(Article written by Softball Factory Player Development Coordinator, Jane Lukas) From an early age, my athletic career was centered around my role as a leader. I played a multitude of different sports, whether I was on the track, on the field, or on the court, I was able to lead by example. My approach was very simple; if I work hard, I will see the results I want.
That mentality gave me the ability to play consistently well, and this consistency is what allowed me to be successful. I carried this mindset through with me until college, where I played Division I Volleyball at Loyola University Maryland. I knew I was going to be voted captain my junior year and I didn’t plan on changing anything in terms of the way I played or talked to my teammates. However, an athlete’s performance on the court is only one small aspect of what it takes to be an effective captain. I learned this through experience during that junior season, after I injured my knee three days into pre-season.
I have played sports since I was in 3rd grade and went 12 years without an injury. Not a missed season, or even a week off. But, in my junior year, when I’m in the best shape of my life, playing the best volleyball I have ever played, I find out I’m going to miss most of the season.
Sitting in the doctor’s office after a month of unsuccessful rehab, learning I was going to need surgery and would miss another six weeks, was the most discouraging moment of my college career. I felt like I had lost any value that I added to the program. If I couldn’t provide them with results on the court, what could I do? And how could I expect anyone to listen to what I had to say if I wasn’t out there playing?
To my surprise, my team still voted me captain, and for the first time, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to provide them the leadership that they needed.
I was extremely pessimistic about the situation. Without knowing it, I was allowing my attitude to negatively effect my team. I had a one-on-one meeting with my coach who basically said “Jane, they voted you captain knowing you were going to be out for a while. Even though you aren’t playing, they still need you to do your job.”
There were some tears, and some more words exchanged, but I walked out knowing that I needed to change my attitude. From then on, I did everything I could to make myself an asset to my team. I completely embraced any role or responsibility I had. I took stats on the sidelines and I made sure that if you weren’t on the court you were cheering. I realized how important the bench is. The girls on the court need them to create energy and I genuinely felt like I was making a difference.
I worked with the other outside hitters on things that I noticed and gave them as much feedback as I could. I even made sure everyone had water, their cups were full, and people had what they needed so they could be their best. The more I embraced these small tasks the more value I gave myself, and my team needed me again. Injuries, adversity, or any setbacks can be extremely discouraging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. There are so many ways that you can help your team improve, being on the court or field during games is just one part.
I took my rehab very seriously and was playing again by the end of the season. Now that I am a couple years removed, I’m grateful that this is something I went through. It made me a better leader, it showed me how important having a positive mindset is, and it allows me to relate better to the athletes I work with today.
It also showed me that throughout life, no matter what you’re doing, you create your own value. It all comes down to attitude. If you do your absolute best at whatever task you decide to embrace, you’ll walk away feeling satisfied of your results.
Adversity is common and getting discouraged is easy. There are a lot of aspects within sports that are out of your control. One area that is completely determined by you is your attitude and mindset. Choosing to influence your teammates positively and finding ways to relate positively to your environment is something leaders do every day.