Lloy Ball: I play because they pay me.

  • When I remember my childhood, I see my parents’ bedroom. In the middle of the large bed, there is a “net”, made of pillows, piled one on top of the other. My father constructed it. Somewhere nearby there lies a balloon, which imitates the ball. I played my first volleyball games in the bedroom, wanting, most of all, to beat dad. I was four years old, when my dad started teaching me the rules of volleyball. I treated those playing ball mornings seriously. (Anna Więcek, Świat Siatkówki)



    I became a setter not only because I turned out to be a champion at hitting the balloon over the pillows. My father was a setter and I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him. The rule was simple: when the team loses, it is usually the fault of the setter. When the team wins, the attacker is the hero. You have to have a strong personality to become a setter. I do. Thanks to my father.


    Dreams
    When the Americans won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in basketball in the 80s, I was sitting on the sofa with my dad, in our home, in Indiana. We were watching the final game together and I opened my eyes wider and wider with every minute. I told him then, that when I grow up I want to be a basketball player and go to the Olympic games. I wanted to jump into the TV and rejoice with our basketball players. I wanted to experience the type of emotions that sportsmen competing in the Olympic Games experience. My father made me realize that the all America plays basketball, every little boy knows how to dribble the ball, how to shoot baskets. Joining the representation was, according to him, practically impossible, the chances were one to a million. Volleyball was an easier solution. The effort of training was the same, but the statistical chance to get into a national team – much bigger. My father’s arguments seemed to me strong enough to accept them and I chose playing over the net.
    Indiana, where I come from, is famous for the popularity of basketball. At my school nobody had heard of volleyball. In order to play for a school team, I had to choose from typical American sports: basketball or baseball. As I was tall, and deep in my heart I still remembered the sofa, Olympic finals and my emotions, I started to play basketball. Just as I thought – I started to love this sport with all my heart. There is no net in basketball , but you also have to block the player. Both disciplines are similar. Playmakers, who run the team, appear in both disciplines. Moments of thought about the future appeared again. I decided I wanted to be like my father, so I started treating basketball as a hobby. Even now if I have a choice between watching a volleyball and a basketball game on TV, I choose basketball. Whenever I have a free moment, I take my ball out of the closet and I go play, of course being careful not to hurt myself and eliminate myself from playing volleyball. When people hear such declarations, they ask why I did not become a second Jordan. And I answer, that my father has always been a role model for me. I wanted to be like him.


    My father – the coach
    My father is a fairly short man. He used to play volleyball as a setter. Then height did not matter so much as it does now. Tall setters came along with my generation. Peter Blange, the present Dutch coach was the precursor.
    My dad used to take me to the games. He never persuaded me to play volleyball, but he did show me all the beauty of this sport. He did not insist that I follow this path. If I had become one of the millions of American basketball players, I could also count on his support. One day, when I die and I will be able to look at my life from the other side, I will be most proud of the fact that it was a good life, because I could be like my father.
    Michal Jordan, Tiger Woods are the idols of American children. My father has always been my idol. Not only because thanks to him, I am such a person and no other. He is a wonderful dad for me and my sisters, a perfect husband for my mum. He is simply a good man. When he played volleyball, he did it 100%, but when he returned home, he took part in our upbringing the same way.
    Some people ask me if the fact that my father was also my coach made it more difficult. I answer, on the contrary, it was easier. He treated me the same way as any other boy from the team. He did not expect of me more, but he did not favour me either. When we returned home I was his son once again.
    I have many memories of my home. Eating dinner together was our family tradition. We gathered around the table everyday at 6 p.m. It was very important for us to spend a few moments together, to talk about school, work, problems. During the fifteen years that I lived with my parents, I never saw them fight. I try to build my family on the same foundations. I have been married to my wife for ten years and whenever we have a problem – we talk, even if it takes two hours. I never allow a moment, where we could start arguing. I want my children to say one day, that I was a good father. I come from the old American school, in which it is most important for every father to raise his children to be good people. If they make a mistake, it is my obligation to tell them what was wrong.
    I look at sport in a similar way. In every good team, talking is the base of success. A good atmosphere is essential in order to win. For it to be good, we have to talk with each other during the game, in the locker room and during training.

