Hungry for more

BY ANDERS MOL

In partnership with The Owl Post

 

For me, it hasn't been difficult at all to choose beach volleyball.

 

My mom did the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and my dad was a member of the national volleyball team, so in my home, it felt natural to consider it as the first option. As is often the case, however, it wasn't my parents' heavy inheritance that put the most pressure on me, but it was my brother, three years older than me, who inspired me, and who was an example for me and a role model.

 

He pushed me to grow up, to raise my bar when I was still only a child, day after day because the age gap between us was enough to allow him to be a mentor, but not enough to be unbeatable.

 

The afternoons spent playing with him became continuous challenges, constantly trying to improve something, in every single training, to hope, on the following day, to be able to compete with him.

 

Then, when I started playing with my peers, around age 6 or 7, I had already built a very strong mental approach which made me unable to say I was satisfied.

I had to demand more all the time.

With a smile, but I had to.

Sometimes, during interviews, I find myself having to simplify the concept, by saying that the competition is innate within me. But it is rather a mindset, a way of thinking that my brain developed right away.

 

To have fun, because things provide more zest when you are good at them.

For this reason, when I started being part of a team, I already had a clear goal in my mind: to become the best in the group. Then in the older players group.

 

And so on.

I wasn't looking outside, I wasn't looking at the great champions and I wasn't trying to imitate anyone. I just wanted to focus on myself, on my fundamentals, and beat my previous-day-self.

 

Like this, there is never a finish line, there is never a real comfort zone, but only the inexhaustible desire to dig into the game, to always see something new coming out of it.

 

Up to the age of 18, I alternated between beach volleyball and indoor volleyball, and this is another important point of my sport and character formation. Being part of a larger team forces you to become a better teammate for everyone, immediately.

 

You are forced to mediate your personality with those of many other people, finding the right balance between the development of your qualities and the team's goal, which is always one and which exceeds, in importance, that of the individual. At the same time, however, it is the athlete who more than others improves his game, that stands out in the team, especially in the junior teams.

 

It is a subtle balance, which often separates those who get to the goal from those who don't.

Beach volleyball, instead, is the sublimation of individual responsibility.

You are the protagonist all the time.

With the ball near or far, in a competitive trance or a moment of crisis, you are in any case at the center of the action. This builds in you a strong mentality, refractory to mistakes, capable of testing your personal technique as well as your toughness when responding to difficulties.

 

The combination of the two disciplines has allowed me to develop fully, aided by the continued contamination between the two because nothing helps you grow as much as being able to always question what you already know.

Although there was one thing, to be honest, that I knew for sure: beach volleyball had bewitched me.

It was my absolute favorite, ever since I went to a tournament in 2009 where my father's team was playing, and I fell in love with the environment and the beauty of the game.

 

However, I also played indoors up to three years ago, in the Belgian championship and the Champions League, and this has been crucial in creating that lot of skills that allows me, today, to be at number 1 of the world ranking.

 

The number one of the world ranking, the favorites for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Saying it out loud still sounds strange to me, especially when I think about how long the road has been to get here. Both me and Christian, my partner, have been lucky enough to attend ToppVolley Norge high school, and this has been deciding in our sporting and professional growth.

 

The school is an avant-garde structure, meekly nested in front of a saltwater fjord that seeps through the hinterland, thus offering a view where the sea and the mountains touch each other. It is the most modern thing ever, and it is an example of how the movement, in my country, has been able to renew itself, taking what was good of its past to project itself towards an unexplored future.

 

All the best talents in the nation go through there, a real academy dedicated exclusively to volleyball. The young prospects are scouted, tested, and finally selected, to create classes where you can breathe volleyball 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Everything is designed to offer student-athletes the best possible experience in technical and personal terms, allowing them to reach their limits. In a span of 200 square meters, there are classes, gyms, dormitories, swimming pools, saunas, and beach volleyball courts, to allow everyone to minimize the waste of energy and time in planning their days.

 

Morning training at 7, then school, and finally back to training in the early afternoon, all with continuous contamination between volleyball and beach volleyball. In short, a paradise for anyone passionate about the topic.

 

And that's not all. The philosophical and cultural aspects too aren't overlooked, quite the opposite.

 

In fact, coaches from all over the world work in the school, so that it is possible to stimulate the kids to learn different approaches to the game, and to keep an open mind towards the technical proposals that are presented them.

 

Growing up doesn't mean going the same way for everyone, and even just understanding what allows you to improve and what doesn't is a great step forward in the training process of an athlete.

 

For example, I was trained by my father, by a Japanese coach and then by a Serbian one, learning something different from each of them.

We Norwegians, too, as it seems, are learning to walk without skis on our feet, and this type of academy is capable of transforming an entire movement, with the strength of ideas and hard work.

This volley academy has been around for ten years and the fruits are starting to be seen.

Our example is clear, but soon we will also reach the top in indoor volleyball, I'm sure. It only takes a little more patience, because for that goal you need to train a greater number of high-level players.

 

In the end, however, I decided to go back to basics and, now that I have grown up, the Attacking Vikings have become a real family affair. My father trains us, who knows me like no one else, and who is also able to take a step back, when needed, to let us earn some extra awareness.

 

For example, when he sends us to tournaments without him, self-managed, to make us learn to manage the game plan on our own.

 

He is not the only one there, of course, but there's also my cousin in the second team and my mom who travels with us. We always rent an apartment in the tournament locations and live together, being careful never to mix the sporting side of our relationship with the purely personal one. We don't talk about beach volleyball at the dinner table!

 

Despite everything, at times, I give in to the temptation to ask my mother to tell me about Atlanta 1996, but that doesn't matter, after all, the Olympics are the Olympics.

We, in our sport, are trying to push the bar higher.

 

When we are in the right mood, when we are playing well, I feel that nobody can beat us and this is truly an exhilarating feeling.

 

Plus, we are young, young for real, and our horizon is still to be explored. Two years ago, nobody knew our names and now we are getting ready for the Olympic Games with the "favorites" label on us, it is exciting and new, but it certainly does not make me feel as if I've made it because I am still the child of the beginning, the one always hungry for more.

Besides, ours is a unique sport also from this point of view, in which the growth of a couple or a group is automatically reflected on all the others, because of the way we have to live in the rivalry.

 

Beach volleyball is an open community.

Not only because every time we go to the States we end up having a barbecue with the guys of their national team, but because we often train together, all or almost all of us, and this forces each of us to keep growing.

 

Knowing your opponent extremely well may seem like an advantage, but it means that you also have nothing to hide from those you will have to face in the court. There are no secrets in beach volleyball.

 

Everything is stretched upwards and the level of some meetings, or retreats, is so consistent that it almost seems like a five-star tournament.

 

So that improves a movement. Not a pair.

Not a national team.

But all the movement in its entirety, making the show for those who watch it from the outside more and more electrifying and unforgettable.