Technical Time Outs
Athlete stories and discussions from around the world,
beyond the scores, stats and what we see on the court.
beyond the scores, stats and what we see on the court.
Written by: Michael Amoroso
It was a few days after New Years in 2015, at the start of practice in Athens, with Panathinaikos Volleyball Club. Sport in Greece involves a ton of passion and usually an incredibly wild fan base. Panathinaikos had several elite sports and is still one of the largest sport clubs in Greece with over 1 million supporters. I had just returned from a fantastic trip north to Bulgaria, to visit the Queen’s University Men’s Volleyball Team - they were there training before a Bulgarian tournament. I returned ‘home’ to Athens on January 2nd to rejoin my club for practice the next day.
We were rested and ready to fight through the second half of the season. We had an exciting grudge match coming up on home court, against rival club Panachaiki. At the time, Panachaiki was the home of Canadians Steve Gotch and Steve Brinkman, and matches with them were always exciting (for a variety of reasons – the last match broke out into a fistfight between our supporters and theirs, a common practice in the Greek Volley League). Our new coach, Coach K, was just about to start his pre-practice meeting in Greek, which would be translated by a teammate for myself, Jared Moore (American roommate, fellow Middle Blocker), and Danijel Galic (Croatian international Outside Hitter). Just as coach was about to begin, members of our fan club arrived for an unannounced visit.
They came about 40 strong, many holding their motorcycle helmets, and walked right across our court to join our pre-practice meeting. Their ‘leader’ spoke to us as a group for about 3 minutes in Greek, and to this day I have not gotten a full translation of what he said. However, it was very serious, and all the Greek players and staff listened intently. When he was finished, the fan club departed, Coach K finished his meeting and we began practice. I asked our team captain “What was that all about?”, to which he said their message was simple: “We’ll be at this next game – Win… Or else.”
Strong words! However, with such a passionate club we had become used to a love/hate relationship from the fans. You see… we were 0-11. 11 straight losses to start the season, far and away the worst start for the club in it’s 105-year history. Our first coach had already resigned, one of our American teammates was let go to bring in Danny, our athletic therapist was let go and replaced, and an avalanche of negativity was crushing the athletes from all sides. Matches would finish with fans screaming and cursing us, and through the losing streak, our coach (before resignation) felt as though the only response was to push for longer, harder practices. We would practice from 9am-12pm, and then again from 4pm-7pm, every day. Two of those days per week, we also had workouts, and with an older team (I was one of the four youngest at 24 years old), we were breaking down on all fronts. After one poor morning serve/receive practice, our coach stormed out, calling us an “embarrassment to the sport”, and recommended we “try chess instead”.
An article was released in the Greek media that Panathinaikos was aggressively pursuing a Greek middle blocker, in order to free up a foreigner spot. Only 3 non-Greek players were allowed on the floor at a time, and with both Jared and I as internationals, the only way to add muscle with a high-scoring Opposite was to cut one of us and replace us with a Greek player. I had started the season well, however while fighting back from an ankle injury, I was under-performing and was certainly the one on the chopping block.
Then, the most peculiar thing happened: We started winning. It started with a convincing 3-1 victory over Panachaiki, followed by a win on the road against Canadian setter Jared Krause’s Pamvochaikos, and by March, we were on a six-game winning streak, and a team that nobody wanted to play. Personally, I was rounded well into form, picking up a few match MVPs along the way, and long-forgotten were the dark days of our losing streak. We finished the season going 8-3 in the second half, achieved the team’s goal of staying in the A1 top league, and I departed Greece with amazing memories and invaluable lessons learned about myself as an athlete and as a person.
So many incredible anecdotes, stories and experiences have come from this season, but rather than turn this tale into a pure walk down memory lane, I’d like to focus on the depth of depths, in the deepest of athletic slumps. I look back on this time and grin, enjoying the resiliency and perseverance its lessons have taught me. Every day I knew that our morning practice might be my last. Every fibre in my body was screaming for a day of rest, but the last thing I could do was ease up and relax. At 24, I was seven time zones away from family and friends, and far removed from the last good performance. The media and many fans believed my release might be the solution - how does one possibly walk into practice and matches and stay professional? The answer is, because it’s your job, and this pressure is exactly what you signed up for.