  • Japanese school of volleyball
    Not many American volleyball players could count on contracts in Europe in the 90s. Most of us did not want to leave the USA because we trained all year with the national team and we were paid to do so. After the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, the Japanese offered me to play in one of their clubs. The American federation agreed to my transfer to Asia, so I took the risk, packed and went – of course I did it for the money. I don't regret it. I spent three wonderful years in Japan. The level of the Japanese league differs from European standards but my stay there helped me to develop my volleyball skills. Because of the regulation that only one foreign player could play in a team, I was there alone, surrounded by eleven small Japanese men, who were average players. I had to learn how to play perfect balls, because they were the only ones, the Japanese knew how to finish attacks from. It taught me precision. Playing this way for three years, I had an ideal precision training.
    The season in Japan only lasts three months. The Japanese love to work so I had to come to terms with training for six hours a day. During my stay in this country I lost 10 kilograms. I was always tired and lacked energy. Despite all this, I think of that time as a really good experience. It was only after three years there that I felt ready to play in Europe. I was more self-confident and very well prepared to play in the best clubs.


    Number four wants a higher ball
    The Japanese are very friendly. Unfortunately I couldn't communicate with them because not one of them spoke English. They all wanted to, very much, and they tried to put together English words, but I couldn't understand much of it. The club hired a translator for me. He lived nearby and accompanied me every day .... and night. When my wife wanted a pizza at 4 a.m, I knocked at his door with a Japanese smile and asked for a „small” favour. It was even more funny during matches. I am a player that reacts quite emotionally. Some Japanese friends had pieces of paper prepared and ready to show me during the game. So, between one action and the next, I could read „calm down”, „it's ok”. When the players had individual requests during the game, they shouted at my translator, who was always sitting near the substitute bench, and he would write that „four wants a higher ball”.
    I went to Japanese classes with my wife, but when it turned out that I was better than she was, she transferred to another class. She told me that I take the joy out of her learning because I am doing too well. We quit after three months. We were very slow learners and had no patience. All that is left from that period of time is the ability to read and say a few words in Japanese. One day, the president of the Japanese federation came to see us train. I wanted to show off, so I introduced myself in Japanese, I added a few standard expressions. He was very pleased and said „You speak Japanese” and then about a million Japanese words fell out of his mouth. I didn't understand a word. The people from the club explained the level of my knowledge of the Japanese language. Japan is a very organised country. On the streets, at hotels, at airports – everyone, as they say, „wanted to want”. Japanese are a nation, who worry about everything, when we lost a game, they cried. They want to be perfect in everything they do.



    Picture: Reuters

  • Had to be successful
    When I felt I was ready to play in Europe, I contacted my agent – Luca Novi. Luca lives in Modena and has always been close to the Cimone Modena team. One of the best Italian players, Fabio Vullo was just ending his sport career and Modena was looking for someone to replace him. I started talking with them and we signed a contract pretty quickly.
    From the first days I felt that I was beginning a very difficult period in my life. After three years in Japan, where we were happy about any victory, we played without any pressure, I found myself in a club with traditions, which was meant to win. Every defeat had wide repercussions. If we won a match 3:2, they asked why not 3:0. I understood the difference pretty quickly. In Italy everyone knows what volleyball is about, they understand the rules. In Japan nobody paid attention to such details, we either won or lost. No one discussed what, how and why. In Modena, the newspapers analyzed the game in every detail. I was sometimes criticised, but I became psychologically stronger. I learned what it meant to „lick the floor”. I was very lucky and had the pleasure of playing with such players as Gardini, Giani, Cantagali in Modena. I remember that I used to collect articles and photographs. They were my idols. In Modena we became team friends, and the type of balls they got, depended on me. I was a good player, but they are the ones that taught me how to play the final moments of the game. They showed me such details, that you can't really see, but sometimes are the base of team success. Japan taught me the precision of playing, but 4 years in Modena formed my personality. I played in the finals of prestigious events for the first time in Italy. We won the CEV cup, scudetto, we played in the Champions League finals. The Italian championships brought the greatest emotions. I felt then, that I am a different player, more self-confident, shaped.



