Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Disappointment in Moscow

I write from my sunbathed hotel room as the Sputnik sun sets late this Wednesday evening.  Today was qualification Wednesday for the FIVB World Tour and I unfortunately am reporting a close but devastating loss to Latvia in the first round.  Devastating in the fact that it is a team we should have beaten and I am so frustrated with the result.

The team consisted of one of the Olympic Latvian athletes and his new partner "Krelis" a nick name in Latvian for lefty who I have played against for a few years and never lost to.  Together they were very beatable team and one I was pleased to be playing in the first round.  Should we have played an aggressive and error limited game like I have been aspiring to play, we would have won handily.  However, I didn't show up to play world class ball and physically it didn't come together.  

I could use plenty of excuses but a loss is a loss and I definitely let myself and Ahren down.  We had a chance to close out the first set at 20-19 and I rolled line on a defensive transition (classic tentative move) and the second we were leading handily until they scrapped back to 18-17 and won 23-21. A game I would rather forget but in forgetting I won't learn the lessons I need to take away from this event.  Ahren nailed it in our post game chat that "we were playing not to lose".  

I have been attempting to go deeper into the mental side of the game and have been listening to some sports psychology stuff on commitment and stepping up but upon the first attempt to put it into practice, it didn't kick in.  I also hurt my foot last week and tried not to think anything of it.  Unfortunately, it did affect me and is still affecting me to this date.  After our close game in the Gstaad Grand Slam qualification where I hurt it, we had a small hit before leaving Switzerland and didn't have competitive training until the day before our competition in Russia.  This really didn't allow us to come together post loss and work on solidifying our connection on sideout and confidence as a team.  Our plan of giving my foot some time backfired and unfortunately due to an unfortunate error by a Russian coach, our training court the day before our game was switched and we had to train with 4 teams on a court which really wasn't what we needed.  It was out of our control but stepping up to play on game day was fully in our control and it didn't happen.

By divine design, I grabbed a book called "Failing Forward" by John C. Maxwell as I left my house for this trip and it is coming in quite handing during this testing period. A great friend and past coach Paul Mend dropped me a line saying he is eagerly waiting for our breakthrough game and my patience and commitment is certainly being tested as we strive to gel as a team mid season and compete for a big win! Thanks Paul for your kind words and it couldn't fit better with "Failing Forward" which affirms failure and more importantly learning from the experience as a crucial part of life's journey to personal success. Here are a few of my favorites; I hope they stoke your inner flame or just give you the boost you need to overcome a challenge you are currently dealing with!  

"To achieve your dreams, you must embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you are not failing, you're probably not really moving forward."

"Achievers are able to keep moving forward no matter what happens.  And that's made possible because they remember that failure does not make them failures. No one should take mistakes personally.  That's the key to bouncing back."

Off to Marseille for the mistral winds and arid climate of southern France!



Friday, July 10, 2009

Gstaad Grand Slam competition

We are in Switzerland competing in the first FIVB Grand Slam of the year.  An absolutely fantastic place as the tournament is held in the small town of Gstaad beneath 4 large ski peaks in the pristine and traditional Swiss Alps!  It is most certainly a strange place for a beach volleyball event but Gstaad is a playground for the rich and actually hosts an ATP tennis tournament once the beach volleyball fans have cleared out.

Our qualification draw was a tough one so we went to bed Tuesday night focused on playing an error free game the following day.  I had recently had a few great conversations with older athletes and finished reading a wonderful book called "The laws of the spirit" by Dan Millman, so I was coming off an emotional high with confidence and positive energy aplenty! I had made some changes to my game after Worlds and was determined to come into this Grand Slam with my new found attention to skill execution and being aggressive and confident through thick and thin.  This seemed like a superb idea at the time, but as I would find out during my match, heavy aggression really didn't help keep me focused!!

We had a fabulous warm up as the sun broke through the stormy high altitude clouds.  We felt fresh and moved freely the clean and fluffy sand the Swiss us for their courts. We had never matched against our Czech opponents together, but as of late, they had been doing some serious damage on the European tour.  After a few hits and warm up serves, a whistle announced the start of our first of a possible two qualification matches.  Ahren and I prepared at the base line for a battle and quietly met our opponents at the net to shake hands.  I was nervous as single elimination brackets tend to make exciting fights to the death (or at least for free lodging!).  We started out with a few clean sideouts but shortly thereafter the first set drifted from our control as my excitement and keenness to plough balls 6 feet into the ground forced me to make unforced errors.  My heart was racing, I was short of breath and after the final point of the first set I realized I was trying too hard! I was forcing plays and celebrations while all I needed to do was let my athleticism flow uninhibited by emotions and expectations. 

With this new mindset on refocusing on deep breathing before and after every point, my attacking quickly became more effective and we soon found ourselves in the driver seat of a great second set.  With a switch at 21-21, we sided out and then applied a sneak play consisting of showing cross court to the aggressive hitter and then having me take it away by blocking sharp cross at the last second.  This play set up perfectly and a well orchestrated defensive strategy found me on the delivering end of a massive stuff block to end the second set! 

The third set started with an interesting play as there was contact between myself and the attacker when I landed from my block.  I landed on his foot and made an attempt to set the great dig Ahren made, but my ankle compressed on my opponents and I dropped to the sand in pain.  I lay there for a few seconds to assess the damage and luckily for me it wasn't a game ender. Luck would also have it that the referee thought it was the attackers fault so we received the first point due to interfering contact under the net.  Well the other team wasn't pleased in the least and filed a protest forcing a game stoppage.  After much debating with the head referee, we won the point and the game continued in our favor.  

