Oracles of Volleyball: What Does it Take to be Great?

Sept. 11, 2016, 1:50 p.m. (ET)
Throughout the 2016 Paralympic Games, we will be asking our players from past Paralympic sitting volleyball teams to give their unique insight on the Paralympic experience and their thoughts on the volleyball in Rio.

Oracles 1

What does it take to be a great sitting volleyball player? And who on the current roster – or your past teammates – exemplifies those traits?


Kendra Lancaster

U.S. Paralympian (2004, 2008, 2012)
Paralympic silver medalist (2008, 2012); bronze medalist (2004)

There has always been a lot of talk in volleyball circles about what makes a great player. Mental toughness, volleyball IQ, speed, athleticism, etc., all are commonly mentioned and are, of course, applicable to sitting volleyball as well. So I thought a lot about the things that I see in my teammates, both past and present players, that stand them out from the rest and the one thing I kept coming back to was “grit.” If you look at any of the most successful sitting volleyball players in the world, they're tough as nails both mentally and physically, with extra factors at play that do not apply to our able-bodied counterparts. But this goes beyond the standard mental and physical toughness required by most sports because at its core, "grit" comes from a certain level of stubbornness and unwillingness to back down. Grit doesn't allow you to say "I can't do that," or "This is too hard, I give up." These feelings are not on the radar of thought for a player with grit because without it, they would have 1,000,000 reasons to give up...

For anyone that has ever played sitting down, you can attest to that fact that it's hard on your body. The body position required for play both in the back court and at the net is physically very difficult to maintain because you're moving and holding yourself in ways that stress joints and soft tissue. Basically, playing sitting down HURTS and it really takes its toll on your body as you play over long periods of time. And this is all being said without consideration of any discomfort and/or limitations caused by the player's disability. Great players are able to hold it together, build up their weak areas and turn them into strengths simply because there is no other option. Their Grit urges them on, it wakes them up earlier, it gets them that one extra rep, and it keeps them impassioned about a sport that seems hell-bent on breaking them. Grit shows up when you least expect it and provides a moment of strength when the odds are stacked against you. 

In all truth, I think that every Paralympic athlete, and certainly every sitting volleyball player has a little bit of Grit in them. It's what pushes people through seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve their dreams, and that's what the Paralympics are about but there are individuals who stand out to me as having that extra bit of Grittiness that brought them to success. Heather Erickson, captain of the U.S. Women's Sitting Team, and Lora Webster-Bargellini, both come to mind. Admittedly, they are both very close friends. But with that disclaimer, I've watched them both overcome challenges throughout their careers time and time again, and they keep coming out on top. Erickson is perhaps one of the best players in the women's game right now as she consistently earns double digits for Team USA, walking away from multiple tournaments with an MVP trophy. Webster-Bargellini is a force in the middle with the defense to back it up and has earned her place on the roster while balancing life as a mother of three amazing and crazy children. It takes grit, among other things, to be where they are now and go through what they have to get there, and for that they're my heroes.

I wish all of Team USA luck (and grit!) as they begin competition and work their way through some tough up-and-coming matches!

Brent Rasmussen
U.S. Paralympian (2004)
Men’s Sitting Team Captain

A great sitting volleyball player is as much great mentally as physically. In all sports, the energy, emotion, breaks or points may not always go your way, but the fortitude of your training and discipline will take over. Your athleticism will only take you so far in sports, but your dedication, focus and commitment is what takes you to the next level. I have played with many athletes with amazing dedication including all of the U.S. Men’s Team. Many players have made enormous sacrifices to become international volleyball athletes, but one coach has instilled his dedication – which is instilled in the U.S. players in Rio – Edgar Miraku.

Most times the players make the game and get the glory but the coaches have just as large of an impact. Coach Edgar’s fierce discipline to the sport of volleyball, starting in Albania, has made many of the sitting players what they are at today. Coach Miraku taken his knowledge of the game of volleyball to help sitting players understand how analytical and mental the game can be, while also improving many athletes’ physical play.

As a standing and sitting volleyball athlete, I believe this aspect of sitting is the most difficult to master. With a smaller court, lessor hitting angles, larger blocks and the most skilled of hands and arms of the defense; sitting volleyball has the smallest room for error. Watching from afar, sitting volleyball seems like the easiest of games, but I challenge anyone to SIT next to the greatest players in the world to see how small this reaction time is. Coach Edgar Miraku has taught many life lessons as a coach, but those lessons have helped the members of the current U.S. Men in Rio. I cannot name just one player who represents all of what sitting volleyball is in the U.S., but I can name one team and that is ours, the U.S. Sitting Volleyball Team!

Allison Aldrich
U.S. Paralympian (2004, 2008, 2012)
Paralympic silver medalist (2008, 2012); bronze medalist (2004)

To be a great sitting volleyball player, it takes countless hours of selfless dedication both on and off the court. But to be great, you must have the passion and willingness to succeed. As Paralympians, we play our sport because we love it. It requires the strength of both the mind and the body. Of course you must have the fundamental skills of volleyball down, but greatness lies within every player. It is what you do to tap into that greatness that gets you the title. Lora Webster and I have both earned the title of the greatest female sitting volleyball player, but every woman who pioneered this sport till now deserves that title as well. Each Paralympics games, my greatness grew because, no great player becomes great without the help of their team. With my nation behind me, my teammates before me, and the dedication of the coaching staff around me, this feat was achievable. All the players have the heart of a champion and the mindset of a warrior, and that to me what embodies what it takes to be a great sitting volleyball player.