Today’s the morning we depart on our 2012 Ram Volleyball foreign tour, and I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on past tours and what they have done for our program as well as comment on what we are about to experience.
The first time we took one of these tours, in the summer of 1999, I remember being on the tour and disappointed in the level of competition we were getting. I wondered if the tour was worth it. I only counted success in quality and quantity of matches and how well we played. I remember having a match canceled on us in Berlin and being very angry with the tour company. It wasn't until after the tour was over that I began to realize the real benefits of it.
The tour was far less about volleyball competition and far more about building trust through a shared experience. Sure, the extra practices help and playing a great Praha Olymp team tests your team’s mettle—especially when you spent the morning walking across the Charles Bridge and touring a castle, then eating salami and cheese with crusty bread for pregame, and warming up with a green and red paneled ball you had never seen before.
But those crazy off-the-cuff experiences create stories . . . stories create bonds among players because they shared an interesting experience. That bond builds trust . . . trust enhances the whole team’s experience and ability to function.
Four years later we did it again, and it was even more valuable. This time choosing new countries and having a Euro of our own on the team. We took a picture with a CSU flag overlooking Budapest that still hangs in my den. Another four years later, another tour. This one giving us much more interaction with the host players and even a chance to meet with a legendary volleyball coach, Nikolay Karpol.
Today, we will head out from Moby at 8:30 a.m., and 22 hours and three airports later we will land in Palermo, Italy. Within three hours we will be playing our first match. We will proceed to play the next three nights in a row and undoubtedly have crazy stories in between. We will see things that help us understand life thousands of years ago, tour villages that vault us into a different culture, and meet people who speak a different language and live a different lifestyle but share one thing in common: the love of a sport called volleyball.
I hope we play well, win a few matches, meet wonderful people and eat great food. But mostly, I hope we discover each other through a shared experience. The real success of this trip will be measured years from now with a story told to a child or a moment recalled between two old teammates. Or maybe another Ram player choosing to live and play overseas because of something they discovered with us during these next 11 days. It will be great . . . trust me.