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KATE LANE: More Than A Game.

I had not even gotten my driver’s license when I verbally committed to play Division 1 volleyball… I was only 15 years old. Little did I know that everything I thought I wanted at 15 would change by the time I was a senior in high school. I had grown into myself as an athlete but especially as a woman—a late bloomer to say the least. These changes caused me to reflect and question what I wanted out of the next four years of my life. What else is there? Would other schools want me? Can I do better? Is it too late? I kept these questions to myself for a while but as signing day grew closer, so did my anxiety about the next stage of my life. The most terrifying part is the unknown. What if no one wants me? Is it normal to feel this way? I began to realize that all of this second-guessing was not normal. I felt like I was the only one of my friends that wasn’t excited for college. I also felt selfish because so many athletes would kill for the opportunity that was bestowed on me.

A week before my November signing-day, I sat my parents down and expressed to them that I think I made the wrong decision. Luckily, my parents supported me and helped me navigate through a very difficult decision to de-committ. That was the hardest phone call I have ever made. Signing day had come and gone and I had nothing. The search to find a school had begun. I frantically made a highlight tape and, after weeks of emails and phone calls, I was offered a walk-on spot at UCLA. Being from Los Angeles, I knew this was big-time—I had grown up around the USC-UCLA rivalry, idolizing the girls on the indoor team. When I had the opportunity to be a part of that, I couldn’t resist. There are costs and benefits to every decision you make in life – I made the decision to walk-on at a historically successful athletic school rather than embark on a full-ride scholarship at another. I now know that this would be the hardest and most rewarding decision of my life.

Though the decision to decommit was tough, the real challenge was just starting. I graduated high school as a four-year varsity player, team captain, most outstanding player in my league, and first-team All-Area. It’s easy to say I grew up as a big fish in a small pond. However, at a school like UCLA, every athlete is elite. Going from the top of the pack to the bottom is something that isn’t talked about enough- wanting to prove yourself but not overstep. I wanted to act like I belonged when I really felt like I was falling behind. I think this is something so many athletes experience, especially walk-ons or athletes at big universities around the nation.

When I first came to UCLA, I thought that my entire identity was a volleyball player. I based my self-worth on how I performed, doing things only to impress my coaches. When I did not get the playing time I wanted, I took it personally and beat myself up. When your worth is solely dependent on one thing, it leads you to have super high-highs and super low-lows. I remember leaving practice wondering things like… Why do I do this? Do I belong here? Will they ever see me? I never wanted to disappoint anyone which led me to perform at an even lower caliber. There was a point in my career when I went to practice just to get through it. To add the cherry on top, I felt isolated from my team feeling like no one really understood me (especially under COVID-19 protocols, but that is a story for another time).

After two years of struggling and questioning my abilities, I started to get it (though it is still a work in progress). With the help of our wonderful sports psychologist at UCLA, I was able to step back and gain perspective on where I was and what I truly wanted. She helped me understand that I need to prioritize myself instead of seeking the approval of coaches or teammates. Volleyball is what I do, not who I am. Soon after making these realizations, I found myself filling a role of being a good teammate, being someone people can lean on, and being a hard worker regardless of playtime or performance. Volleyball, like most sports, works like a machine with many moving parts and components… some big shiny pieces and some smaller yet still vital pieces. But, what I learned is that all of these pieces have the same importance: to keep the machine (the team) going. I decided that if my role was to sub in to freeze a server, I was going to be the absolute best one-point substitute. If my role was to cheer on my team in the Sweet 16 and tell the starters what I see from the sideline, then I was going to do just that. Because that is what it takes. Some people have big roles. Some people have small roles, but that is what makes the sport of volleyball such a beautiful thing.

Fast forward and now I am entering my senior season at UCLA as a captain. I have grown in more ways than I can express in a short essay. I know that as much as I love volleyball, it doesn’t define me. I have rediscovered the joy of volleyball: the comradery of teammates, having breakthroughs in a skill I have been working on, and understanding I am human before I am an athlete. I am allowed to make mistakes. I cannot please everyone. I have great days. I have bad days. I give the most of what I have that day. I have learned not to compare myself to others. I have learned to build teammates up instead of being envious of them. I have learned that mental health is important. I have learned to check in on my teammates. I have learned that everyday is a challenge- the most rewarding challenge of my life.



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