Interview with Courtney Thompson [part 2]

In the second part of my interview with silver medalist from London Olympic Games, Courtney Thompson (USA) tells more about the American volleyball league system and bringing back memories of past games. Enjoy!

Ok, so let’s switch the subject and talk a little about the American league system. It’s very different from the European ones: Polish, Italian and other. In the U.S. there’s a university league and all of the members of the national team come from there. Can you tell me what’s the deal with this system, how does it work?
When we play in university, it’s just so different. We don’t have a professional league and so there’s a lot of universities in the U.S. and all are different levels. I think it can be confusing for people that don’t understand the league and conferences. You can have two athletes play in Division 1, but absolutely different levels. We have three divisions and even within that there are conferences. In Division 1 you can have this huge school with 30 000 people and also have a school with 5 000. So there’s that, but that’s the highest level we can play at and we also get a college education, which is great. It’s a cool experience, different than playing professionally. It’s more similar to the feeling of playing for your country. There’s lots of fans, you live in that city for four years, you go to school there, so you have a lot of emotional ties I guess to the programme. And you get to choose where you go, you get to choose your coach, so it’s very different ownership I guess.

And it’s also different in terms of your “career” life, because you both play and study. In Poland not so many women volleyball players decide to study and play volleyball at the same time. Even if they do, they usually study Physical Education. So after they end their careers it may be really hard for them to start a “new” life. And not everyone can coach a team for example. Do you think that the system you have in the U.S. is successful in that matter?
Oh absolutely, absolutely! I mean, it’s the highest education you can have up to that point if you can get a Master’s or PhD. And it’s neat, because they really invest in that student/athlete balance. They give you resources. You’re an athlete and that’s very important and we’re playing at high level, but you’re also a student and a person and they prepare for that transition, which is — even if you’re prepared for it — difficult for every athlete to go through. But we also don’t have the opportunity, well, with the exception of the national team, to play professionally. And so the group of women that get to do what we do unfortunately is very small. Here [in Europe] it’s a benefit, because people can play volleyball for a living, this is what they do. All my teammates here, that’s what they do. And then in summer they have [time] off, they join the national team and then they hang out (laughs).

Maybe also that’s why every player from your national team plays here in Europe. No one plays in the U.S.
Because there’s nowhere to play. We don’t have a league.

I went to the Team USA website. There’s this segment called U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team Weekly Update where you can read about yours and your teammates’ achievements in the leagues they play in: Italian, Russian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Brazilian and so on. It’s something else, because when you talk about Polish national team, there’s only a small part of players that play abroad and the rest play here in the country.

Well, good for them. You guys have a great league here, which is awesome, it’s one of the best in the world. We love travelling and I love Poland, but we all wish we could stay home and play. For us it’s cool to get this experience, but you’re also gone for eight months and then when we come home, we travel some more. Usually we’re out of the country for like ten months a year, which is… interesting lifestyle.

photo: Ronald Hoogendoorn

Yeah, I suppose it’s easier for our players, because they can just get in the car and drive to their family if they have a day off. Well, it’s good, although the drive can be long because of the state of our roads…
Yeah, I noticed! (laughs)

Well, everyone does. I had the chance to talk to Elisa Cella from BKS Bielsko-Biala the other day and even though she was very happy about their fans coming to Lodz to cheer them, she couldn’t help mentioning the terrible state of our roads, which is always very embarrassing for us Poles.
That’s funny (laughs), but you know, I’ve seen worse.

That’s comforting, but let’s not talk about it anymore (laughs). You majored in business administration while playing in the university league. Are you planning to do something with that after you’re done with volleyball?
Well, I don’t know. I’m surprised that I’m still playing, this is longer than I thought I would be playing volleyball. But business is a very good degree from the University of Washington. I would love to coach and maybe I could evolve into an athletic director type situation, which in our college is pretty big. I just had such a great experience as a student athlete and I love college athletics and what it represents, what it can mean to people. It would be fun to be a part of that. Maybe I could also get into some business. My brothers and I talked about starting a business, but I don’t know. Every time I make a plan, everything changes, so… (laughs)

You won so many different titles and medals that it’s probably hard, but do you remember all of those final games, do you go back to them sometimes?
That’s a good question. I remember a lot of them. It’s funny because every tournament we go to is usually a different group of teammates, a different twelve [players], so it’s it’s interesting how different each experience is.  There are specific things I remember about each tournament, but I can say I remember a lot of the games. We tend to laugh about what it was like back then with my teammates.

Do you ever watch those games? But not as a preparation for the next game against this particular opponent, but just to recall something, go back in time for a minute?
Yeah, it’s funny actually, this year we watched… Oh my God! (laughs) We sat down and watched a game from our first Grand Prix of the quad (last four years — editorial note). The first year it was like a bunch of us young girls, just the most random group of people and we were SO BAD. We got aced by Germany like fourteen times in one game. GAME. So it was funny, this summer there were like five of us left from that roster and we sat down with our coach and laughed: ‘We were so bad! How are we still here, why haven’t you just fired us back then?’

Well, you’ve come a long way.
Yeah, but we watched it in that way, to laugh. It was so bad. You know, I don’t so much remember the games. I remember few of the matches. You [mostly] remember the experience, something that happened off the court with your teammates, which is cool. That’s ultimately what you keep from all of it.

— end of the second part —

Move on to the third part.

Read the first part here.

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