A letter to young Paolo
BY PAOLO NICOLAI
In partnership with The Owl Post
do not make the mistake of believing that the world that is now in front of your eyes, will continue unchanged for a long time. Because everything changes, and it does it following its own time and manner, which are not easy to understand or to bend to your own desire.
But do not give up, because you will always be able to do your best to create the future you want.
The starting point will remain the same, a basic rule for everything that matters, in life as in the game and – you will learn this in a few years – even in your work-life: you must like what you are doing and you should never take yourself too seriously.
Beach volley has already become your great aspiration, and that's for sure a good thing.
Pure passion is at the origin of the mental strength which is necessary to achieve great goals. Without that, you are stuck where you are, or, if anything, you may take a few short steps back when the first difficulties appear.
So, this feeling that you feel burning inside, it'll be more than welcome, just like the desire to excel and stand out: you are not the only one to have it, it is in the DNA of all those who play sports.
Don't make the mistake, however, of confusing a good performance with success, because they are not the same thing. Achieving a good result means having defeated the opponents, having reached a goal or having taken steps to get closer to it.
But you'll be able to achieve a good result and call it a success when you had fun on the way, or when you have taken the opportunity to learn something that the path has offered you as you walked through it.
You will make mistakes, at times.
You will confuse the two things and begin to engage only with the expectations that others have of you, forgetting about yours.
It will happen, period.
It will happen that you will live a few days as in one of those glass balls that are given at Christmas, those that, if shaken, they look like it's snowing inside them. Yet, instead of the snow, there will be confetti made with other people's opinions written on them.
Get a hammer, break the glass and leave.
Your life is waiting for you out there and believe me, truly, believe me, you won't lose anything of what you are trying to build.
At that point you will be on the stage and, at the beginning, you will feel as if you were naked.
The judgments of others draw a veil on people, and if this, on the one hand, makes it impossible for them to really show themselves, on the other hand, it protects them from feeling too vulnerable.
As long as your thoughts act according to what others think, you will be afraid of responsibilities, and you will end up in hiding.
And hiding is easy.
Yet, when you understand how to get rid of unnecessary judgments, you will discover that taking responsibility and making mistakes is by far preferable to not acting.
If I can give you some advice, Paolo, when you'll play in your first major tournaments and you'll be eliminated soon, just stay there. Stay there and go see how the greatest names of your sport face the finals, the critical plays, the loud audience.
Enjoy the fullness of their gestures when they're facing significant milestones, and compare it to your own insecurities, which you also feel, in front of 5 spectators, or maybe a few more.
Learn from them, and one day you will be ready to be at the center of the action all the time.
Being at the center of the action all the time: this is the thing that, more than any other, will fascinate you about beach volley. Being responsible, the two of you, together with your partner, for everything that happens in the court.
You will never get a chance to hide.
You will not be able to afford a runaround or a play that "someone else will take care of".
The ball, the play, will pass through your own fingers.
Every single time.
This will force you to embrace a very specific attitude: trying to always put yourself in the position to give your very best.
Even in the tiniest detail.
Even at difficult times.
Even after a mistake.
But don't be discouraged because it is the mistakes that give you the chance to improve. And it will be up to you to find the perfect formula to get the right balance.
For years on, you will wonder – because I know that you are always eager to define all things – if yours is an individual or a team sport.
Then, growing up, you will understand that it is both things, together.
Both, because everyone must try and become better every day. Yet, among all the individual work of the people, there is a common factor, and that is the goal.
Having a common goal, a strong one, allows the work of the whole team to be multiplied by creating something greater than what could be the simple sum of many small factors.
Finally, growing up a little more, you will also understand that the goal is not about a single result to be achieved on the field, but a set of things to become off the field.
Every season, every tournament, every match, sooner or later, fades.
Your path, however, does not.
Working for goals, that’s good, but I suggest you to learn early on how to choose the right ones.
This way you will create a certain pattern to deal with things and not avoid them.
The habit of dealing with things will be frightening, at first. Only later you will realize that it must be lived as a challenge, and that each challenge can give you something, no matter how it goes.
Confronting others is an opportunity, and not a threat.
What matters is the number of things you can learn from that opportunity, whether in victory or defeat.
Getting involved can mean two things: either agreeing to be part of a trial and experiencing it, therefore, as something stimulating; or letting it slow you down, which can be seen as a problem or a pitfall.
Hence, the best way is to accept the situation.
You will have to learn to live it as an opportunity.
From the exact moment you are involved, you'll either win or lose. But this is not what will be evaluated in the end.
Falling and getting back up is part of the process.
This is not what will make you a winner or a loser.
You have to know that all the difficulties you will experience on your path can be overcome, that you will have to go all in to overcome them, but also, that you can create something important inside, regardless of whether you manage to achieve your sporting goal or not.
All this journey, Paolo, will grant you great satisfaction.
But it will also lead you to often doubt what you are doing.
To survive, you will have to learn to believe in the game, which is a rare beast. And, however hard you try to train for what you may find in the court, it will always surprise you. You have to learn to play badly, and you can only learn to play badly by playing countless games, in different situations, competing head-on.
In addition to this, you need to know that tough days will come, in which you will give in to discouragement, and your peripheral vision will shrink to become just a long and poorly illuminated telescope. This will happen when you allow the results to define you.
You will hit the Olympics once and it will be iffy. You will hit them a second time and it will be great.
You will win a medal, and when you come back, some people will consider you as a man who is worth more than what he was 4 years before.
Don't let them do it.
You were already the person you will have become.
And you are, now too.
Because you have already tattooed within yourself the most important values. They will only be multiplied by the time you decide to invest in the thing you love.
And believe me, Paolo, it will certainly not be just a little bit.
I’ll be right here waiting for you.