FIVE TRUTHS I LEARNED IN FIVE YEARS AS A PROFESSION ATHLETE
WE ASKED FIVE PLAYERS TO WRITE ON ONE COMMON TOPIC. ENJOY THE SIMILARITIES, THE CONTRASTS, AND THE HONESTY IN THEIR INTROSPECTION.
Spencer McLachlin, Cal women's volleyball coach
Stay discipline or don’t stay disciplined, it’s your choice
If you pay close attention to any NFL, NBA, or MLB player talk about professionalism there are some common themes. The true professionals are prepared. They’re organized. They’re on time. They’re disciplined. My first seasons as a pro in Greece I learned difficult lessons in time management. With practice from 6-8PM everyday and optional weights everyday, there was a ton of flexibility. It’s a personal choice that every player has to make, and one that I sometimes struggle with. Some weeks I lifted everyday, and others not at all. Some weeks I went in early in the morning to get reps, other weeks not at all. Some weeks my nutrition was good, other weeks not at all. It’s a simple yet challenging choice that separates players.
Make yourself a plan before it’s too late
Growing up the son of two athletic directors, the gymnasium was my babysitter. Basketball and volleyball were the games most played to pass the time. There was always a strict practice regimen and even a mandatory off season lifting schedule. College provided me with state of the art lifting, training, and volleyball facilities. Competition was fierce. One consistent theme throughout my career was that the opportunity to get better planned by someone else. Coaches planning great practices, weight coaches providing lifting plans and proper nutrition, sports psychologists an email away. It seemed like all I had to do was follow their plan and I would win championships. It was already a challenging journey, and it all became increasingly more difficult when that support and that structure was taken away.
Currently, I am playing professional beach volleyball where I have to do/schedule everything largely on my own. I don’t have a coach. I don’t have a trainer. I don’t have a manager to book my travel and tournaments. Very few people do in this profession. I’ve learned to take control of my own plan through my experience in Greece. The first step in becoming a true professional is coming up with a plan. Whether they be long term goals, or short term inspiration, planning is essential for professionals to not only find their destination (All-Pro/All-Star/All-League or starting), but also determine their route.
Find a way to stay motivated
It is very easy to plateau as a pro. A lot of time spent as a pro is as an individual in the offseason or during down time. How much better can you get when nobody is pushing you? How much focus can you have when there isn’t a weight coach to count your reps? The answer to these questions comes down to whether you’re intrinsically motivated or extrinsically. I learned really quickly that I was the latter. If there wasn’t someone to hold me accountable for lifting or getting reps in the gym, then I would come up with an excuse and flat out skip it. I learned that by partnering up, I could hold myself accountable. I learned that I needed to schedule time with a trainer. I pay hundreds of dollars a month for the services of a trainer. Partly because he knows what he’s doing and partly because if I didn’t schedule something, then I would skip it.
Handle your money, bro
Turning pro is an amazing feeling because all of a sudden you get paid to do something you had previously done for free your entire life. It seems like it is almost “free money” and worthy of being spent on frivolous things (bottle service, shoes, cars, etc.) True professionals know that their careers are limited in time. I’ve been the guy who spends money at the club and I’ve been the one watching guys spend too much money at the club. The former is fun, the latter is responsible. It can be frustrating watching teammates splurge irresponsibly. Often times these players sacrifice a good morning practice/lift due to late night activities. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the dance floor as much as anyone, but there’s a time and place.
True Professionals look out for #1
People might hate the thought of this, but professionals are out for numero uno first and foremost. They HAVE to be! Teams are always looking to get the most out of you for the cheapest amount of money. I had a team refuse to pay for heating in my apartment for weeks after we lost a match. If players don’t look out for themselves, then who will? The only person who would look out for you would be an agent, but that’s only after they get theirs. I didn’t get paid for several months in Greece, so I told them I was going to quit. Unfortunately, I did that on Christmas Eve. But when my agent is in the Netherlands and can only send threatening emails, I decided to look out for #1. The team didn’t take too kindly to my Christmas wish-list, but I had to make sure they weren’t taking advantage of me.