Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Machine Team

Stanford Volleyball will be playing in our 20th Final Four this week. That’s a lot of years of great players coming through this program and you’ll hear all about some of them if you turn on ESPN Thursday night. You’ll hear about the four freshmen we put out in our starting lineup who all carry significant loads for us. You’ll hear about our 6’8 opposite who is the bane of every opposing outside hitter’s existence. You’ll definitely hear about our redshirt senior, Inky Ajanaku, who’s led this young team here. But I don’t want to tell you about them right now. I want to tell you about the Machine Team.

That’s the name we’ve given our “B team”—the players who play on the other side of the net in practice and who stand on the sideline in games. They’re the ones who our starters have to go up against every day and if they ever let up we stop getting better. They have to be a machine. I’ve always felt like you get the true measure of a person when you watch how they act when they step onto the other side of the court. “Strong leaders” can get quiet; “hard workers” can stop going for balls. But the reality is, if you can only be a good teammate on one side of the net then you aren’t actually a good teammate.

These kids we have are the BEST teammates. They come into practice every single day ready to get better. They’re mindful of what they’re working on and what they’re teammates are working on. They bring a genuine joy and excitement for learning and competing. They bring their A-game every time we play six-on-six and it forces our starters to do the same. We’ve improved dramatically over the course of this season and it has as much to do with them as anyone. The moment those players on the B-side lose motivation is the moment a team’s progress starts to stall. Practices start to drag and the joy goes out of the process. But they never lost the motivation and we never lost the joy.

Then, of course, there are the matches. The Machine Team is always ready for game day. They have chants and dances for every person and situation and they are 100% in it from the first whistle. In our regional final last weekend there were 6000 Wisconsin fans yelling for their team and I could still hear our bench cheering on their teammates.

There will be little kids all over the country watching this weekend, dreaming about their own future. They’ll want to grow up and hit like Inky or fly around the court like Morgan. And I hope they do. But I hope they also see the eight kids on our bench at any given time that are throwing a dance party on the sideline and I hope they want to be like them too—good teammates above all else. They don’t give out trophies for that, but if they did, I’d give every last one to the Machine Team.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who Do You Want To Be?

This is an article originally written for USA Volleyball in 2013. I wrote it after watching kids across the country and the world and how they often treated each other. I wanted to address bullying not just in how it affects the victims but to describe the actual choice bullies are making about themselves. You can find the original article here: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Volleyball/Features/2013/December/02/Dont-Bully-the-Passion-out-of-Greatness

Who do you want to be? 

No, really.  Stop.   Actually think about what kind of person you want to be.  What do you want to bring to the world?  What kind of impression do you want to leave on the people you’ve touched in your life? 

Maybe those feel like really deep questions but you’re answering them every day with everything you do and every interaction you have.  So it might be a good idea to think about what your answers are.  Because you can tell yourself you want to be the kind of person that makes the world better but that means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t come out in how you treat the people around you.

            When I say the people around you, I mean all of them.  It’s easy to be nice to people you like or those with authority over you or someone who’s higher up in the “social hierarchy”.  But you know what?  How you treat other people has nothing to do with who they are; it’s about who you are.  So when you laugh at the unpopular girl at school or ignore the awkward kid on your team, it says nothing about them and everything about you.  And it does not make you better than anyone else.  Bullying never makes you cool; it just makes you a jerk.

            Do you have any idea the power that you have?  Every day when you get up in the morning, you have the ability to make other people’s lives better.  With one word, one smile, you can brighten someone’s day and make the world a happier place.  But every time you make someone feel bad about themselves, every time you judge someone for being different from you, every time you make someone feel like they are alone in this world all you do is make the world a little bit darker.  So what do you want to do?  Do you want to go to bed at night knowing that you’re responsible for a little more love and light in the world or for a little more pain?  That’s the choice that you have every day and you will be remembered for that choice.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


There are a lot of people right now with a need to be heard. And I'm sure every one of them has a compelling reason for raising their voice. But when the noise is this great, nobody gets heard. Anybody can scream into the void; it takes real strength to sit quietly and listen even, and especially, when you don't agree. Let's practice that.

(Original Text)
What if you took today
And just listened?
         Listened to the anger and felt all the pain beneath it.
         Listened to the foolish and found something they could teach us.
         Listened to the wise ones and reflected but kept silent.
         Listened to the “other” and responded free from violence.
         Listened to your self and then searched your own views for flaws.
         Listened to those hurting and joined in to help a cause.
         Listened to the Earth and heard the wind skip through the trees.
         Listened to the rhythm that surrounds both you and me.
         Listened to the child who has not yet become hateful.
         Listened to your own breath and above all else were grateful.
What if you took today
And just listened?
How would what you heard
Change your tomorrow?

Friday, July 1, 2016


I’m not going to the Olympics.

