Recently, I was playing volleyball with Dylan Hamilton down at the pier. A friend came up and told us that pound for pound we were probably one of the best teams in the world. He meant it as a compliment, but I did not see it that way. Height is a sensitive topic for me.
Being a small volleyball player sucks.
Or does it?
This is a question I have puzzled at and struggled with since the start. I always thought that the better I got the less it would matter to me but that has not been the case. Now the height difference is just more noticeable. The 6’2” athletes I used to play against in highschool and college have been replaced with 6’ 8”, 6’ 10”, and even 7’ athletes.
It would be a lie to say it never gets me down. There have been many times where I have felt frustrated and discouraged by my height. As a friend once said, it is a lesson in the unfairness of life.
However in sports, the score is king. It does not matter what you look like, sound like, or play like, as long as you can reach 21 before your opponent.
“Adversity builds strength” -John Wooden
This is my favorite quote. Just ask my sister, who has to hear it any time she complains about anything. As an undersized athlete I am fortunate to face adversity on a daily basis.
Its no secret that many great things come from hard beginnings. There have been lots of books written on the subject. But it’s easy to be ungrateful for the tough experiences that create us. Such is the case with me. Sometimes I get so frustrated by what I don’t have (height), that I forget to be thankful for what I do have (speed, mental fortitude, adversity).
Being vertically challenged has forced me to look at the game from a different lense. Since I can’t be the most physical player on the court I have to find other ways to get to 21. This has taught me to work hard, stay positive, and never give up. Most importantly it has taught me the value of being mentally tough.
The world is filled with excellent volleyball players of all shapes and sizes. The trick to being an amazing short one (there are current professionals under 6’) is finding a niche that maximizes our strengths (speed, ball control, mental strength, awesomeness) and minimizes our weaknesses (Blocking, Hitting, Touching Over 10’). So let's stop focusing on our height and start focusing on the things we can control. I'll see you on the courts!
“It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play.” -John Wooden
Has it really been 3 weeks since my first blog post?! A fantastic 3 weeks: playing tourneys, building my vert and got my AAA rating (a huge accomplishment for me)!
I played the Long Beach Open with my best friend Dylan Hamilton; finished 9th place -- my highest open finish to date; and played against one of my favorite pros: Jason Lockhead!
I have a somewhat regular partner, a CBVA veteran. We have been having an awesome time: he's an experienced blocker and play lots of close games against very good teams. No major upsets yet, but we collected a 9th place finish in the Ocean Park Open with hopes of doing better as we play together more.
For years i've hounded my coach (Scottie Zucco) to improve my jump - he would convince me there were other places worthy of improvement. But before i left Maui in March, I challenged him to help me add 4 inches to my vertical and 10 mph to my swing while i was in california (he's in Maui). My first job was to hold a deep squat for 2 minutes to improve my vertical safely. Guess what I’ve been doing for 5 straight weeks?! Last week, I finally hit 2 minutes! Our training has barely begun and it's been challenging, yet I'm already moving faster and jumping higher.
And now for my most exciting bit of news...I have finally earned my AAA rating! The AAA rating is the highest you can get in the CBVA. It’s just 3 silly letters, but it is a reminder of how far I have come. My former Oahu practice partner, Abel Gustafson, and I earned our AAA rating at the Ocean Park AA in Santa Monica. It was a tough tournament full of mental challenges, the biggest of which was the heavy wind. The wind was blowing harder than anything I have ever played in. At one point Abel set me a ball that blew 5 feet out of bounds, leaving me swinging at air. Fortunately, my coach and i have been working on keeping me focused and competitive when I get frustrated and feel like giving up. It's working -- Abel and I won 28-26 in the finals with the wind at it's peak velocity.
After the tournament Abel and I sat down and reflected on how far we have come in the last two years. It is funny to think of how clueless I was two years ago. I knew I wanted to compete with the best -- but had no idea what that entailed. Today I am closer than ever, but still have a long way to go down the "path of mastery":
“I am not what I ought to be, not what I want to be, not what I am going to be, but thankful that I am not what I used to be” -- John Wooden
Who I Am
Friends and family on Maui always ask me to post updates on Facebook to let them know how I am doing while in California, but I cannot bring myself to ruin the pristine nature of my Facebook page. So here are all those updates for your reading pleasure, far away from the roving eyes of non-volleyball addicts (I assume you’re a volleyball player or fan since you’re reading this blog).
