If you read that quote above and thought to yourself, "No I'm not, I am my own self, unique in every way." I would have to agree with you. You are unique in every way. That's the beauty of being human is that even identical twins are not identical. I would also have to say that the quote is TRUE in some ways. Wait, before you get angry at me and stop reading, hear me out. Think about those that don't know you, those who see you in school, at work, on a volleyball court, etc. Those people that assume you are like all of the people you surround yourself with before they ever get to know you. Think about that one friend that you have that when you met them, you thought was a completely different person because of the circumstances in which you met them. Then ask yourself these questions. Who would people think I am based on the people I surround myself with? Who do I want people to think I am? What values are important to me in my image? Are the people I choose to be around the people that portray the image I am trying to put forward of myself?
It's interesting. As a kid, you always hear your parents giving you advice about your friends, who to hang out with, and who you might want to stay away from. Some parents refuse to let their kids hang out with certain people or, from a young age, are really the driving force in putting their kids in situations where they are surrounded by good people. Some people put their kids in sports in hopes of having them be surrounded by people with athletic goals. Some people take their kids to church in hopes of having some of the morals and values churches teach, be instilled in their children. There are boy scout/girl scout camps, music or theater camps, play groups, and camps for pretty much everything you can think of. Conscious parents take the opportunity early on in their children's lives to help foster positive relationships with the people that will truly help mold the lives of their children.
I'm pretty positive that my parent's put me into anything and everything that they could think of, and afford, to help me to form that picture early on of what people were supposed to be like and what they hoped that I would turn out like. As a kid, I was not the most popular. I was way too skinny. I was not strong like other kids my age. I got picked first to be on a lot of teams at recess because I was a good athlete, but I got bullied a lot too. I was the kid that got invited to birthday parties because the moms of the kids were kind and wanted to include me, not because their kids did. I never really fit in with other kids. When It was just me and a kid from school hanging out, it was fine, but as soon as a third "friend" would join in, I was always the one being left out.
When I graduated high school, I hit a few bumps, ran with the wrong crowd for a couple of years, I felt like even if those people were going the wrong direction, at least they were genuinely including me in the direction they were going. As a teacher, I see a lot of kids with crowds they shouldn't probably be a part of because of the sense of acceptance those crowds bring. Everything in my being told me that some of the choices I was making and some of the ways I was acting were wrong, but I wanted so badly to be included that I just didn't care at that point.
Ultimately I got back on track and started to surround myself with good people again. Volleyball did that for me! In my 20's people had grown up a bit and because I was a pretty good volleyball player, people wanted me to be on their teams. I was getting invited to play in leagues with people, tournaments with people, and was getting invited to social events too! I was so lucky to have found a good crowd of volleyball people to surround myself with. Glenn, Jaime, Gwen, Brooke, Shirl, Tanner, Luke, Andrea, Bob, Alana, , David, Whitney, my brother, my sister... All of these people made me feel like I had found a group that just accepted me for the goofy and often awkward person that I am.
In my adult life, I have realized more and more just how important the people you surround yourself with truly are. We have all heard the saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." While I am not so sure that I agree with that statement 100%, I definitely see the importance of the people I surround myself with. I mean heck, there is a whole social media platform called LinkedIn our there just for that. In adult life, we call part of that piece "networking". Your network of people can help you find opportunities that you might otherwise never have. It isn't JUST the networking piece that is important though. We ALL have a few friends who have all the connections, but we would never call them because we would "owe" them something if we did. In my adult life I have tried less and less to surround myself with all of the people who have all of the connections, and replace them with the people that have all of the character. While replacing people in your life can be hard, and there can be a lot of hard feelings, we only get to live this life one time and we have to surround ourselves with the people who are going to help us to live it in the manner that we want to.
While there have been an incredible amount of those positive connections in my life, and I have had the opportunity to surround myself with some great people, this is a volleyball blog and so I will keep it volleyball related. Three of the most influential people on my volleyball world have been Shane Miller, Ryan Mariano, and Sarah Sponcil. Each one of them I consider to be some of my closest friends and each one of them has influenced me for very different reasons.