This is the reality of our sport and the story you don’t see on TV—we have 25 players on our Women’s National Team and we can only send 12. We’ve all trained, all made sacrifices, all worked for years together knowing the whole time that there’s a chance we won’t see our names on that final roster. But knowing what we’re getting into doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I think it probably always will.

In the week or so after I learned I wouldn’t be in Rio I was sad and I cried but more than anything else I felt lost. Adrift. Like I had been on a four-year long voyage and we were finally nearing our destination when someone told me—actually, you don’t need to go the rest of the way. After four years of focusing solely on navigating this path, it was just over. I had put my heart into this and I just didn’t know how to take it back out.

But at some point, as the days have gone by, I realized that I’m still me. Being an Olympian would’ve changed my life but it never had the power to change that. Who I am has already been defined, not by the rosters I’ve made or the medals hanging in my room, but by the way I tried to approach every day—ready to work, to learn, and to serve my team in any way I could.

I gave everything—everything—I had, in the pursuit of this dream.  And I say that not with bitterness but with conviction and with pride. I don’t regret one moment of it and I will not hang my head. Because dreaming big dreams, going all in and then falling just short doesn’t make you a failure. The failure lies in holding back and staying small.

So half of my teammates and I will watch from afar as our Olympic team goes after a medal in Rio. And I absolutely hope that they get it. This is my family. They represent everything that we’ve built and struggled for over the last four years. I love them, I wish them all the success and I will forever be grateful to be a part of Team USA.

And as for me—this isn’t where my story ends. This was just one chapter. One surreal, challenging, fantastic chapter. Now it’s time to write the next one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Human Beings

Two sisters from Tanzania visited our gym last week to watch practice and share their stories. Bibiana and Tindi Mashamba are albino. In Tanzania and some other African countries there are people who believe that the body parts of albinos possess magical powers. Six years ago, just days after they had buried their father, some of those people broke into the home where Bibiana and Tindi slept. They cut off one of Bibiana’s legs and two of her fingers. She was eleven years old. Tindi, a year younger, saw the whole thing and was only spared the same fate when the attackers ran before the neighbors could respond to the noise.

Thanks to the African Millennium Foundation, the Mashamba sisters have been relocated to Los Angeles where they can study and Bibiana can get medical treatment. They hope to get an education and share their story to bring awareness to the problems that albinos face in their country. When she talked to us, Bibiana said multiple times, “We are human beings. We are no different than you.” Because when it comes down to it, that's the only reason they were attacked: they look different.

Now, we can all agree that these were inexcusable and heinous acts that were committed. But, don’t we all violate these same principles all the time? How often do we attack someone, even in minor ways, just because they are different? We see their skin or their name or what god they pray to and immediately cast them as the “other”. We draw imaginary lines and call them borders and act as if the people inside them matter more than the ones on the outside. As if being born in a different place, with a different pigment, with a different culture automatically puts us at odds.

I don’t understand how you can ever look at another person and see anything less than yourself—anything other than someone with struggles and dreams, trying to make a path in this world. We don’t need to make it harder for each other. We are all human beings-- you, me and two albino sisters from Tanzania with huge smiles on their faces, watching volleyball for the first time. 

For more information you can check out the LA Times article on the Mashambas' story here and the African Millennium Foundation here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Man in Azerbaijan

There’s a man in Azerbaijan whose job it is to stand out on the sidewalk in a busy intersection and direct cars that are trying to park. When I played in Baku I saw him every day as we stopped by in the van to pick up my teammates on the way to practice. I don’t know his name or his story. I don’t even know if he ever saw me, sitting in the second seat and looking out the window, headphones in my ears. But I know that every single day that we pulled up to the sidewalk—in the rain, in the biting cold, on the one day that it snowed—there was a man there with a smile on his face and a cheerful greeting for our driver.

And I know that there’s a middle-aged woman working as a cashier at a grocery store in Poland with light purple streaks in her blond hair who will help you count out your change. I know there’s a waitress in a little town in the mountains of Switzerland who might be persuaded to give you the leftover desserts if you hint at it every once in a while. I know there’s a Turkish man in the French Riviera who makes a kebab that tastes like it’s straight from Istanbul. I know there’s a man who makes noodles at a hotel in China who will make them with just a hint of spice for those who can’t handle the full ladle of red pepper sauce that the native population uses.

I think about those people sometimes. I wonder if they’re still there and if they ever noticed that I’m not. Did they realize at some point that the American girl who used to come by stopped coming? Probably not. We weren’t friends. We didn’t speak the same languages. I couldn’t ask them about their lives or their families. But each of them still made a positive impact on my life, fleeting as our interactions may have been.

The thing is, we’re all constantly passing through somebody’s life. Those people make me think about the impact I have on each person I see…and on the ones I don’t. It’s admirable to be good to your friends and your family and even your coworkers. But I think an even greater goal is to live your life in such a way that any person passing through it, however peripherally, is impacted for the better. And maybe all that means sometimes is doing your job with a smile on your face, even on a rainy day.