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Levi Olson’s Journey from Walk-On to Professional

When anyone watches me play volleyball, their first thought is typical ‘that guy doesn’t look like a volleyball player, he belongs on the football field‘. This is something that has been the nature of the way I play the game of volleyball throughout my whole career. As one of the shorter players out there, I have had to find other ways to be successful. As any coach I’ve had can attest, it is pretty evident how I have found success through how I approach the game in ways that make up for what I’m missing in height. I’ll start off by outlining my career for a little bit more context.

I never expected I would become a volleyball player in my younger days. I played many sports growing up, and volleyball was almost last on my list, that was at least until I had a group of friends start playing club volleyball, and I decided last minute to show up to the try-out. I managed to make the tier one team in my first year. Throughout the next couple of years, I wasn’t anything special. I never grew as tall as the other players and was by no means a good enough ball controller to be a libero. I figured I would call it quits after 18u volleyball, as I never got recruited by any post-secondary programs. I took a year off after high school to travel and was planning to go to the U of S the following year.

That summer I found out a few of my good friends were going to Briercrest Bible College for school and to play. I figured there wasn’t any harm in trying to play another year, so I emailed the coach, Nigel Mullen, seeing if there was a chance to make this happen. I ended up being invited to an ‘open tryout’(I was the only one) the day that classes started at the University of Saskatchewan. I had a good first two practices with the team and when the tryout period was offer, the coach invited me to be a part of the team for the year, although I was the sixth outside on the team. Throughout that year, i went from being the sixth outside to the starting right side. That season our team finished third in the ACAC. When the season ended, I planned to resume my initial plan to go to the U of S. The summer passed, and I signed up for my classes. Similar to when I tried out for Briercrest, I again knew some of the guys who played for the Huskies and thought i’d see if I could get myself into another try-out. I emailed the coach at that time, Nathan Bennet, and he let me know they were holding an open tryout the first week of classes. I showed up along with five or six others looking to try-out. After the tryout, Bennet brought me into his office and told me I had earned the week to practice with the guys as an extended tryout. That Thursday, during the team huddle he announced to myself and the rest of the guys that i had made the team.

In the next couple years, I battled to keep my spot on the traveling roster, as my role was mostly as a serving sub. In my third year with the Huskies I had earned my first start, and I was able to keep that spot throughout the second semester. In the following years I found myself starting to perform better and better, not only as someone who is performing well within the team but also within the league. In my final year with the Huskies, we made a national push, something that was not an individual effort by anyone on the team, but by us pulling together to push through many ups and downs through our careers. I owe a large part of my career to the men around me, willing to push through many obstacles with me, whether that’s a Covid year, coaching switches, or a torn patella tendon in my third year. People like Dylan Mortensen, Jake Rappin, and Jeff Erickson kept volleyball something I wanted to be a part of. After my final year with the Huskies, I was able to get a contract to play pro in the Czech Republic, something I never thought I would be able to do or say.

With my career outlined, hopefully I can explain some of the things that allowed me to be successful in a way that is helpful for those looking to play volleyball, or any sport, at a high level. In regards to what i said earlier about any coach being able to attest to the way I play, this is because I am known to swing hard on every ball. My swing is the most standout part of my game, and every coach in CanWest knows I’m going for it every time. In practice, it got to the point where the balls I was swinging on were almost laughable, but it was the only way I knew I could catch teams off guard. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with this mindset, like you can get blocked bad, or blast the ball out the back. I’ve found the best way to push through this is to try and enjoy or laugh through the ups and downs. You can laugh at an aggressive, off the net, out of system swing that you get a kill on and laugh at getting roofed after swinging as hard as you can into the teeth of the block. Embracing the ups and downs of the game is the mindset that I have found I play the best with.

Another thing that has helped me along the way is aggressive goal setting.  What I mean by this, is to think of a goal that you would be happy with, then take it one step further. Almost to the point where its unachievable, but still possible if everything goes right. This is something that I have done throughout my entire career. At Briercrest my aggressive goal was to get a player of the game award by the end of the season, when I hadn’t even made the starting lineup yet. My first year with the Huskies I wanted play in the game not just as a serving sub, when I hadn’t even made the travelling roster yet. My third year I wanted to be the last guy coach wanted to sub off, after riding the bench first semester. My fourth year I wanted the most aces in the league, and my fifth I wanted to be a Can-West All-Star. From an outside perspective, no one thought I would have accomplished these goals after telling fellow players and coaches about them, but by having something that seemed so ‘far-fetched’ to everyone else, it gave me motivation to prove them wrong. The feeling of proving someone else wrong was the biggest driving factor in my career. The feeling of accomplishing these goals each year pushed me to aim higher for the next aggressive goal, and the feeling of accomplishment or proving someone else wrong when achieving these is what kept me going.

If I could sum up the things that helped me get to where I am today, firstly it’s to embrace every part of the game. The swing that I shouldn’t have taken that gets a kill, or the swing the completely misses the court and hits the score table on my own side (that happened). The ups and downs of personal performance are part of any game, and we have to enjoy the good, and learn from, laugh, and move past the bad as quickly as possible. Secondly, is to create aggressive goals. Find something that pushes you to your limits, that pushes you to prove everyone else wrong and something that even just the thought of seeing it completed drives you day in and day out.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. EVPVStevie

    November 1, 2023 at 11:37 pm

    Truly inspiring, what a great story. Thanks for sharing.

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