Once you cross the threshold into the professional world for anything, you sign many contracts. Some are on paper, with legally-binding terms and constructs in place to protect and indemnify both sides. Some are verbal, with all those that have interests in your success (family, friends, past/present coaches). And some are without stamps or seals and are not legally binding, but commit you to living, giving and doing whatever will leave you proud when the job is done. I would say to myself “If you are going to fire me tomorrow, then today is still a day where I wake up a professional athlete. I owe it to myself above all to hold up my end of the bargain.” Pay for play, pay for performance – sometimes it’s a fun job, but professional volleyball is a job. Every job has its down days.
Most athletes will focus on fixing technical and tactical issues in hopes of breaking the slump. Realistically, you will probably not make significant technical progress during a slump. To try new things technically, you need to be confident enough to try, fail and then try again. When you are slumping, confidence is at an all time low, and you need to build that back up first to get back to our even-keel level. Rebuild the base, then look to improve – you’re still growing from the experience and lessons learned, so this certainly not time wasted.
This list includes some of my tips to follow when trying to break out of a slump (many apply to other sports, school and the working world too!) :
Michael Amoroso played three seasons professionally from 2012 to 2015, in Sweden, Greece and Germany. Since retiring, he has coached with Region 5 and Team Ontario, the Volleyball Canada Regional Excellence Program, and continues to mentor athletes at all levels through their athletic journeys around the world. By day, Michael works in medical sales and is the founder of Momentum Pro Sports.
Written By: Marc Wilson
The best leaders I’ve known were also my best teachers. I believe that a leader’s most important skills should resemble the strengths of a great teacher. Communication, knowledge, and experience are the qualities that I consider to be a leader’s most valuable tools.
“Side out now!”
“Free balls must be perfect.”
“Don’t miss easy serves”
These are all statements that, at times, suffocate the gyms of any volleyball tournament. To me, these types of phrases don’t provide you with enough direction. They are often used as fillers when you feel obligated to say something, or they are simply saying don’t screw up. Now don’t get me wrong, screaming “Let’s Go!!” at the top of your lungs after a massive stuff block has its purpose when firing up your team, so I’m not suggesting you ditch your favorite volleyball catch phrase. But, what I am suggesting, is that a great leader will choose to communicate with “How” statements because they provide a plan.
For example, the classic “Side out now!” doesn’t tell me anything other than it’s important to score a point. You could even argue that now I feel under more pressure because I’ve recognized the importance of the situation. Instead of saying “Side out now!” in the huddle, timeout or on the sideline, why not…
...discuss the tendency of the serve you are about to receive,
...suggest a possible plan of attack to your setter,
...remind your hitters what angles the opposition has been blocking, or
...tell your hitter to try to recycle the ball if a difficult serve results in a highball scenario.
What I’m trying to say is there are so many things that can be said to guide your team through each point, and by doing so you can relieve the pressure of the situation because now you have a plan. This is a difficult thing to do and it is most certainly a trained skill, but if you are looking to become a leader on the court, suggesting how to solve a problem is going to get you much further than just recognizing the problem itself.
The solution to how to solve a problem always becomes easier with knowledge and experience of the scenario. So naturally, time is an element to becoming an amazing leader but what’s important in this learning process is that you ask “why” questions. Don’t spend your time being a sheep doing what you are told without understanding why a specific action produces a specific result. When you are able to understand why things work, you will become more confident in the action. This will then translate to a more effective ability to communicate the plan. Then as you begin to experience what works and what doesn’t, you then become more able to recognize solutions for a given problem.
I’ve never liked the idea of a born leader because it implies that not everyone has access to this title. I’ve lived my life around the idea that with hard work you can accomplish anything, regardless of the athletic gifts you have been given. So far the formula of “how” and “why” has helped me on my journey to become a leader in my sport. So perhaps with a little bit of elbow grease it can help you too.
