“I will never play volleyball again.”
This raw certainty was clear after snapping my Achilles tendon in a volleyball match in 2006. I had already competed professionally for nearly 10 years in four countries on the beach and indoor, and honestly... I had plateaued. The pinnacle of personal potential had been reached and I had already sacrificed a good majority of my soul joy. I had become drunk on my own ego’s unattainable vision of success, which was always just out of reach.
It was a ruthless hunt for victory.
An insatiable thirst for recognition.
An illusory fantasy of grandeur became my prison.
I wasn’t willing to admit it, but deep down I knew I was ready to stop competing professionally, but I didn’t know how to stop. Not only had I invested the majority of my life to the sport, but I had allowed it to define who I was as a human being.
I was Ann the professional volleyball player. Period.
This title was lauded, celebrated and made me feel important. I was addicted to the pursuit of greatness and the attention that came with it. This relentless craving for athletic success had taken my true life’s potential hostage and left me pulsating with a ruthless ego that rejoiced in even the slightest external adulation.
During the last year of my time competing on the tour, I had been working regularly with the great Dr.Mike Gervais, a renowned sports psychologist. The pressure to win at such a high level had begun eating away at my mental fortitude, and my ability to enjoy playing the sport I used to love. He provided me with tools to take care of my mindset and taught me how to set reasonable and attainable goals for each match. My expectations were far too high and unrealistic and always left me feeling like a failure.
At the time Misty May and Kerri Walsh were supremely dominant in the world of volleyball, eventually winning three Olympic gold medals in a row. During this era they won every single game, set, match and tournament they competed in. In total, they won 112 matches in a row and were crowned supreme for 19 sequential tournaments. My partner, Saralyn Smith and I faced them 7 times during their streak, and help contribute to 7 of their wins. We did get to challenge ourselves against the best of all time, but this did mean the idea of actually winning a tournament was far from realistic.
With Dr. Gervais, I had made steady progress and under his tutelage, I had gained inner strength and belief in myself that was unparalleled to any other volley chapter of my career. I started enjoying the sport again and had some of the most phenomenal performances of my career alongside my partner. We had some battle-royals against our biggest rivals and on some of the biggest stages of the sport under a lot of pressure- but we rose to the occasion with our matching bathing suits and bad-ass braids. It felt profoundly rewarding to set attainable goals and take each game one point at a time instead of pursuing the highest rank on the tour. It was all about What’s Important Now. WIN. Mini goals. What do I need to do right now in this very moment to earn the next point? I started to win at my own game and the reward was freedom from mental bondage. I was filled with a renewed sense of competitive vibrancy that was rooted in my own self-worth and the authentic pleasure in playing volleyball.
It was as if the Universe was satisfied that I had finally learned how to play with clear intentions infused with authentic confidence... so she did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
The Universe said to my Soul,
“Lesson learned darling...you are now done with this life chapter. Let’s move on shall we?”
And so it was.
The fateful day arrived at the alumni game at Pepperdine University where I had been given a full-ride scholarship ten years before, but due to my rebelliousness and naughty attitude, I rarely saw court time my senior year. I left the University full of entitled venom that- someday I shall return and show you all! So on the day of the “Snapping”, I stepped back on the hard court as a successful professional beach player to compete in the alumni game against the current team.
I was ready to show my former coach what a mistake it was to keep me on the bench (10 years before). So all my mental tools and budding humility went out the window as my ego ballooned up so big that all it could do was literally….POP. Irrational resentment caused my blood pressure to increase and my heart to race. Drunk on a cocktail of adrenaline, revenge, and ego I smacked balls with a vengeance. After a particularly impressive kill, I’d look at her with imperious immaturity,
“Bet you regret not playing me now don’t ya?!”
The Universe shook her head and clucked her tongue. “No, no Ann. Time’s up.”
Then I took one step back on a defensive play and heard a deafening c..r..a..c..k. like a large branch breaking off from the trunk. The tendon had completely detached and curled up like a caterpillar taking refuge in my calf. Time slowed. My brain shut down to the pain centers of my body. I could no longer hear or feel. Balanced on one leg I looked down at my dangling left foot.
As I lay flat on my back in my little apartment with my repaired Achilles in a large black boot elevated up on a chair I thought to myself, “This is it. I will never play volleyball again.” I was a mere 5’9 and had just turned 30. I was no longer going to be a viable competitor on the tour, especially without my hops. A primal wail released from my soul at the dramatic loss of my dream, and from an even deeper place within escaped a howl rooted in fear that I was absolutely nothing without volleyball. I was no longer important. I was no longer going to be respected nor admired. Who the Hell was I without volleyball? The pain was too raw, too vulnerable too humbling for me to hold on my own.
Dr.Gervais to the rescue. He pointed out that all of those feelings I was seeking were outside of myself. I had no control over whether other people thought I was great, or important.
And being admired? That was just ME trying to define my self-worth through someone else's eyes. He reminded me that I had a new lease on life. A blank page to define who I wanted to be in this world.
Dr.G challenged me,
“What kind of person do you want to be?”
“What kind of impact do you want to make on the world?”
“How can you use your experience to help others?”
I had only been in the business of helping myself so I had no frame of reference for what it might mean to genuinely impact others. I surrendered to the idea that Dr.G had guided me to a healthy state of mind before and so I trusted the process and let go of the outcome.
Fast forward 13 years…
After a whirlwind journey of self-discovery, extensive service to others, a belief in something greater than myself, and the understanding that when I give away my knowledge, spirit, fire, experience, and wisdom that the return is tenfold.
It was like a magical formula that was really quite simple.
My need for importance and notoriety and admiration faded, and instead I was lit up from within. It became second nature to help others, not just serve my own ascent to greatness but instead help lift others to rise to find their own golden treasure trove within.
Now my passion is to help young athletes find their inner strength and unlock their potential with a balanced and healthy mindset. If I had learned the tools of the mental game early on in my career I feel like my potential could have been far greater and I would have suffered far less. Many athletes not only need a basic set of tools for their mental game but also support in how to unravel some of their false beliefs about their abilities, their self-worth and their expectations of themselves.
We are a product of our inner beliefs
The greatest satisfaction comes from helping an athlete find her fire and her genuine motivation to wade through the challenges and adversity of her sport.
So in the meantime, I felt a stirring.
Two years ago I declared that YES, I AM READY TO PLAY AGAIN! After birthing two humans and helping countless athletes with their mental game I am balanced, yet softer, and in a less competitive space in my life.
But that pilot light was just waiting to be lit.
I played a few pick-up games for fun.
I was lit.
The time has come to play volleyball again. 13 years after The Snapping.
But the Universe had a funny way of telling me that it was not me time quite yet.
After months of snow and no access to “beach volleyball” I invented my own training regime:
FIERCE visualization, AGGRESSIVE snow shoveling, and HOT yoga
And so I bring my ever-expanding toolbox of mental skills to the tournament along with my bum Achilles, my 43-year-old Mom body, and a stronger than ever belief in myself and my abilities.
No expectations. One point at a time. Let’s do this.