Monday, July 14, 2014

The Real Team USA

You might think that playing on the National Team would be a pretty awesome job.  And you would be correct.  We get to put on the red, white and blue and play in front of thousands of fans, to take pictures and sign things for the very people that we’re working to represent and to do what we love with people that we love.  How cool is that?

But the coolest parts of our job are often the ones that you don’t even think about going in.  While we were in Hawaii they took us to the USS Paul Hamilton, an active Navy ship docked in Pearl Harbor awaiting deployment in a few weeks. 

We got to go to the bridge with the captain and hang out with some of the crew.  And the more I listened to them talk the more I realized that the core of what they do and what we do is fairly similar.  Don’t get me wrong, what they do is way more important and impressive and dangerous and everything else.  But the crew of a ship is really a team that is operating in a high pressure situation.  Every member has a role and needs to perform in order for it to work.  They have to rely on each other, to learn quickly and to work efficiently as a unit  They train hard so that when they get to the real thing all they have to do is what they do every day.  And they do that really well, which makes them the best in the world.  It’s a pretty great example for us in what we’re trying to accomplish.
They were pretty excited to see us but I’m going to say we were the ones who got the most out of the visit.  As we walked up to the ship I saw a group of crewmembers on the deck.  I assumed they were working until they saw us coming and started chanting


I’ve heard that chant quite a few times in my life by now.  And it really never gets old.  But hearing it come from military men and women on the deck of a Naval ship is probably going down as the greatest…getting cheered on by the real Team USA.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

More than Medals

We played Costa Rica in our last match of pool play in the PanAmerican Cup. We were the top team in the pool.  They were the bottom. We hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament. They had yet to win one. We killed them. And they…

...thanked us.

In the press conference after the match their coach thanked us for playing with intensity. He said that’s something they always appreciate about playing USA—we go hard, regardless of the opponent. Their captain smiled despite the loss. Because her team was given the same respect as any of our other opponents.

We’re currently the 2nd ranked team in the entire world. We frequently get medals. We win the majority of the matches that we play. And I’ll be honest with you—that’s really awesome. But what’s even more awesome is that I can tell you that I, as an American, am proud to have this group wearing the red, white and blue. I’m proud of the foundation we’re building and what this team stands for and the way it comes out in how we play: with respect, with passion, with discipline, with resilience and with love. And I can’t think of a better way to represent our country and all it's people, than that…

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Smartest in the Room

The girls at the table next to me are cramming for a final right now. I mean, I'm not trying to eavesdrop, they're just pretty loud. They’re going over their notes, asking each other questions, etc. But one of them is also clearly, in my opinion, using this as an opportunity to demonstrate her superior knowledge.  Even when she’s asking a question, the phrasing she’s selecting is designed to show that she knows her stuff. It’s like she’s less interested in the answer and more interested in tossing out big words and technical terms, not because of what they mean but because of how she feels it makes her sound. She, like many of us, wants to be the smartest in the room.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned though: you’re never the smartest in the room. That’s not a real thing. Everyone knows more than you about something. Maybe it’s music or dog breeds or fashion or landfills or astrophysics…but it’s something. And how cool is that? Isn’t it amazing that everyone around us has the capacity to teach us something? That there’s an infinite amount to learn?

And maybe this girl is brilliant. Maybe she’s going to go ace this final. But I wonder if she’ll get to a question that her friend could’ve provided insight for, had she been listening for the answer. And I wonder, as she goes through life, how many opportunities to learn she’ll miss out on. Must be a bummer, being the smartest in the room…

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Morality, Minority and Why X-Men Rules

X-Men: Days of Future Past is coming out this month and it looks pretty awesome. How could it not be? It has superheroes and they're bringing back both Patrick Stewart AND Ian McKellan. But instead of delving into that amazing bromance, right now I want to talk about the other reason why I think X-Men rules.

X-Men is and always has been a story about the perils of minority—about the fear and distrust with which we face those who are different from ourselves and most importantly the terrible consequences of that approach.  The common thread woven throughout each chapter of this story is the fragile relationship between the mutants and humanity and the often catastrophic events that occur when one or the other steps off the road of tolerance. 

But here’s the part that we all need to realize--the X-Men movies (and comics) give us villains in the form of both mutants and humans. They are villains not because of their genetic code but because of their approach towards others. And Professor X is our hero because he gives mutants a place where they feel accepted and safe all while serving as a protector of humanity. This easily could have turned into a story of mutants vs humans. Or it could have been a story of good mutants vs bad mutants and ignored humans altogether. But it’s neither of those things and therein lies the genius of Stan Lee and the real lesson of the X-Men universe:

Your morality has nothing to do with WHAT you are. It’s about WHO you are and how you treat the people around you, regardless of what they are.