Currently writing from Czech Republic, Marc is in his third professional season after beginning his career in France's Pro B division with the long-standing club St. Nazaire. Marc is also very active in the youth communities everywhere he plays, and works with McGill's summer camps in Montreal during his off-season (and we hope he joins us for Momentum Pro Camps too!).
From Club Team to Team Canada : 5 Things I’ve Learned at the Volleyball Canada National Excellence Program
Written by: Alexander Mrkalj
1. Being completely self-dependent
I knew that coming to live in a different province and leading a completely different
lifestyle was going to be a huge challenge, but it would be a challenge that has a giant payoff in
the long term. Most people go into their post-secondary career never having spent much time
away from home, and that statement is completely true for myself. I’ve always had the guidance
of my parents and I was excited to live on my own to see just how self-dependent I could be.
Living on my own requires me to get myself to practice on my own every day, prepare
nutritious meals for myself, keep my living space clean, and build new habits for myself that
enable me to live the lifestyle of a high performance athlete. Previously, my parents would do
most of this for me, and as nice as it seems in the moment, it made me too dependent upon
them. It has truly been an eye opening experience to live by myself and to do some of the things
on my own that I have taken for granted for so many years.
If I could offer my advice to young volleyball athletes, it would be to start being more
dependent on yourself at a younger age. By no means do you have to start cooking meals for
yourself every single day, you’re still a kid. I advise taking small steps that will ultimately have a
long term payoff. Prepare your own meals before a tournament, learn to cook from your parents,
maybe even start to do your own laundry if you don’t do so already. I suggest taking these small
steps so that when you do get to the point in your life where you are living on your own, you will
not feel the pressure of not knowing how to take care of yourself.
This has been an invaluable lesson to me, and it has helped me grow as a person
because I’m taking responsibility for my own high performance lifestyle.
2. Proper Warm-Up/Cool-Down Every Practice
Warming up before practice was something I took very seriously during my years of club
volleyball. I made sure I was activated and ready to play at all times, and would show up extra
early to practice to ensure that I achieved this goal. However, I did not take the cool-down as
seriously. After practice I would put on my sweatpants and walk right out of the gym.
The combination of warming up and cooling down properly is what provides an athlete
with the longevity of their career. An athlete that does not warm up or cool down properly is at a
higher risk of getting injured and breaking down early on in their careers, which does not provide
a promising athletic career.
Every day, my teammates and I show up to the gym twenty minutes before practice
starts to do our ‘individual protocol’. This is very personalized and allows us to work on areas
that are extra sore, need more activation, or are weaker than others. My protocol consists of
foam rolling my legs, rolling my shoulders and back with a lacrosse ball, planks for core
activation, along with eccentric squats and band walks. This protocol works well for me, but it
may not work well for everyone. Luckily, younger volleyball athletes have wide access to
different strength coaches who are looking to help you improve. Having an effective protocol
that you are committed to will certainly prolong your career, so be sure to use the resources you
have available to you.
After our protocols, we warm up with various dynamic stretches and get into pepper for
about 10 minutes and then we start to train. At the end of practice, I take about 15-20 minutes to
effectively cool down by rolling out and stretching my shoulders and hips.
Playing volleyball gives me so much enjoyment, so I do everything in my power to be
fully prepared for each practice through my warm up and cool down. I would recommend that all
athletes take this much more seriously because this is the foundation of a long and injury-free
volleyball career. Instead of messing around on court before practice, take those extra 5-10
minutes and get activated. When you’re watching TV or Netflix, take out your foam roller and be
productive as you kick back for a bit.
I have been very fortunate to not have sustained any major injuries, and while it isn’t
always in our control, it is vital that we do our best to prevent injury as best we can to enjoy our
volleyball careers and to lead happy and healthy lifestyles after volleyball.
3. Learner Mode vs. Performer Mode
One of the amazing things that I have learned at the NEP is the difference between
being a learner and being a performer. In order to be a high performance athlete, you need to
be able to do both, however, the timing is what needs to be taken note of.