"You become like the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely" ~Unknown
Shane Miller was my partner for the better part of a decade. He is the reason I ever even had a chance to play volleyball at a high level. He was willing to wake up at 4:00 in the morning, get in the car, and drive to wherever we were going to go to play in a tournament that weekend. He pushed me to be a better player when we were sworn enemies, and then pushed me as a teammate for a lot of years. Shane and I started out as competitors in a small town playing soccer against each other as two of the better athletes in the city. As rivalries often go, there was no love lost between us on the soccer field, nor in the parking lot after games where it nearly came to blows on one occasion. When we finally decided to join forces on the volleyball court it made for a lifetime of friendship and a whole lot of respect. One of the things I loved most about playing with Shane is his demeanor. He is confident yet not cocky. He is funny and kind and even when I KNEW i had blown a match for us, I could always count on him to make me remember that we were in it as a team and, win or lose, we did it as a team. I think partnering with him helped me to form my view for what a partnership should be like. He always pushed me on the court to be better for him as a result of the respect he showed for me as a teammate.
Ryan Mariano has been my partner and biggest supporter in my coaching career. While I was a coach before I met him, he helped push me to become the coach I am today. Not only did he take me under his wing and teach me every day for the last 10 years, but he also made me get outside my comfort zone and pushed me into situations he knew I could be successful in if I tried, and helped me to grow as a coach. The first days that I worked with Ryan were incredibly intimidating. He was this absolute wealth of knowledge of what it took to play the sport at the highest level, and he would say things that would make my head spin trying to process. As he gained confidence in me, it helped me to find the confidence in myself. He has given me platform after platform after platform to get the opportunity to be great and I can't even thank him enough not just for all of the opportunities he created for me, but also for believing in me even before I believed in myself. The thing I like about Ryan the most is his huge heart. When Ryan sees a really good kid in need, he absolutely JUMPS at the opportunity to help. He doesn't want the spotlight for it either. He has done literally thousands of things behind the scenes for kids that he has never told anyone about, nor has he ever wanted anything in return for except a smile. One of my favorite quotes is one that I have on my Instagram page. It says, "The only way to live forever is through the legacy you leave behind." When RPM Sand is all said and done, Ryan's legacy of genuine kindness will live on through the lives he has touched FOREVER. I know, because my life is one of those lives!
Sarah Sponcil. I got a call from Sarah just last week telling me that she wanted to give back to the volleyball community of Arizona. She had chosen some names of some kids and wanted to know if I would help her surprise them with some of her autographed gear. Of course I said yes. As she and I drove around the greater Phoenix area yesterday and I watched kids faces light up as they came to the door to see her, I was very impressed by her. After each house she was excited to talk about how nice the families were and how sweet the kids were. Here was a 23 year old woman that plays professional beach volleyball. A young woman whose focus is to go to the next Olympics. A young woman who, without any prompting, just wanted to make some kids day a little bit better. I was so impressed by her genuine kindness. We have all seen the incredible athlete that walks past you and when you try to stop them just to say hi or to take a picture, they blow you off. I have heard thousands of arguments for why they do that. I once saw Heisman Trophy Winner, Matt Lineart, blow off a ten year old kid in a gas station in Flagstaff who was wearing his jersey and was SO excited to see him. Sarah was the complete opposite of that.
When I sit down and think about the stages of my life and the people I surrounded myself with in different stages, it is interesting. While I needed the acceptance that others wouldn't give me, people were there. While they weren't the best influences on me, they WERE important in my process of growth. As I broke away from them and started on a different path, I realized the bad influence they had been on me and I realized how people must have looked at me while I was with them. I realized that they were taking me down a road that I didn't want to be on. Was I proud to be a part of that group? Absolutely not! Were they an important piece of my life? Most definitely! Acceptance is an important part of our journey as human beings whether we like it or not. I am now just much more aware of who I want to be, how I want to live, and the way I want to be perceived. I am lucky to have the influences I have in life. I would never be where I am today, i would never be WHO i am today without them.
So while you sit and think about your friends, while you think about the people that you surround yourself with, think about not just who you are, but who you want to be. Think about where you want to go and what you want your life to mean when all is said and done. I think it is important to recognize the influence and impact that the people around us have on our lives. It is important for those people to know that they have impacted you. For all of my players, past and present. For all of the coaches I work with and the friends that I keep. Thank you for being a part of my journey! Thank you for the support! Thank you for pushing me to be better and then celebrating with me when I was. I hope I have done some of those same things for you along the way. If I haven't, i apologize. I will try hard to do better!