5 Questions You Should Ask A Professional Athlete!
1. I'm wondering, should I start playing professional sports or should I focus on my education?
What I would say now looking back to the path I chose is that these two things can be both done, you don't need to make a choice! There are plenty of possibilities. When I was playing in Zurich I had a coach - Tom Hogan, former USA national team assistant coach and currently @ Denver State University (ex-coach @ Colorado State University) volleyball team - who wanted me to join his team in Colorado, meanwhile educating myself there. I didn't go anyways, since I had already started my education in Bulgaria and I managed to keep up with studying and playing abroad, but in my opinion college sports provide the perfect balance between those two things. You will be able to play college volleyball (or any other sport) and get an education. Once you get your degree you can focus on playing professionally.
My journey didn't include going to the USA, but I made it work somehow, thanks to technology and the opportunity to get online classes in some private universities in Europe. It wasn't easy, I'm not going to say it was. I had to make a lot of sacrifices, spend a lot of time on reading and writing paper works and projects, but after all I'm proud that I was able to do my major and my master in Business Administration and along with that to play professional volleyball in Europe.
2. How important is nutrition for an athlete?
Nutrition plays a key role in professional sports. It does in life in general, we all know eating healthy is good for us. But when playing as a pro, we really need to take care of what we give to our bodies, since we need to recover well and be in an optimal condition for next practice or game.
The truth is nutrients affect us in long term, meaning it's not enough to eat good a couple of days pre-game. Our bodies work on long term frames - 48hrs/72hrs/weekly and in that context an athlete's diet should be consistent and must include proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats. I eat 5 times per day for example and I am trying to make heather choices with my food, I prefer cooking at home and when I eat out every once in a while I still try to stay on track with the right nutrients.
If you have been eating unhealthy so far but still able to perform good imagine how much better can you feel and how much could you improve you performance by eating better!!! Don't sabotage yourself by not doing the best you can, because professional sports only last so long and you will be looking back thinking "What could I have done better?".
P.S. We all have a "cheat day" every once in a while of course. Treating yourself with your favorite not so healthy foods can be an awesome stress relief, but let's try to not exaggerate with it!
3. What should I focus on to get better?
Every one of us has his strong and weak points. I'm pretty sure we are all aware of our owns. If you're not really sure you can always talk to your coach or an older, more experienced teammate to help you with that. Next thing to do is work on your weak spots every chance you get - while lifting, during ball practice, even at home or in your free time by visualizing what you need to to and how you are doing it! It might sound funny at first, but mental practices play a very important in high level sports, since at that point everyone knows how to play, but the once with stronger mindset in the crucial moments are able to win!
Another thing I would advice "younger me" to do is to find a role model, someone to really look up to as an athlete, man or woman, doesn't matter. Try to study their moves and how they play and act on the court. It could be even more than one person, just find those athletes that inspire you to strive for greatness!
4. How important is weight lifting in sports?
From what I have learned weight lifting can be as important as ball practices, especially when we no longer need to learn how to pass the ball, we are professional athletes, aren't we. But lifting can help you improve dramatically your performance by boosting your physical abilities to another level!
Of course no one ever said you can become Superman or Wonder Woman overnight :) but it is something you must be consistent with, along with your diet, since weight lifting, as nutrition, also works in longer terms. Your fitness program should consider preparation, in-season and out-season workouts of course, but even more you must realize that lifting doesn't just make you better in few months.
In order to see the real benefit form it, you must have patience. It takes years to build muscle and improve physical qualities!
5. What about recovery?
Recovery is one of the most important things for your body, alongside with your diet and fitness. Recovering well means sleeping enough, taking care of your body, having massage on regular basis and etc.
Sleep is probably the most crucial part. A lot of athletes don't get enough sleep and it always affects their performance, no exception! Though "enough sleep" for one can be 6 hours and for another 10, I feel best after a good 8 hour sleep, preferably going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. For me it's never the same 8 hours if I go to sleep at 2am or at 11pm for example. Night sleep is the key!
Other important things for me are getting a good full body massage at least a couple of times per week. During the week I would also go swimming 2 or 3 times, making 20-30 laps since it's very good for you back and shoulders (joints that suffer the most form volleyball), I would go to sauna and steam bath as well when I have time.