The third set was a battle and one that saw us drawn at 14-14 after a splendid defensive play on our part.  We then went down 14-15 and faced a match point sideout play.  Our opponents had been aggressively serving our middle the whole match and the final point was no exception.  They sent a heavy spin serve perfectly between Ahren and I and with neither of us going for it, it landed on the outside of the line to end our match 14-16 to the bad guys.

What another tough loss to suffer, especially when facing single elimination.  We have since recovered mentally and have put more focus on making even less unforced errors but we are competing with excellent teams and just losing in the end.  The team we lost to wound up qualifying and are sitting with 1 win and 1 loss in their difficult pool.  

We are right there and our team's breakthrough is just around the corner!! 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pulpit Stone Hike

It is important to keep focused on our ultimate sporting goal, but it is also crucial to stay light hearted and burden free as we compete each week. Here is an example of one of the ways we like to have fun and balance the yin and yang of our sporting travels!!


This past Saturday we committed to taking a break from Volley and we hiked a famous Norwegian Fjord with the most amazing view.  The ultimate goal of the hike is Pulpit stone which consists of a flat rock on the edge of a 604 meter vertical drop. That is right, a 1800 foot drop from the edge of a completely natural and pristine mountain! 


What a beautiful hike it was and full of lovely treats along the way! Ahren and I, along with an Australian ladies team and a Norwegian friend spent 4 hours indulging in Norway's abundance of natural landscapes.


We took a ferry across a body of water to a city called Tau.  From there hired a taxi to the bottom of the hike and began our ascent.  With a fit crew of 5, we set a quick pace with the odd competitive sprint along fun rock sections.  We looked at the climb like a bit of a fitness session so Becchara and I had a few competitions along the way! About 3/4 of the way up we came across a set of beautiful lakes which we eagerly jumped into! The water was a perfectly refreshing temperature and we spent ten minutes floating, splashing and snapping underwater pics.  Lazing on the rocks, we dined on some of Hilda's (our Norwegian friend) award winning banana bread and a few chocolates before crushing the summit with a final push. 


The last section of the trail propped us right under the pulpit stone with a near 600 meter unassuming vertical drop to our left!! It was such a shock to be so vulnerable on the side of a mountain that it took a few minutes before I was able to tickle the edge of the cliff! Once on top of the flat stone called Pulpit Rock, it was breathtaking.  Every minute brought new challenges as we pushed our personal limits; aspiring to hang our feet over the edge.  


Trusting those around us, we warmed to the reality of being feet from a lethal free fall and finally put our toes as far as humanly possible over the ledge.  We shared some nervous laughs and a few jokes but calmness didn't settle back in until we began the descent.  


It was one of the more surreal views I have ever seen as we came as close to a sky diving view as possible without dropping at terminal velocity. A worthy day out of the sand for sure as the light climb challenged us outside of sport, developed c with other athletes and brought attention to the bigger picture which is so easy to forget as we are consumed by refined goals and a focused lifestyle.


A wonderful breath of fresh air indeed. My step is that much lighter now and I challenge you to take time out of your busy schedule to conquer a mountain, a walk or a series of breaths in nature to ground you and allow you to take a step back and see the bigger picture.


All the best from Gstaad, Switzerland.




Monday, July 6, 2009

Competing at Worlds

A late drop in here on my blogg after taking a few days of beach volleyball to freshen the mind and rebuild confidence.  Since my last entry about our first game in the 2009 World Championships, we played two more games and unfortunately didn't make it out of pool play.

Our two last pool games were played against the second and third ranked teams in our pool.  The second ranked team was from Germany and players we have both had experience playing. In my opinion they were the best team in our pool and I knew we were going to have to battle hard to come out on top.  The first set didn't go our way as nerves and consequently a few errors allowed them to take the upper hand.  We refocused and came out fired up for the second set and beat them handily through precise defensive plays and a more consistent sideout rhythm.  The third set was truly a tight exchange of points which lasted until the early teens where they made a great play on us and then aced me down my line with a heavy top spin serve for the 15-12 win.  It was a super close game and in all honesty we felt we were in control of the last two sets of the match.  Amazing how a single swing of two points late in the game can really change the outcome!! A devastating loss which put even more pressure on our performance for the deciding match of our pool.  

The third game was against a Latvian team who are starting 2009 together after one of them split with his 2008 Olympic partner.  We are good friends since they have developed over the same timeframe as I have and I was happy with this ultimate match up.  As the whistle for the game blew, I felt very prepared and all my engines were firing.  My new partner Ahren Cadieux is a more introverted player who plays with a poker face so my energy levels were making up for his on court calmness.  Each set was a serious battle and after winning the first set, we eased up a bit in the second to let Latvia back in.  Victory was imminent and as the third set developed, we knew we had to bring our partnership tighter and squeeze out some big plays.  Unfortunately we were unable to clinch the victory as the final play saw the ball go over the net 8 times before they capitalized on a let spike which landed far in front of me cross court.  It was a heavy loss once again and one which sealed our fate as the last placed team in our pool through a third and final 15-12 loss! That is correct, we lost all three of our games in very tight matches ending in the same points.

With time to think about our losses and attempt at solving some of our problems, we realized we give away a few points in the middle of one of the sets.  This small gift of points allows our opponents to gain some momentum and even a lead.  We are now aware of this easing on the gas pedal mid set and are determined to not give any points away for free.  Aside from that small detail we are getting some great chances on transition which has given us some crucial point conversions to this date.  

With lessons learned and wounds licked we have moved to Switzerland for the Gstaad FIVB Grand Slam.  We are in the qualification tournament which is a single elimination bracket so the pressure is on us to win our matches and push on to the main draw event.  It is beautiful weather here and our training session today saw us more composed and stronger than ever.  

Wish us the best!!