Describe yourself in one sentence.
Only one sentence?
Where do I start….
Okay here goes.
My name is Shanice Marcelle, I’m a kind hearted homebody and a professional athlete.
(This sounds like something you would say at AA meetings, disregard the similarity).
If you’re reading this, ask yourself that question.
How would you sum yourself up?
I want to talk about identity.
Ball is life.
Growing up I went to camps, and tournaments and saw tons of t-shirts that said something like, “eat, sleep, volleyball, repeat” or “live and breathe volleyball”. Thus, ‘volleyball is life’ became the motto and it’s exactly what I did with my days. I lived and breathed for the game, you could say that I still do, but I want to talk about why this shouldn’t by the only thing, nor is it everything.
Volleyball is a game of power, finesse, coordination, athleticism, control, and creativity. While there is so much to appreciate about the game, I want to reiterate that it is just that; a game. It is an avenue for developing skills that translate across many walks of life, teamwork, communication, time management and the like. It’s an outlet for self development and discipline as you challenge your limits. Sport teaches you many lessons while developing character and I am the biggest advocate for becoming involved. However, I’m realizing that it’s not the only thing and if there’s anything I regret in my career it’s not throwing myself into other activities and developing a greater sense of self while I was young.
Ball is life.
My mother always encouraged me to become involved in many activities. I played a multitude of sports, I was a part of the school’s band program, I volunteered at the SPCA, and I enjoyed the after school science programs. But as I got older those things became less important and fell by the wayside as my desire to focus solely on volleyball grew. I knew what my dreams and goals were in my athletic career and I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to achieve them.
I attended University to be an athletic student, not so much a student athlete. I played pro to make volleyball my job, my means of making money and providing for myself. It is everything that I do. My identity as an athlete has become a tremendous part of who I am, but I have risked a lot of that for fleeting moments of athletic success.
I have missed my family’s birthdays for the last 8 years. I missed my high school grad camping trip. I missed my University Convocation. I missed my grandpa’s 90th birthday celebration. I have missed out on the opportunity to attend past teammates weddings. I was unable to watch my brother grow up and turn into this incredible young man. I missed out on being a part of my siblings lives and many holidays with my family. I missed trips/vacations with my best friends, and a long time friend's wedding to her high school sweetheart. And I was not there to say goodbye to the house that I spent my childhood in.
Ball is life.
Sport has given me tremendous opportunities to see the world, to compete in many places and play in front of enormously exhilarating crowds. But I willingly gave up on other important aspects of my life in the pursuit of athletic excellence, and I lost a little piece of me every time.
Along the way I have achieved my fair share. I am so proud of my accomplishments on the court to say I have done many things that others have not. I am a U18 National beach volleyball champion. I am a 5 time CIS National Champion and 5 time National all-star. I am a 2 time CanadaWest and CIS MVP. I am a CIS Athlete of the Year and 2 time nominee. I am a FISU Games opening ceremony flag bearer for Canada. I am a 2 time Bundesliga Champion and 1 time finals MVP. I am a French Cup Runner up. I am an athlete.
But my struggles come from these achievements defining who I am instead of what I do.
My struggle comes from seeking gratification from the wins, and drowning in self pity from the losses.
My struggle comes from tying my self worth to what I do, for it is who I am.
Ball is life.
Dedication. Passion. Perseverance. All things that enable you to become the best. To become a successful athlete, and if you work hard enough an elite one. And that’s the way a large part of society continues to see us and define athletes. We become our achievements and abilities. We are the one with incredible grit, or the one with unmatched skill. The tenacious one, the stabilizer, or even the beautiful one on the field of play. They elevate our athletic characteristics and praise our ability.
What’s not to love about a feel good story of an athlete that overcame obstacles, or dominated the game. The Michael Jordan's on the hardwood. Michael Phelps in the pool. Usain bolt on the track. Serena Williams on the court. Simone Biles on the mat. The Logan Tom's of the volleyball world. They have become idols in large part for what they represent as an athlete and their accomplishments, not necessarily for who they are as people.
“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breath then you’ll be successful”
Many motivational videos for athletes encompass giving up EVERYTHING because you ‘will miss the opportunity to be successful’. This must be the way in pursuit of excellence. I’m gonna argue that it doesn’t have to be. Yes, you have to make sacrifices in order to reach the pinnacle of your sport, but you don't have to give up all of your other identities in the hopes of maximizing one.
We equate our lives with the things we love, and as our athletic self becomes our whole self (because ball is life, remember) we try to find meaning and purpose from these games when it isn’t there. So why continue to look there?
Wait. Ball is NOT life.
In my heart I know that I have always been more. I am a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a mentor, an artist, but my athletic identity has overpowered all the rest. I know myself as an athlete and that’s how many others know me. It’s the first answer to the question what do you do? This has been me for as long as I can remember, and this is my biggest problem.
Relying so heavily on my athletic identity to guide me through life, my individual identity and self esteem became so unstable in the months that I haven't been able to play. Who is a volleyball player that cannot play the game?
Ball is NOT life.
I challenge anyone who identifies as an athlete to think about the language you use to describe yourself. You play blank, you are not defined by blank (for me those blanks are volleyball if that doesn’t make sense). Challenge yourself to think beyond the scope of being an athlete and dedicating every moment of every day to living as one. Take time to be real with yourself and think about your life outside of athletics.
Parents, I encourage you to let your children experience life beyond sport how they please. They really do not need to be involved in every single camp, tryout, and team that is offered if they do not want to be there. Burnout will loom, sport no longer becomes enjoyable, and it is physically and mentally demanding to do year after year.
If you are young, I encourage you to take time away from the sport doing the other things that you love, give yourself a break every now and then. There is a level of dedication needed to reach elite levels of performance. But, don’t forget to nurture yourself along the way. Learn what your hobbies are, practice when you need to and focus your time on other activities when you're not on the court. Go for a vacation. Party with your friends. Get a part time job (now that’s some advice I wish I had followed). Fall in love. Volunteer. Whatever it is that may interest you DO IT. Your athletic self will thank you a thousand times over.
As you search for your own athletic greatness take time to form an identity beyond your sport. Every now and then stop trying to be an extraordinary athlete and just be an extraordinary person.
“Every ball loses air. What will you do when the game is over?” Marcellus Bennett - NFL tight end for the New England Patriots and creative professional.
Here is his Ted Talk entitled More Than An Athlete. Check it out, and thanks for reading!