When I was growing up, my whole concept of sport was to win. My family surrounded themselves in sport and instantly I became hooked on competing and winning. Not just in volleyball, in fact my favourite sports were anything but. Rugby was the leader and competing alongside 14 of my friends through school were the fondest memories I have of my teenage years.
It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I picked up a volleyball for the first time. Having a legendary Mum who competed for England helped and I instantly saw an opportunity to become a professional athlete. Opportunities came one after another and next thing I knew I was gaining my first England junior cap a year or so later. You see, the road to competing for England in a sport like volleyball is a lot shorter than other sports, however to be the best in the world is just as long. This was my goal, become one of the best players in the world and reach the ultimate goal of qualifying for and competing in the Olympic Games.
Fast forward to 10 years later and what had I achieved? Yes I had competed in multiple FIVB World Tour, European Tours, European Championships, European Games, National Tours etc etc. I had even achieved many medals and top placement finishes with my highest world ranking being in the top 30.
For some this would have been an achievement, however for me it was a failure. I hadn’t reached my ultimate goal and therefore nothing else I had achieved mattered. Following two failed qualifications for an Olympics in 2012 and 2016, my sights were firmly set on bringing home the gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Having played some of our best ball to date leading into the games we came out the blocks firing. Taking down the teams that stood in our way and finally reaching the semi-finals after beating our good friends from Scotland. I won’t go into detail with what happened next (that is a story for another time) but we finished 4th. No medal hanging round our necks, no parties, no tv interviews, nothing….just complete and utter disappointment and sadness.
Following the Commonwealth Games in 2018 I stepped away from competing and training full time and started to put my focus elsewhere. I threw myself in to developing the sport throughout the UK and found my passion again for volleyball. However I had not dealt with the feelings I still had towards what I perceived as a failure of a career.
It wasn’t until a good year or so later that I really started to reflect on not only the Commonwealth Games but also my whole career. I suddenly started to pick out all the positives, what I had achieved, what I’d learnt, who I’d met and how amazing my journey was.
We got to train and play. against the best players in the world, I travelled to over 50 countries to compete or train, I had worked with some of the best people in the business and had learnt so much that has made me the person I am today, I had won medals domestically and internationally, I met my fiancé and I did it all with my best mate. I could go on and on about the positives but ultimately they didn’t really come to me until I started to properly reflect.
So my suggestion to not only young aspiring athletes but everyone is to:
Enjoy the journey
Embrace every failure maturely
Aim high but don’t ever undervalue your achievements along the way.
Isolation has given us one thing and that is time to reflect. So do just that, write out all the things you have achieved so far in your careers (sporting or academic), not leaving anything out no matter how small. I can guarantee it will surprise you.
I now look back on my career with happiness and proud of what I did rather than disappointment. I have learnt who I am and what success actually is. Don’t get me wrong an Olympic Games or Commonwealth medal would be nice and still hurts but ultimately that doesn’t define me.
So the question now is after all of this am I fully done with volleyball and ready to move on? Well I guess we will just have to wait and see ;)
Jake Sheaf - Deep Dish Director