What Roundnet Players Can Learn From Track and Field

Chris Ruder founded Spikeball the company in 2008. 11 years later, we have a governing body, national and regional tour series, and a dedicated grassroots movement. Everyone wants to work together to create “the next great American sport.”

But ours is still a young sport, with much to learn. So, I am starting a series called “What Roundnet players can learn from….” The purpose isn’t to compare organizational structures from sport to sport, but to focus on skills and lessons that our athletes have learned across a variety of sports, which translated to success around the net.

Personally, I ran Cross Country and Track and Field for 7 years, was a three time letterwinner for LSU, and competed in multiple SEC championships. I had some success as a runner, but was never a star. I did rub elbows with some stars though. And throughout the process, I learned a lot about what it takes to succeed at the highest level, both from my striving for personal excellence and from watching those who achieved it.

In the distance running community, there is a dearly beloved book called Once a Runner. It captures the day to day milieu of high level distance training a way that is both profound and poetic. In it, non runners are constantly asking Cassidy, the protagonist, what his secret was. Here are his thoughts on the matter.

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes.”

THERE WAS NO SECRET

“You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way to marshal the ferocity of your ambition is over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years.”

In many ways, spikeball is similar to Track and Field. It is a fringe sport, and its particular skill set is not well understood by the public. But that is not to say it doesn’t have a fundamental skill set. And what the aspiring spikeball player might learn from this retired runner is that there are no tricks, no shortcuts, to greatness.

Learning that cut serve is a useful skill, but you won’t go from a beginner to the best in the world because you did. Incorporating some body defense makes a lot of sense from time to time. But it is not the only thing holding the advanced player back from cracking into the Spikeball Elite. When watching some of the top players, it is easy to become so consumed with the sizzle that you miss the steak.

The men at the top have marshaled their ferocity over many days, weeks, months, and yes it’s time to accept it, years. Its quite unprofound, but the reason they serve better than you is that they have spent more time serving than you. Their offensive prowess isn’t based on any zany mental tricks, but because of the hours spent setting and hitting balls. I asked Skyler Boles one time the quickest way to improve as a player, and at the time, I was shocked by his answer.

“Buy a ten pack of pro balls.”

I was looking for the secret, that hidden piece of knowledge to push me over the edge. But he knew better. The only way I was going to get better was if I hit more balls.

None of this is to say that technique doesn’t matter or that a good teacher doesn’t help. Just yesterday a better player than me showed me two slight technical changes that were immediately fruitful. Working harder isn’t always helpful if you aren’t working smarter. A lot of times, the best players become so because they had the best coaches. But no one wins an Olympic medal or runs a personal record after just one day’s work. Track and Field taught me patience, and the value of building slowly but surely. And I am taking that lesson with me to the next great american sport.

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