    Picture: Reuters


    Holidays in Greece
    When my third season in Moden was about to finish, the Olympiad in Athens was coming up. I wanted to finish my sport career after it. I have already had a son, I was tired of everything and I wished to give up volleyball. I left national representation and when I was about to come to the USA there came an offer from Iraklis Saloniki. Greeks suggested to me not only more money, but also ensured me that two fellow-citizens, Tom Hoff and Clayton Stanley, would play in the sport club. It was a new experience for me because I have never played in a club with other Americans before. I thought that I would lay down the end of my career one or two seasons. I agreed on one-year contract. I left everything in order to rest. I wanted to treat this year as holidays and partly I managed to achieve it. We had a very good team, we won a Cup and we were champions in Greece. We played in the finals of Champions League.
    I fell in love with the country. It was not only because of a beautiful weather and wonderful food, but also because of the slow pace of life, which contrasts with Italy. Their favourite activity is doing nothing. They love sitting in restaurants and drink coffee ‘frappe’ and minimize their work to the lowest level. My family was happy. My son chose an American school in Saloniki. My wife had no problems with communicating with others because we lived in a tourist city where everybody was talking in English. Together with the family of Tom and Clay we created a little American colony. When the club wanted to extend my contract I agreed without any hesitations. After the next failure in the finals of Champions League there came time for reflexion. I lost interest in ending my career. I desired a thrill of emotion and a strong league. I thought seriously about coming back to Italy but I received an offer from Kazan.

  • Somewhere where you can buy a championship
    Russia is… Russia. I was shocked when I heard how much money I was offered. Sport is a business like any other discipline. If you play in Champions League, it is club that wins more sponsors. Then, they give money to attract better players which generate better scores. Such situation is repeated again and again.
    We shouldn’t be afraid of calling a spade a spade. Kazan is a place of celebrities. When signing contracts of big amount of money, stewards want to buy championship. In their short history they have never won gold medals until last year. When they had money, they decided to make use of it. The one-year team won, so it attained a goal determined by the direction. The situation is the same in this year. Of course, you can think about the fairness of such politics and about depriving young Russians of any chances of development but it’s not my problem. Anyway, the situation in Russia is not so bad because in one team there are only two foreigners. Everything is different in Italy where gifted youngsters have problems to get to Serie A. As I mentioned before – it’s not my problem. Every club has its concept of existence in the world of volleyball. I can say that volleyball is my job, so I play where money are more attractive. If I were an electronics engineer or hairdresser, I would also take the better paid one. A club gives money and expects satisfactory results. It’s an above board agreement between the player and the club.


    This one, who doesn’t know the Russian language
    Russia was a big temptation. We had been talking about it with my wife for a long time. In comparison with Greece it was supposed to be a big change for us. My wife wanted me to make my mind and she told me that she would leave with me. Americans has never been in good relations with Russians and vice versa, so my whole family was a little bit frightened by it. Russians are people who need time feel free to talk. At first, they were not willing to talk to me in English. When I came to restaurants, waiters were almost terrified because I was a person that doesn’t know Russian. The situation is different now, they come and talk with me. A dislike for Americans derives from the opinions created by media. When they get to know us closer, they know that we are not so rude as they think. If they had been coming to us, 99% of fellow-citizens would have acted exactly in the same way. Russians are the same people as we are. They work from Monday to Friday and have parties in weekends. It’s cold but you can live in Russia without any troubles. Before signing a contract I had never been in Kazan. Together with the national team I played in Moscow and Sankt Petersburg. Little did I know about Russia and my new house. Kazan is a very big, beautiful, almost two-mile city with well-equipped shops, shopping centers and restaurants. Distance is one of the problems of Russia. In season we spend a lot of time travelling.


    Russian volleyball family
    Dynamo Kazan is a consolidated team. We are together on the court and out of them. When we win or fail, we always go out to have a beer. It may sound unbelievably but we never argue with each other. When I am in Kazan I feel like a member of the big volleyball family. In Italy or Greece life is easier, but members of clubs are not so amiable. When we fail in Kazan nobody exerts pressure on us. We feel support given by the club leaders. The difference is that if we were to fail Champions League, we would be disappointed but not angry with each other. In other countries where I played, people wanted to find someone guilty.
    Our club is just perfect. If they say that they will pay in December, they do it in the first day of the month. If Russians wanted to extend my contract I agreed without any hesitations. In this season it’s more difficult because I’m in Kazan without my family. In regard of World Cup games and Olympic qualifications I was constantly in USA and Russia. There was no point in leaving my family alone in Kazan. Moreover, my son, 6, would not be able to attend American school. There weren’t any such schools. This is the first time I have been without my family since 12 years of my career but we talk using Skype. My children are asking me everyday when I come home. Stanley is also alone in Kazan so we spend time together. We are eating out. Other players take care about us and try to talk with us in English, too. We don’t feel alienated. I am very happy in Russia.

