. For me, the exposure to nuance of detail and strategy and the organization in creating intense and competitive learning and training is what I gravitated towards. I was not a stellar student at the start of my college days but that all changed when I found volleyball. My brief time competing in college developed a desire to improve myself in order to confidently walk through doors that were opening for me within the sport. A master’s degree and Ph.D. later, I have so much to be thankful for regarding volleyball as the binding element that helped develop my identity and define my path going forward.
I truly believe that volleyball is the ultimate team sport and when played at its highest levels is a thing of beauty. The orchestration of six athletes moving around the court in harmony, relying on one another to make the next touch better than the one before, and leading to the pinnacle contact, whether finessed or with undaunting power, upon the opponent across the net; nothing is better for me in sports than that. And the teamwork. The teamwork that is needed in order for all of those things to occur successfully is so impressive. Passing and digging to stay in system off the platforms of teammates that absorb the heat from big time attackers or are throwing their bodies on the floor and into the bleachers to keep a ball alive. A teammate, that is our floor leader, pressured with decisions and precision in their distribution needed in order to position a ball for an attacker to take the best swing possible. And those attackers, our teammates that have to develop the footwork, balance, timing, and elevation to be able to capitalize on jumping high and hitting hard in order to score the points we need to succeed. Volleyball really is amazing as one of the best activities reliant upon process and the sum of all parts in order to meet objectives and reach goals.
I am so thankful to have been introduced to this incredible sport and the meaningful impact it has made in my life. My experiences on the court as an athlete have been unreal regarding the teammates I have had, the places I have played, and the matches we have won. My years on the sideline as a coach have provided me so many moments that I’ll forever cherish in learning from some of the best mentors in the game about volleyball and life and having opportunities to pass that knowledge along to many, many athletes. Fortuitous opportunities early in my life led to these wonderful memories, experiences, and relationships that have long since transitioned into values I hold dear; those of mindfulness, respect, and paying it forward. Volleyball has been my vehicle and I’ll forever be grateful to this amazing sport, those that have supported me through it, and those around me that love it just as much. Happy Thanksgiving.
Dr. Mike Bryant is an Assistant Professor of sport management and leadership and current contributor for Prep Dig. He is an alum of the the University of Washington where he served on the volleyball staff in 2005 during the program’s national championship season. He is a former college volleyball coach and recruiting coordinator at NCAA DI, DII, DIII, and NAIA levels. He currently splits his time between Washington and Minnesota and stays involved in the game by writing about prep athletes, leading lessons and summer camps as well as playing and watching the game whenever he can.