In our morning trainings, we do a lot of skill work, whereas, in the afternoons we do a lot
of 6 on 6 gameplay. Our coach, Dan Lewis, constantly reminds us to be in learner mode in the
morning and to be in performer mode in the afternoon. Essentially, what this means is that when
we are doing our skill work in the morning, we should not be too focused about the results we
produce. Most times we are trying a brand new tactic or an adjustment to a skill that we want to
execute in game, so we are not expected to be perfect immediately. Being in learner mode
allows us to actively think about the skill we are executing by thinking about the small details
that our coach will point out. For example, if we are working on reception with our hands we
need to actively be thinking about attacking the ball, squaring up to the target, and getting low to
give the ball lift.
This is quite contrary to being in performer mode because performer mode is about
executing the skills we have developed through learner mode. It’s not about overthinking the
small details, but rather, being competitive with teammates and trusting that the skills we’ve
developed in learner mode will lead to our success.
Thus, there is a big emphasis on learner mode because it shapes the way you perform.
You can’t develop new skills and perform new tactics if you don’t train your mind to analyze
things in practice.
One common fault I find with people is that they mix the two modes up very frequently,
and I think it is an important lesson to learn. When we find ourselves in a practice situation, we
don’t want to make errors because we feel embarrassed by them. Therefore, when we train, we
focus too much on the results instead of focusing on getting better at executing on the skill at
hand. Also, when we find that things aren’t going well in a game situation, we look internally and
begin to break down all the skills during competition as if we’re in learner mode. The mind
cannot focus on that much at a time. When you compete, you need to compete and not focus
on the small skills you should have been focusing on in learner mode.
This has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned at the NEP because in
club volleyball I did not distinguish between learning and competition. Only now do I realize the
importance of focusing your mind to the task at hand, be that learning or competing.
4. Mental Performance Training
We are lucky as a group to be able to work with an amazing mental performance coach
named Kyle Paquette. Every Tuesday morning we spend about an hour and a half in a group
discussion with Kyle about what makes a great performer and how to train our minds.
The material we learn is very relatable and it is enjoyable to partake in our group
discussions as we pursue the mastery of the mental side of the sport.
Two practices that I’ve started as a result of learning from Kyle and wanting to be a
better mental performer are journalling and meditation. These are two habits I’ve created here
that help me achieve my goals as a high performance athlete and will carry on as important
tools for the rest of my life.
Journalling is very open-ended in regards to what you want to write about, and that’s the
beauty of it. You can write about your practices, your food intake, a daily bite of knowledge… the
list goes on! I journal 2 times a day, one before the morning session to set my goals and one
before bed to reflect on how I went about my day. I think it is a very powerful tool that athletes
should start to use because if you start journaling now, it will be cool to look down the road in a
few short years to see how far you have come as an athlete, a student, and a person.
Meditating has a certain stereotype around it - legs crossed in an upright seated position
with the palms facing upwards while gently muttering, “Ohmmm”. Meditating is completely
different, and is has been widely researched over the past decade proving that it helps enhance
athletic performance. Meditating is nothing other than sitting up in your bed, being present with
your thoughts, and filtering thoughts as needed. I meditate after I journal every day (so twice a
day), and for guidance I use the Headspace app that can be found on your phone. It is such a
great guide through meditation because it tells you what to focus on and how you should be
Any athlete that is ready to take their game to the next level needs to start journalling
and meditating. The mental side of the game is just as important as the physical side of the
game, so by starting to train the mind at a younger age, the payoff will be enormous in your
5. Pride Behind The Jersey
Putting on a Team Canada jersey is something that I’ve dreamed of ever since I started
playing volleyball. This opportunity has been a dream come true for me because I get to play
the sport I love every day. When you find your passion, working hard for a goal doesn’t seem
like a job.
One thing I never realized is how lucky I was to wear my own club team jersey and I truly
hope that all athletes realize how blessed they are to be able to put that jersey on and compete.
Remember to be grateful for where you are currently, and never stop working towards
your goals because anything can be achieved with persistent hard work!
Alexander Mrkalj (centre) trains with the National Team's National Excellence Program in Gatineau, Quebec. Previously, he has been a member of Team Canada's Youth National team, Team Ontario's Canada Games team and has recently accepted his offer to attend school at Princeton University in the United States.