  • Good description of Russia. Life is difficult, but collective overcoming of the hardships makes people friendlier and closer to each other.
    Llioy Ball seems to be a very cool guy. It's really gripping for me to read his story :thumbup:

  • Thanks LightMaster for a comment. I thought that noone read it :lol: Really!


    Look at the number of views ;) Many people have read it already. It's simply not many of them find it necessary to comment, even if they like it. But, it is definitely much more pleasant to do a job, when you have a positive feedback on it :)
    Btw, "Świat Siatkówki" publishes articles in English, or you had to do a translation? :what:

  • Happiness
    I had the pleasure to get a gold medal at the end of a season in every team I have played with. Every win involves satisfaction. I have always been playing in a very good teams with the best professionals. Even if people say that I’m one of the best setter in the world, I have to have other five great players in order to get a medal. I have always had such people around me.


    To compete for country, go for the Olympic Games
    The national colours of the USA generate special kind of emotions. It’s something some players forget about. Some of them want to represent national colours so as to sign a better contract in Europe. For me, representation is something completely different. Putting on a national t-shirt, I play for my flag and represent millions of Americans. As far as the club cares about my family I prioritize the national representation.
    I’m a patriot and I have respect for people who have decided to go to Iraq to fight for our country. It’s a sublime thing. I fight when I play volleyball and it’s a way I express my patriotism. My grandfather took part in wars and my brother goes to Irak. I’m sure that if our president called on people to fight for the nation, I would put on military uniform without hesitations. I can only thanks to God for being two meters high and too tall.


    Tournaments
    Olympic Games are important for every sportsman because it’s something special. If we look exclusively in the aspect of sport, I don’t think that it’s the best tournament for volleyball players. World Championships are more exciting and interesting. First, because of the number of teams and secondly because of the sport level. Moreover, during Olympic games there aren’t teams the best in the world. If you are in finals of World Championships, you play without doubt in the best team. If you win Olympic games, you can only say that you play in the best team of the other 12 ones. Olympic games unify the world and intensify the sense of patriotism. People are happy that their country gets medals. I took part in Olympic games three times and three times I was felt touched.
    Some time ago I thought that I will end my career during Olympic games. It was supposed to happen after Olympiad in Athens but in several months I’m going to Beijing. I have been playing in volleyball for 4 years. I’m more careful about any declarations now but I don’t see myself as a player after the next 4 years. We’re going to Beijing to get a medal. I want to be on the stand. I don’t think about gold medals but I would like to come from China with a medal around my neck. I can’t imagine better ending of my career in National Team.


    I will be doing nothing
    Volleyball has always been the thing I can do so I can’t imagine what I will be doing later. One thing I know for sure, I don’t want to be a coach. I would never like to work with such people like me. Volleyball players always think that they know more than their coach and the other way round. I wouldn’t like to be a ‘babysitter’. However, most of players need ‘babysitters’. Actually I would like to do something not connected with sport and I have had enough of travelling because I had been travelling for 20 years to America, Asia, Africa and Europe. When I end my sport career I’ll try to live a peaceful life together with my family. Then, after some years I will start looking for a job. When I stop earning our life there’s also a possibility that my wife will take all my duties and I will be doing nothing, drinking beer and getting fat.



    Picture: Reuters


    The end

  • I liked it. Ball holds nothing back. His replies are very candid and detailed and looooooong. :D Are these your interview questions or from a news article?

    So maybe i will explain that "long answers" :lol: The author asked him many questions during that meeting and all them composed in this "monolog" ;)
    Justyna great job, this translation is awesome!

    "Every volleyball player is a little bit psychopath, there are no normal people who want to voluntarily dedicate their life to this sport"
    Plamen Konstantinov