Cassidy Lichtman Bio:
Graduated from Stanford University in 2011 with a Bachelor's in Political Science and a Master's in History. Won the Pac 10 championships all four years and was a two-time first team all-American and a first team academic all-American. Currently plays for the US National Team that's currently ranked #1 in the world. Most recently a PanAmerican Games gold medalist. See Full Bio Here...
To truly understand who Cassidy is and the obstacles she overcame as a child, and continue to overcome as one of Team USA's best volleyball players...please read her inspiring story. Truly inspiring!!!
Playing in China this season has given me a first hand look at the life of a Chinese athlete in a system that varies greatly from the one we have in the United States. The first and biggest difference is that athletes here are recruited from middle school and sign long term contracts with a club. At that point they begin to train full time and stop going to school entirely. So my current teammates have not been to class since they were 12 or 13 years old. In some sports that age is even younger. While they play for the club they have to live in a dorm on a sports campus with the rest of the team.
I understand why they do it, of course. Starting to train kids at a young age and getting them to focus on it should give them an advantage. I think you can see the benefits in some of the younger players on our team. They have an inherent knowledge of this environment and how things work. They're clear on what's expected of them in scouting meetings and they never look lost in practice. They've been shaped by this system and they understand it.
And sports schools are not uncommon in the rest of the world. Most of my teammates in the European leagues still attended classes but their schools did have an emphasis on sport. I think the US, though, is unique in its attempt to balance both a complete education and high level athletics. Personally, I'm grateful for that. Partly because I think it helps me mentally as an athlete to have outside interests and to take a break from the game, but mostly because all athletes have an expiration date. Once we're done with sports, it's nice to have some other experience to fall back on. I don't know what happens to all of the athletes here once they're done playing but I think they are ill-prepared for it. And there's always another generation coming up to replace them.
In my time overseas I've also found that the mindset that I'm accustomed to in America is much rarer than I knew. That mindset is the typical "American spirit"-- the idea that anything is possible through hard work and dedication, etc. In China, and often in Europe, I've found more of a fixed idea of what people can or can't do. So if we think one of our players doesn't defend well against a certain ball then we just accept that and plan our defense around it instead of teaching her how to do it better.
The American mindset may not always work. Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew or come off a bit arrogant. Perhaps their approach is sometimes a bit more practical. We don't always have time to teach something new in the middle of a season. But I think I would much rather dream big and fail than accept limitations.
There are two lessons I've learned in my time overseas that have been very important. The first is that just because someone does something differently doesn't mean it is wrong. I have to examine my own cultural biases and experiences to figure out what I really believe. And whether or not my mind is changed, I still gain a better understanding of myself and the system I come from.
The second lesson is to worry about what I can control. At the end of the day I am here to do a job. And that job is to play volleyball as well as I can and to get better. Whatever I agree or disagree with in terms of this system or the way we prepare for matches or even the decisions made within matches, I accept it. I have learned to set aside frustration or confusion and focus on the things that I need to do to be my best. I think that's a skill that will help me further in life as there will always be countless things outside of my control.