Back at school, during volleyball training sessions, I’d hear my coach chant a familiar refrain: “You’re not focusing!” I didn’t understand what he meant, and neither did any of the others. “What are we supposed to bloody focus on?”, we asked each other. The goal was defined this way: pass the ball here, set the ball there, and hit it over there. And win. Easy enough to follow. But we didn’t understand the mechanics of focusing. Were we supposed to focus on getting to the ball, or passing the ball, or moving our feet, or looking at the ball, or maybe on what parts of our anatomy were doing, like our shoulders or our arms? What component of the overall skill were we supposed to focus on?
A few of us decided to turn the word “focus” backwards and say (out of the coach’s earshot) “sucof”. It was safer than saying f*** off! By turning it into a joke, we would forget all the technical issues that were bogging us down and holding us back. And we would focus on the outcome, rather than on what he wanted us to focus on. Even then I realised that I personally had to have a clear vision of what I wanted the ball to do. A clear vision of the outcome. As my coach now says, the ball doesn’t have a brain, so make it do what you want it to do.
These days, I focus on outcomes: the path of the ball and where it will end up. That is, where I want it to end up. When my mind sees that, all my other actions adjust themselves accordingly. It was an important step toward understanding myself, and the way I process information. It was also an important pointer to what I should do in life. All my actions would either lead me away from, or toward, where I want to end up, not only sports-wise, but as a human being. The desire to see outcomes was not a fault—it was one of my strengths. The outcome was something for me to focus on.
At the time I was still trying a lot of different sports, despite my initial success at volleyball. But there came a huge turning point in September of 1993. I was 18 and a member of the Queensland senior team competing in the National Grand Prix in Brisbane. I was probably considered one of the best junior volleyballers in Australia. Not long after Sydney was announced as the venue for the 2000 Olympic Games, it was also announced that beach volleyball was to become an Olympic sport. Prior to this, beach volleyball was considered a “fun”, summer version of the indoor variety of the game. All volleyballers played indoor seriously, and ventured out onto the beach for a tan. Since its inception in Australia, Anita Palm and Jacqui Vukosa were our number one team, and had travelled offshore to represent Australia. Anita approached me one day and asked, “would you like to move to Sydney and train with me full time and go to the Atlanta Olympics?”.
I told her I needed a few days to think about it. But in the week that followed, I felt empty. Something just wasn’t right. I awoke one morning, rolled out of bed and kicked myself. I was denying myself the very opportunity I’d dreamt about! I quickly dialled Anita’s number. Thankfully, she was there to answer! I asked, “Is the offer still open? I can be on the next plane. Let’s go to the Olympics!” So I stepped on a plane and left behind my family, friends, and the physiotherapy degree to chase my dream. There were no guarantees—only opportunities.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
Remember this. Having a dream is vital. We all need something to aspire to. We can learn a lot by observing how the best do things.
Encouragement has a nourishing effect, especially when we choose to hear the good words and reject—or learn from—the bad.
Knowing our strengths is a great place to start!
A vision of the future is an excellent focal point. If we’re not sure what that vision is, we should make it clearer, until it comes into sharp focus.