Your place in the battle of good vs evil isn’t determined by your sexuality, skin color, gender or any other part of your being any more then it is determined by the mutant gene.  It is determined by the choices that you make—to approach others with love not hate, understanding not fear and tolerance not judgment.

So channel your inner X-Man. You might not have the cool powers but that’s alright. The powers aren’t what make them heroes anyway…   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Unanswered Questions

I recently returned to America after my third season overseas and most people I see naturally want to know what it's like to live in Azerbaijan. There's a lot I can tell them about the city of Baku, the level of volleyball or the food. But sometimes it's hard to describe to people what it's like to actually go live and play in a foreign country as opposed to just traveling and seeing the sights. So I thought about how I could sum up that part of the experience and I realized that-- thanks to language barriers, cultural differences and a whole host of variation in perspectives-- life overseas is mostly just a series of unanswered questions.

I thought I'd share some of my questions with you that constantly go unanswered. And if you have the answers to any, by all means, let me know...

Common questions from a confused American

Is this taxi going to take me where I want to go?

When are you allowed to park on the sidewalk and how do they know?

In countries where they drive on the left side of the road, if I'm crossing the street do I walk to the left or the right? (because honestly the locals aren't making it clear)

Why is smoking still a thing?
Why aren't dryers a thing?
Follow-up: Did you know if you didn't buy cigarettes you could save all that money and buy a dryer with it?

Pizza Hat? Is this a rip-off of Pizza Hut? Do they think people will confuse it for the real one? DO people confuse it for the real one? Or are they trying to be a totally different company? And if so, can someone explain to me the connection between pizza and hats?

Finally, the two most common questions overseas:
1) What is happening right now?
2) Why? Just...why?
I ask myself both of these questions multiple times daily, which I concede is pointless because they consistently go unanswered...

Pretty much, what I'm telling you is that life overseas means reconciling yourself with the fact that you will never really know what is going on. And that's ok. Sometimes in life you just have to sit back and let that taxi take you wherever it's going to go (because the driver isn't going to understand you when you correct him anyway).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The speech I would've given

Here's something pretty much nobody knows: my senior year at Stanford I was a finalist to give the speech at Baccalaureate during graduation. I wasn't selected so no one except the committee ever heard the speech. But guess what I just found in my documents folder?

So, here it is-- the speech I would have given: "What I Believe"

Friday, March 14, 2014

Want my jersey?

Ok so I'll explain the reasons for all of this in a minute but for those of you who aren't into reading, here's the deal (international friends you can participate too!):

You go to this Indiegogo link and contribute to the project there and send me a picture of the completed donation via twitter/facebook or in the comments here:

If your team can pool together $100 for a donation (that's probably $10 or less per person!) then I'll personally hold a Skype/Google hangout session with you and your team and answer whatever questions you might have. Or if you're in the Los Angeles or San Diego area, I'll personally come by your team's practice.

For every $5 you donate, I enter your name into a lottery to win a USA jersey worn in the 2013 NORCECA Championship where we won a gold medal, signed by me and most likely some Olympians. (so to clarify if you donate $20 your name gets entered 4 times)

Also, for all who donate, I will follow you on twitter for at least a week. Who knows, maybe your tweets are awesome and I'll stay!

If that's all the incentive you need then go donate!  Deadline is April 25th. If you'd like to know what this campaign is about, keep reading...

There's an event held in San Diego on the weekend of Comic Con called Nerd HQ and it's pretty amazing.  Partly because it gives fans an incredible experience and allows celebrities to interact with their fans in meaningful ways, partly because the company that puts it on- the Nerd Machine- is pretty much all about owning who you are and mostly because they raise a ton of money for charity which will literally save lives.  And there's no catch, every single thing about this event makes the world a better and happier place.  But it is a massive undertaking and unfortunately that requires quite a lot of money.

You can watch this video with Zac Levi, actor and founder of the Nerd Machine, to learn more about Nerd HQ and his campaign: And check out the Nerd Machine's YouTube channel to see panels from past years (which all raised money for charity).

Here's the bottom line: I want this event to be a thing that exists and you should too. Even if it does not benefit you directly. These are genuinely good people who just want to do something good in the world. And man, couldn't we use some more of that?

So please go click that link above and help them out. And if you're a kid and you don't have money, show this to your parents and tell them you want to help make a difference in the world. And then tell them thank you for me.

If you're still not convinced that it's worth one less trip to Starbucks in order to be my twitter friend and also help people, here's a video of Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki from the Avengers, impersonating a velociraptor at last year's Nerd HQ:

Thank you all!