Don Patterson| AOC senior content manager
Kerri Walsh Jennings isn’t a fan of focusing on end results. That’s intriguing when you consider that no one in the history of volleyball has ever amassed a more impressive collection of end results than Kerri:
- She has won three Olympic gold medals and a bronze.
- She has 135 pro beach titles, making her the all-time victory leader on the women’s side of the game.
- She won two NCAA indoor championships at Stanford and was a starter in her only indoor Olympics at the 2000 Sydney Games.
And yet, her focus is not all about the scoreboard. She makes that abundantly clear.
“If you become very end-result focused, you’re only competing for the championship or the scholarship,” she says. “That’s a very stressful way to live life.”
Kerri, who hopes to qualify with Brooke Sweat to represent the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics (now scheduled for 2021), covered this topic in a recent p1440 live chat that she hosted with her husband, Casey Jennings, winner of 10 career pro beach tournaments. The subject came up during a larger discussion about the benefits of playing multiple sports.
“I think a lot of athletes and parents pursue the youth sports world through a lot of fear,” Kerri said. “There’s fear of missing out. There’s fear of not being seen. But the perspective and lens through which we should all be competing and living our lives is, ‘What’s good for me?’ And I think playing multiple sports is awesome because you challenge yourself on different platforms. It’s not all linear. Overuse and burnout are minimized because you have seasons. In nature, we have seasons for a reason. It can’t be summer all the time. There would be no new life. You have to have fall. You have to have summer. You have to have spring. And I think it’s the same with regard to sports.”
Both Kerri and Casey grew up playing multiple sports, including soccer and baseball. Casey, who scrapped his way up the ladder playing indoor volleyball in junior college before landing a spot on a BYU team that won the 1999 NCAA championship, agrees that a multi-sports experience is beneficial. He illustrates it with an anecdote about his and Kerri’s son Joey, who told Casey he might want to extend his soccer playing beyond the normal fall season. Casey reminded him that they’d already signed him up for baseball. Two weeks after baseball began, Joey came up to Casey and said, “I forgot how fun baseball is, Dad. I love it!”
Referencing the work of Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson, which inspired the 10,000-hours-to-mastery theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller “Outliers: The Story of Success” and is explained in Ericsson’s “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” Casey said: “You’re going to get your 10,000 hours when you decide to get them. But I’ve seen too many kids dive in early for the 10,000 hours and then they’re done by the time they’re 13. I have a bigger fear of someone diving in too early and wrecking their bodies and being one dimensional.”
In a related point, Kerri emphasized that young athletes who choose to specialize at early ages need to build in time away from their sport.
“You have to have an offseason,” she said. “That’s so important because you have to rebuild yourself and leave yourself wanting more.”
Ultimately, though, she favors a broader sports experience.
“When Casey and I were growing up, people started focusing on college when they were 14,” she said. “Now people are doing it when they’re 10, and that’s why they’re feeling forced to pick a sport. I think that’s way too premature. If you have a great, well-rounded spectrum of physicality and athleticism, any coach will think you’re a dream. And then if you have a great attitude on top of that and are willing to work, you’re a dream and then some!”
Don Patterson is the senior content manager for Art of Coaching and the editor of DiG and AAUVB magazines. Previously, he was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, an editor at CBS Sports and the executive editor of Volleyball magazine.