My name is Joshua Kulhavy-Sutherland and I am a 5’ 10” athlete who is trying to master the sport of beach volleyball. I believe that this road of mastery has many lessons hidden within it which help me to learn, grow, and be a better person in general. I live on Maui where I was born and raised, but currently spend a few months a year in California because that is where the best beach volleyball players reside.
Last summer was the first time I spent any significant time in California competing. And while it was an amazing experience, it left me burnt out and wanting to quit beach volleyball once and for all. I felt inadequate after 4 months of tournaments in the California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA). So I took a month long break, enjoyed Christmas with my family, and started planning out what I was going to do in my new life without beach volleyball.
But the world of beach volleyball has a way of dragging you back in and after my hiatus I was ready to get back to improving my game. However I realized I needed to make some adjustments to my mindset if I wanted to avoid the same burnout every season. Most notably I had to change the way I viewed competition. My old mindset was try to get good enough to crush everyone else around me. This encouraged me to compare my performance to others, a sure path to insanity. My new mindset revolves around trying to achieve mastery in this silly little game. To me this means constantly striving to reach my full potential.
Where I Live
For this trip I will be living in Santa Monica about two blocks north of the pier. The pier has 5 courts which constantly have people of all ages and skill levels playing on them. For a young volleyball player such as myself it feels like heaven. At almost any hour of the day I can head down there and play games to my hearts content. There’s no way of knowing what the games are going to be like or who I am going to be playing with or against. It could be the lunchtime crowd of wily old veterans, the resident open players, or even one of the legends of the game, out to play with his kid. However no matter who I am playing against, they are going to try very hard and I am going to learn something. Like I said the Santa Monica pier is heaven.
This weekend I played in 2 CBVA tournaments with a partner from last season. Overall it was a really tough weekend full of ups and downs. In the Doheny AAA on Saturday I managed to get my serve going for the first time since I’ve been back in California and had 8 aces in one game. It felt amazing being able to hit the spots I had been practicing all off season while under pressure and playing in a triple A. I also had an open player I respect come up and ask me if I would like to train with him, which was a really nice confirmation that I had improved my game in the off season.
However one of my matches in the Playa Del Rey AA on Sunday was the most frustrating game I have played in over a year. The wind really picked up and my passing went down the drain, I struggled to even hit the ball over the net, and worst of all my communication with my partner disappeared. At a time when I needed to communicate with my partner most and focus in on the game, I did the complete opposite and just zoned out. Safe to say, I was broken, and the resulting score of 21-8 showed it. This game was an excellent reminder to me that all the work I have done can disappear in an instant if I get frustrated and lose my focus.
I ended up failing to break out of pool in both the tournaments I played in and it really hit at my confidence. I put a lot of time into my volleyball game and tough losses can really hurt. Especially because they unearth a whole host of fears. Here I am in California trying to become a masterful beach volleyball player and I am failing to break pool in a double A tournament. It makes me feel like I am not as good as I need to be. It shows me that I have not completely left my old mindset behind. I am still connected to my results.
But these losses have also helped to show me my weaknesses. I learned that my shots are not as strong as I thought and that I have relied way too much on hitting the ball in the past. Against these opponents I need to increase my accuracy on everything that I put over the net. The wind also tears my game apart. I need to focus better on controlling the ball in windy games.
Needless to say I still have a lot of work to do, but it is amazing getting to compete against these excellent players and see where my game is weak and I am excited for the upcoming weeks. The road of mastery is tough but rewarding.
My name is Joshua Kulhavy-Sutherland and I am a 5’ 10” athlete who is trying to master the sport of beach volleyball. I believe that this road of mastery has many lessons hidden within it which help me to learn, grow, and be a better person in general. I live on Maui where I was born and raised, but currently spend a few months a year in California testing my skills.