Written by: Rebecca Pavan
Looking back on the last decade of my life, I can’t help but get emotional. In April, after my Polish volleyball season had ended, I announced that I would not return to playing. When I made this public, I was full of excitement - I couldn’t wait to spend more time with family, coach all summer and after six years return to the classroom to pursue new goals. I had always been aware of what a fortunate position I had as a working professional athlete, but I find looking back, that even being aware of my good fortune I had begun to take my life for granted. Here are some of the things I wish I could experience one last time:
4. getting lost
One of the most beautiful experiences I had overseas had nothing to do with volleyball. With quite a bit of spare time I was still unable to leave my city due to limited time between games. Because of this, I spent many days wandering strange streets alone. When I live in Canada, I rarely walk to just walk. Most of the time when we leave our homes, it is with a specific destination in mind that we usually jump into our cars to get to. In Europe I spent more time wandering, purposefully getting lost in streets that were foreign to me. The beauty of wandering on foot is that the strange streets quickly become welcoming after a few weeks. A strange place starts feeling like your home and sooner than expected you start referring to a new city as yours. It is such a magical experience when a city on the other side of the ocean becomes a place of comfort. If I could, I would like to experience the feeling of a foreign city becoming home one last time.
3. the feeling of walking into a big game
Nothing beats the feeling you get as an athlete when walking into a big game. For me, my body felt lighter, my vision cleared, and my heart filled so much that I could feel it in my throat. Volleyball was more than a hobby for me, as many others can attest to, it was a passion. It was what made me tick and for those few hours that I went to battle against another team, nothing else mattered. This feeling is something few people get the opportunity to experience. So, if you are still playing soak up every, single, last electrifying moment until you can’t stand it any more.
2. Road trips
Who am I kidding? Everyone who has experienced a 13-hour bus trip knows how terrible it can be. Cramped legs, 5am arrivals home and no cell reception on dark back roads. But, if I could, I’d like one more chance to road trip with my teams. There is something so magical about those late-night drives home after a game when everyone is playing cards or just talking about anything that comes to mind. If I had the chance I wouldn’t sleep the whole way but sit awake soaking in the buzz of my teammates around me. I’d wait until the whole bus settled into a comfortable silence with the glow of my coach’s laptop preparing for out next match. There is so much beauty in being one of 30 people all sleeping uncomfortably on a bus. It is an intimate experience learning that one teammate snores, one still sleeps with her childhood teddy bear and another needs to talk to her husband before falling asleep. It is an intimacy that I will never know again, and I miss terribly.
1. The Sisterhood/brotherhood
I’ve never been a girl’s girl, but through volleyball I found so many sisters. In a world where women tear others down because of perceived competition, it is a beautiful thing to work on a big team of like minded women. It’s something that simply doesn’t happen in the “real world.” I was so fortunate to have connected with strong, confident women who have shaped who I am post volleyball. I experienced women lifting me up, encouraging me, comforting me and most powerful of all losing with me. In my time abroad, I didn’t win or lose alone. I experienced what it felt like to play for the woman next to me or the teammate cheering from the bench. If I pass this feeling and attitude onto teams I coach or future children, the world would be a much better place. If you’re still playing be a cheerer, lift up your teammates, and be the teammate that everyone can look to and know you are fighting with them.
It is difficult to articulate what it felt like to play as a professional. I was able to live “the dream” and while there are always painful moments, I would do it all over again. The gift of living abroad, creating relationships with people you would never meet otherwise is such a blessing. The above list is 4 things I’ll miss of the hundreds that I think about every day. I am happy to have a new challenge, but my experiences on and off the court as a professional athlete are irreplaceable and have made me who I am today.
Growing up in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario (while playing club volleyball for her father Paul, a coaching legend in the region and province), Rebecca has been one of Canada's most decorated athletes over the last decade. She has played for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, Canada's Senior Women's National Team and professionally in France, Germany and Poland. She retired at the end of the 2017 season, and is now completing Teacher's College at the University of Western Ontario.
