“The travel in World League is part of the competition.”
It’s what I’ve always told the media about the FIVB World League and I’ve always believed it.
But I’ve never lived it before.
The format of World League has varied over the years, but it has always involved a lot of travel for the U.S. Men’s National Team, particularly because even their “home” matches are usually in U.S. cities that are a plane flight away from their training center in Anaheim, Calif.
This year, the team had U.S. matches in Wichita, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla. Then they had a weekend off before traveling to Reno, Nev. After one day at home, it was back on the plane to go to Poland for two matches and then a 12-hour flight from Poland to Brazil for the final weekend.
This is the first year I have been able to travel on the road with the team for all its pool play matches, both in the U.S. and in other countries.
Like the players and staff, I’ve had to deal with the jet lag, hotels of varying quality, different food and drink choices and different languages.
Unlike the players and staff, I have not had to play volleyball matches against some of the top men’s teams in the world each weekend while dealing with all those other elements.
It is so easy to sit in the arena or on the couch at home and criticize athletes and coaches for their play and their choices. And that, of course, is part of the fun of being a fan.
But once in a while, try putting yourself in their brand of shoes (shout out to Mizuno). There have been several days during this road swing when I have struggled to get out of bed to do my wimpy, civilian workout, let alone pound a volleyball, and my body, around for a couple hours.
I push through it and so do they, obviously. But without many of the comforts of home. Sure, friends, parents, spouses and children are a Skype call away. Sometimes they even come to the matches. But it's not the same as being home.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for the athletes and staff. This is their job and they get paid for it. It’s what they train for and they look forward to the competition.
And there are some very nice perks like working out on a warm beach in Brazil or getting asked for autographs by fans in Poland (I kid you not. Young women were camped out at our hotel at all hours of the day. The mother in me kept wanting to ask why they weren't in school).
It’s not like the U.S. is the only team having to travel. All the teams have to deal with it. It is a common denominator.
I guess what I am pointing out, is how easy they make it look. They don’t always win, but whether it’s Reno or Rio, they are always battling with fire and intensity. And after the matches, they are signing autographs and taking photos and shaking hands and smiling.
And win or lose, they go back to the hotel, have something to eat, try to get some sleep and get ready to do it all over again the next day.