Places I Have Played During my Professional Volleyball Career

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

 

I consider myself so lucky to be able to play a sport that I love for a career. It has taken me all over the world, and has allowed me to explore and become immersed in cultures that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I have met amazing people, and have made a good living playing a game, staying fit, and getting to compete. Amazing!!
 

Given how popular youth volleyball has gotten in recent years, it still shocks me that most people aren’t aware that being a professional volleyball player is a viable career option. I think if parents and kids were aware of the options out there for pursuing volleyball as a career, there would be a stronger push for excellence, and for athletes to take the next step, much as we see in hockey or basketball in North America. There is obviously a wide income range for volleyball players, and there are many different skill levels available to choose from, as far as leagues go. I just wanted to share a little bit about where I have played, because if nothing else, having the opportunity to live in a different country for free to play volleyball is pretty cool.
 

Where Have I Played Professionally?

 

1. Italy

Since I was little, playing in the Italian A1 League was one of my biggest dreams. Out of my 9 years playing overseas, 3 of them were spent playing in this league.
 

I started my career in Conegliano, which is a beautiful town known for Prosecco (amazing!), about 45 minutes north of Venice. I played here for 2 years, and it was such a great experience. The food and wine culture was incredible, and it was here that I gained a real appreciation for good espresso, good wine, and good food. Before living in Conegliano, I had never had coffee, and never really liked wine, but this was a great place to get educated in them both. I never looked back. To this day, I have a deep love for these things, and it’s really cool to look back and know that it started there.
 

A few years later, I played in another Italian town called Villa Cortese, which is about half an hour north of Milan. Again, the food and wine were amazing, but in Villa, I learned how nice it is to be a part of a smaller community. The town was home to just 6000 people, and everyone in town followed the volleyball team. Walking through the centre of town, everyone knew each other, and it was so nice to connect with people over coffee, or at the deli or pizzeria. We developed some really meaningful relationships with some of the people in the town, and my husband and I both look back on that place with big smiles.
 

2. Korea

I played in Korea for 2 seasons, but they were split up, and were for 2 different teams. Both teams were based in Seoul, the country’s capital.
 

Korea was unlike anything I had ever experienced at that point in my life. I had only been to Asia with my University and for World Championships with Team Canada, so I hadn’t had an in-depth experience with the culture. Asian culture is very traditional and passive, especially for women. Being an out-spoken, assertive woman, I had some serious lessons to learn there, and actually came to understand the value of sisterhood.
 

All of the girls on my team lived together in a dormitory-style building, with the coaching staff downstairs. The training was intensive and it was long, and the girls didn’t get to go home to see their families very often. It was very interesting to see how much the girls depended on each other for support, and they became family. They took care of each other. This really touched me, and it showed me how much impact small acts of kindness, or even just listening, can have on people.
 

3. Brazil

I played in Brazil for 2 back-to-back seasons in Rio de Janeiro.
 

My first season in Rio started one month after the Brazilian women won gold in the London Olympics. A few players on that team were on my team in Rio, and the coach was the legendary Bernardinho. I learned a lot of things playing in Brazil, but one of the big ones was BALANCE.
 

There was an expectation of excellence in the gym in Rio. Some of the best players and coaches in the world were coming to work everyday, and there was always an intensity, and a deep focus to everything we were doing. I loved it. The thing that stuck with me, though, was that when practice was over, or when the game was over, everyone was able to relax and have a lot of fun. No one took work home with them (except maybe Bernardo haha).  There was no obsessing or worrying or talking about volleyball when we were off the court. Work was work, and it was done at the highest level possible. When work was over, though, it was time to enjoy life, decompress, and relax.
 

4. China

I have played in China for 2 back-to-back seasons, both in Shanghai.
 

China is a very strong volleyball country, and was also my first experience with Communism. The culture and values are similar to those in Korea, but playing in China taught me the power of choice, and to never take anything for granted.
 

My whole life I never thought about the fact that I could choose what sport to play or where I went to school or what I wanted to pursue as a career. I think in North America, almost all of us do. The girls I played with in China, and my coaches, trainers, etc. didn’t have that choice. My teammates were identified as having desirable physical traits for volleyball players and were selected to do that for their career. Many of them left school very young to train full time, and from the time they were chosen, they have trained twice a day, everyday. Some of them don’t want to play volleyball, and some want to get an education or travel or get married, but they won’t be able to do those things until the government says they can.
 

For me, playing volleyball was a choice. For them, the decision was made for them. I think of how fortunate I am to have been able to make that decision for myself, and I never take it for granted. I chose this life, and I will make sure I get the most out of it.
 

Other than in North America, most other countries in the world have professional volleyball leagues. It has a huge following in Europe and South America and Asia. You don’t have to be on your national team to pursue a professional volleyball career, as there are many different levels available. It just depends on what you want to get out of your experience.
 

Putting all other things aside, I have grown so much from living in the countries I did, and I feel like I have become a much more well-rounded and cultured person because of my decision to play overseas. My experiences have changed me and the way I see the world, and I got to do it all from playing volleyball. I can’t believe it.
 

xo, Sarah

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