Hello Momentum world, Aleks Arsovic here! Former McMaster Marauder from Burlington, Ontario, in Switzerland for my first season abroad. I got lucky enough to sign my first professional contract in the most beautiful country on the planet - no bias, where I am playing for VBC Cheseaux in the NLA here in Switzerland.
My road here has been pretty generic as a volleyball player in Canada, but has had some interesting twists and turns to it. I started playing volleyball when I was 11 years old, for the Halton Region Volleyball Club based out of my home town.
I made my way up the club volleyball ladder and finished my 18u year with an OVA championship gold with Lakeside Volleyball Club (shoutout to my Lakeside family who will literally be family for life). Throughout my high school years, I really focused a lot on beach volleyball, and thought that was my calling (Fun fact - in my 18u year I won both indoor and beach provincial titles).
I decided to go to York University for my undergrad because it was so close to the Volleyball Canada Beach Full-time training centre, and also to play amongst some serious volleyball rockstars - ahem…. Melissa Humana-Parades, Brandie Wilkerson, and fellow Momentum Athlete, Ray Szeto, just to name a few! In my summers, I spent time with Team Ontario Beach and the Full-time training centre trying to make my way up, only to run into a pretty crummy stress fracture in my foot that put my indoor and beach career on hold for a while. After some soul searching, a quarter-life crisis and a long potential recovery time, I had a change of heart and decided to transfer to McMaster University to further pursue indoor volleyball.
In my first year at Mac I had to redshirt due to USPORT (CIS, at the time) regulations, which turned out to be a blessing because I really got to take the time I needed to heal my foot properly, and get super strong in the weight room leading up to my next season. More importantly, I really got to earn the respect of my teammates in practice. Let me tell you, red-shirting is not easy, but as long as you stay positive, trust the process, and support your teammates to your best capabilities, it can teach you some lovely life lessons that playing volleyball cannot. In that year off of competing, I learned to be a better friend, teammate, and volleyball player. I have been fortunate enough to always see playing time throughout my volleyball career, and for the first time in my life, I had to ride the bench. It was quite frustrating, and there were many many times where I wish I could have been on the court, but in the end, it paid off. The following season, when I was finally eligible to play, we ended up winning the 2017 OUA Championship. Fast forward to this April, and I closed the chapter at McMaster after just coming short of repeating as OUA Champions in my senior campaign (shoutout to Ryerson and their stellar 2018 season finishing with a national title). I made some lifelong friends at McMaster and am so, so glad I decided to make the switch when I did.
I had always wanted to pursue volleyball professionally, but come the beginning of 2018, it was time to make this dream a reality. I had been in contact with Michael (Amoroso) and Joost at Eltee Volley for some time leading into this period, and I felt very comfortable putting my career in their hands. After a few great months of communication and collaboration, I signed my first professional volleyball contract, and made my dream a reality. I am now living in Cheseaux, just north of Lausanne (the olympic capital), and slowly but surely adjusting to this new beautiful life I get to live. Playing volleyball for a profession is such a dream come true and I am so happy and lucky I get to call this my job. To any young athlete reading this, although the title of a professional athlete can seem very out of reach, it is very real, and very attainable. The advice I would give to anyone right now, is to never get out-worked. There is always someone better than you, and you have to be willing to make some pretty gnarly sacrifices to get yourself where you want to be. Always work hard, and always be kind, because nobody likes a mean person. Finally - we are so lucky to play a team sport, so enjoy it! Enjoy the different personalities you get to work with, and learn to love being able to thrive off of others’ energies. My favourite part about playing volleyball is bringing other people’s spirits up, celebrating one another, and working towards a common goal, WINNING!
Thanks for taking the time to read my lengthly blurb, and good luck to everyone and their upcoming seasons! I would love to hear all about it. If you want to follow me throughout the year - keep up to date with VBC Cheseaux, I am #5!
Aleks Arsovic is just beginning her first professional season with VBC Cheseaux, competing professionally in Switzerland. Follow her whole journey on Instagram at @aleksarsovic !