by Cassidy Lichtman, U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team Outside Hitter
When my brother and I were little we had an allowance like a lot of kids. I think it was fifty cents a week and most of the time my parents forgot to pay us. We both had chores we had to do around the house—mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, etc. But I remember my dad specifically telling us that our allowance was in no way connected to our chores. We were to help out around the house because we were a part of the family and were expected to give back. As we got older, that concept extended to the volleyball community. We reffed tournaments for the younger kids at the club or helped out at summer camps at school. We probably could have gotten paid but that wasn’t the point. The point was that if you can do something to help someone, then you should do it.
So, now that I’m older, I want to help kids like me. I’ve loved the game of volleyball since I can remember. I was that kid who you could not pull out of the gym. I’d go to two practices a night and take a 20-minute break for dinner in between. But it’s not even just playing. I’m also a giant volleyball nerd and I always have been. I like learning about the game. I’d sit and watch older teams practice, studying how they moved or read Volleyball Magazines from 20 years ago. The NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship semifinals and finals were held in San Diego when I was 12-years-old and all I could think about was how I wanted to do that someday.
But as inundated as I was with the sport when I was growing up, I probably couldn’t have named the starting lineup of the U.S. National Team or told you where we ranked in the world or who the coach was. The only time I ever saw them play was once every four years in the Olympics. And I think the same can be said for almost every girl in the prep volleyball world today.
The National Team currently trains out of Anaheim, Calif., smack dab in the middle of one of the most thriving volleyball centers in the country. Despite the prime location, though, there is still a large disconnect between the National Team and the club scene. Just like when I was a kid, the vast majority of young players don’t know who the top players in their sport are or what we’re working on in our gym. As a current member of Team USA, I want to help with that.
So, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to run some clinics in San Diego, Los Angeles and possibly the Bay Area in California. All I want to do in each clinic is to take one or two skills and break down the fundamentals the same way that we do in the USA gym. I want to give younger players the opportunity to hear about what keys I’m focusing on when I have a passing session with Karch Kiraly or when I’m serving for match point.
I realize that there are many different ways to teach volleyball and each coach has his or her own ideas about technique. I would never say that our way is the only way and I don’t expect anyone to blindly accept it as such. For a couple hours, though, I’d like to ask people to try it our way as I explain why we think that it makes sense. After that, players and coaches can decide if it makes sense for them. At the least, I think it would be valuable to start a dialogue and to get girls to think about their own technique and the way that they play.
This whole idea didn’t actually start out with me wanting to run clinics. It started because, like I said, I wanted to help kids like me. But not the volleyball playing kind. Many of you may not be familiar with my story. My athletic career should have been over before it even started. I woke up one day when I was nine years old and couldn’t walk. For seven months I was on crutches as I saw one doctor after another. None of them could find any way to break through the constant pain and I wasn’t supposed to walk ever again. I made the choice to walk anyway, but I skipped over the part about getting better. Instead, I decided I wanted to be a volleyball player and I made the pain even worse. It’s been over 14 years now and the pain has never stopped.
Kids aren’t supposed to have to deal with things like that. They’re supposed to be worrying about spelling tests and birthday parties not doctors, medications and physical therapy sessions. There are plenty of kids out there, though, who do have bigger things to worry about. I’m not going to pretend like I know how they feel. But I know a little bit about being hit with heavy issues at a young age.
Here’s the thing, though: after all of it — all of the visits to the doctors, all the failed treatments, all the times I’ve cried because it hurt — I still love life. I still find things every day that amaze and inspire me. I still wake up every day grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. So, at the end of the day, I’ll probably never get better physically. But I do feel like I’ve come through this process with my heart intact. And I want other kids to be able to say the same.
I think the first and most crucial step toward that goal is making sure that kids are surrounded by love. That is why 100 percent of the money raised in these clinics is going to go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Our coaching staff will be made up of volunteers, ranging from other National Team coaches and players to college coaches to club coaches who also want to learn more about what USA is currently teaching. The gyms we will be using will be donating their space and we will likely get a few corporate sponsors on board as well.
More than anything else, it has been the volleyball family that’s brought me through the toughest times in my life. Sometimes we get so caught up in the tension of rankings and lists and records that we forget about the great things that we can do together. I’ve seen the volleyball community come together in amazing ways and I’d like to see it happen again. I think this is an opportunity to help kids and families who really need it while simultaneously learning more about the game that we all love.
The first “Play With A Purpose” clinics will be held in San Diego at Canyon Crest High School on March 31 and in Los Angeles on April 21. Be on the lookout for further information on dates and locations through your clubs or follow me on twitter (@CassidyLichtman). Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I look forward to seeing you out on the court!