The Importance of Finding an Identity Outside of Volleyball

I started the VolleyBlog as a way to help players and parents learn more about what it takes to be a great player.  Part of that is to bring you stories from former players.  Today, we bring you Dana Backlund who played club ball at Wave Volleyball Club, went on to University of Florida and then Oregon State University before having to medically retire, this is her volleyball story.

What do I know now that I wish I knew earlier?

Plain and simple: volleyball won’t last forever.

College won’t last forever.

People don’t last forever.

And so on.

Although I don’t want to be a downer here, it’s only realistic. And I’m all about that.

My only dream in life was to play volleyball for as long as I could.

Unfortunately, due to my borderline insane work ethic and just plain bad genetics, my body wasn’t in on the plan.

Since I had started volleyball when I was 9 years old I remember being in a lot of pain. By my sophomore year of college, I had 2 knee surgeries and a severe back injury (not to mention all the other “minor” ailments that were just not severe enough to me to have my attention). I took care of myself, I started strength training when I was 12, ate relatively healthy; but the amount and intensity of the hours I was playing was just too much for my body to handle.

By my 4th year of college volleyball I was barely able to stand up. I would only get out of bed to take all my prescription medications and go to practice. I wouldn’t go to class. I didn’t hang out with friends. I wouldn’t go to the movies purely because I couldn’t tolerate sitting for that amount of time. 

I was living each day so that I could play volleyball for hours at a time the next morning.

By the end of the season, after missing half for a sprained ankle and my back, I decided to consider not playing anymore.

I met with my doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, parents, and even some teammates, to talk it through and figure out what was best for me. I knew that the fact that I, the person who loves this game more than anyone I have ever met (and probably will ever meet), was even considering not playing meant I should definitely not be.

In December 2015 I was ruled medically ineligible to play indoor volleyball.

So what did I learn?

There is so much more than sports.

Yes, even for those of you die-hards like me.

Whatever you are finding your identity in, whether that be friends, academics, relationships, social media, sororities, whatever it is… There is so much more than that. And the hardest part is trying to see that in the moment.

I wish I had people telling me that when I was 9 coming to practice the same day my horse destroyed my finger just because I wanted to play volleyball (because duh? What else would I want to do?). Or when I was 15 and committed to play in college and dying to get out of high school. Or when I was absolutely miserable at 20 because volleyball wasn’t going well for me (which obviously meant my life was falling apart).


I wasted all that time worrying about how well I was doing in one trivial aspect of my life, that my performance, my growth as a person, my mental health, my academics, my relationships, my soul, actually suffered. 

Now I am definitely NOT saying don’t work hard. Or not to go get those extra reps in the gym. Or not be the first person in and the last to leave. That hard work is what made me who I am. Those extra reps are what gave me the confidence I needed to play the game.

But what I am saying is…

Just stop and enjoy the game. Enjoy the experiences your having. Enjoy the people you’re surrounded with. Enjoy life. Because it doesn’t last forever.

It sounds so cliché. Everyone tells you to enjoy every moment you have. But it can truly be taken away in a blink of an eye.

And all of a sudden, you wasted all that time worrying that you couldn’t get 10 balls in a row into the setter’s eye, and you forgot this whole time you were supposed to be having fun.

Follow Dana's next steps via:

Instagram: dback2

Twitter: daneback2

Website/Blog: Life after the Dream