Pros and Cons of Pursuing a Professional Volleyball Career Overseas

“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”

~Million Dollar Baby

 

Having played indoor volleyball professionally for 10 years, I have gotten a lot of questions. It’s normal for people to have questions about what I do, because professional volleyball is such a foreign concept to many North Americans, who are only exposed to massive professional leagues like the NBA or NFL. There is a lot of curiosity surrounding it, especially because there is no such volleyball league in North America, and most people simply view volleyball as a fun activity for their kids, or a way to get a post-secondary eduction paid for.
 

Over the years, I have come to expect certain comments/questions more than others. Two of the common ones are, “Do you actually make money doing what you do?” and “Oh my gosh, your life must be sooooo fun!” The answer to the first questions is YES; I don’t think I would have continued playing for so long if I wasn’t able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. The second comment is a little trickier to broach, however, because while I love playing and having the life that I do, being a professional volleyball player is NOT glamorous. There are certain parts of the lifestyle that are wonderful, and there are others that are really difficult.
 

Here is a look at what I consider to be some of the pros and cons regarding the pursuit of a professional volleyball career overseas. If you are on the fence about whether or not this is something you want to do (I am always a huge advocate for trying it out for at least a year), here is an honest take.
 

Pros of Playing Pro Overseas

 

1. Getting paid to play a sport that you love

There are so many people out there who really hate their jobs, so I think that anyone who has the opportunity to earn money doing something they are passionate about is truly lucky. Think about it…. pro volleyball players get paid to Play. A. Game.
 

There is a massive pay scale in volleyball, with different countries or leagues paying more than others, and with different levels of players being able to command a larger pay check than others. Pay can range from covering expenses with a bit more to spare, to millions of dollars per year.
 

2. Seeing the world, and having the chance to deeply explore different cultures

Playing pro volleyball overseas allows you to travel to a different continent for free. People spends thousands of dollars to travel to different countries, but by pursuing a pro volleyball career, it is simply part of the job, and that is really cool. Also, as tourists, we are typically exposed to the surface-level aspects of a country or culture, but by playing a pro season, you become truly immersed in the culture. You have the opportunity to experience life as a local, which often hides amazing treasures that few foreigners witness.
 

3. Making friends from around the world

On a typical pro volleyball team, the majority of the players are from the country, and there are players from other countries, depending on how many foreign players the league allows. Having played pro for 10 years, I can honestly say that some of my most meaningful friendships were made playing overseas. It is so exciting to be able to connect with people from all over the world, and to maintain those relationships for years to come.
 

Now obviously playing pro is a job, and like any job, you won’t get along with everyone you work with. If you do find people you connect with, though, having that shared experience is really meaningful, and it makes everything so much easier. Plus, you’ll have people around the world to visit when you travel later on! 🙂
 

4. Experiencing different styles of play and coaching

Different coaches and countries play different styles of volleyball, and being exposed to these variable styles will make you a better volleyball player. When the speed of the game changes, or if players move a lot more on the attack, there is an adjustment period, but it makes you a much more well-rounded and adaptable volleyball player at the end. The same can be said for playing for different coaches, who focus on different things and make specific requests of their athletes.
 

5. Volleyball is one of the most popular sports worldwide

Being from North America, it is hard to imagine that volleyball could be one of the most popular sports in the world, but it really is. Europeans are shocked when they hear that there is no professional league in North America because in places like Poland, it is a way of life. Volleyball players are viewed as true professional athletes overseas, much like NBA or NFL players are over here. It is so nice to be appreciated as an athlete, have fans at all of the games, and to feel like what you are doing makes a difference, because kids really aspire to play pro volleyball.
 

Cons of Playing Pro Overseas

 

1. Missing holidays

One of the most difficult parts of playing pro overseas is missing holidays. Most seasons go from September to April/May, so Thanksgiving and Easter are definitely missed, and making it home for Christmas is a maybe, but only if you’re lucky. In 10 years playing pro, I only went home for Christmas two times, and one of those times was after actual Christmas.
 

It is really hard missing the holidays, especially nowadays when everyone posts about them on social media. It’s all right in your face. Pro schedules don’t change based on holidays, though. If anything, games fall right on the actual holiday because more people can come to watch.
 

2. Loneliness

If you aren’t one of the very few who is able to go overseas with a significant other or family member, playing pro can be very lonely. With days off, mornings off, time between practices, etc. there is a lot of down time, and it can be hard to not think about how much you miss your family and friends.
 

Usually, teammates from the country you are playing in have friends and family come to watch the games, or they can go home on free days, but foreign players don’t have that luxury. It’s tough. To keep those feelings of loneliness at bay, it’s so important to find things to keep you busy, whether that be taking up a hobby, going on day trips, or going out with friends.
 

3. Having to answer to many different people

Playing pro can be tough in that you don’t just have to answer to a coach anymore. At the pro level, the coach is employed by the club, just like you are, so management and the sponsors and people paying the bills have a right to voice their opinions. To be honest, winning solves everything haha, but if your team is having a tough season, or is in a rough patch, you could be subjected to a lot of scrutiny and meetings to find out what the problem is. Being a professional athlete is a business, and the people investing in you obviously want a return on their investment. If they don’t feel that they are getting a good return, you will definitely hear about it, from them and from the coach.
 

4. Potential money issues

Most professional volleyball teams cause their athletes no problems when it comes to making payments on time, but sometimes, due to the chain of command, or how sponsors earn their money, there can be issues to face. It is possible that payments might be late, and you have to play on faith that you will eventually receive your money. Sometimes clubs will withhold payments from athletes if they are not satisfied with the team’s results. In rare circumstances, sponsors may lose their money and not be able to fulfill their contractual obligations to the athletes.
 

These types of situations are awful and I consider them to be very unprofessional, but at one point or another during a career, almost every athlete has to deal with these sorts of things. Putting these issues on top of feeling vulnerable or lonely can make things really challenging, and even though it is always the athlete’s choice of how they want to deal with these situations, it is important to know that these occurrences are a possibility.
 

5. Getting no recognition for your efforts when you are at home

Playing pro volleyball in Europe, while you are actually in Europe, is a lot of fun, and it is great to play a sport that is so celebrated and respected. It can be difficult, though, when you return to North America, where there is much less of an awareness or following of the sport. As I said earlier, the number of times I have heard the question, “Do you actually make a living playing volleyball?” is a little insulting, and quite frankly, would never be asked overseas. Being a pro volleyball player while in Europe requires no justification or explanation at all, but I have had to defend my career choice a lot in North America, and that is a little disappointing.
 

The points above outline a few of the amazing things, and a few of the more difficult aspects of pursuing a pro volleyball career overseas. Like any job, there are parts that you may absolutely love, and there are parts that will prove to be challenging, but I think it’s important to realize that anything worth trying will have its bumps every now and then. Being a professional volleyball player is a real privilege, and even with all of the missed Christmases, I would never trade my experiences for anything. They have helped shape me into the person I am today, and I am so thankful for that.
 

xo, Sarah

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1 Comment

  • Jessiker February 12, 2018 at 4:01 am

    It’s really good that you’re still persisting despite the challenges and difficulties you’ve been through. I think you really have a strong heart and a great gift with playing volley.

    Other than that keep it up and GOOD LUCK Sarah!

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