Enjoying ”like a child on the playground” with gratitude and pleasure

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TLAXCALA, MEXICO — It will have been the straightforward and comprehensible factor, for Hailey Harward to be heartbroken.

This previous weekend was no small alternative, to defend for Alix Klineman on the Seashore Volleyball World Championships, a spot they earned by way of wild card. What had been a superb starting to their run, a 25-23, 21-14 upset over Germans Cinja Tillmann and Svenja Muller, got here unraveled within the ensuing two days, with losses to Brazil’s Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes, and China’s Jie Dong and Fan Wong. Twice, they’d photographs to maneuver on from pool. Twice, they failed to take action.

Most would take a day or two or 5 or nonetheless lengthy to mope, to wrestle with the existential meanings of such a weekend.

But that is Hailey Harward. She doesn’t do moping. Not for lengthy, anyway.

“All good issues,” she mentioned on Tuesday morning, lower than 12 hours after the loss to China. “Such a cool expertise.”

Correct perspective has by no means been one thing that eludes Harward. Grounded in her religion, a loss, to her, is simply that: A loss. Stings, sure. A bummer, to make sure. Like anybody enjoying seashore volleyball for a residing, she’d choose to win, as her livelihood relies on her skill to just do that. However she’s additionally aware of the indisputable fact that to win each match is an unrealistic expectation. She takes losses, absorbs them, and seeks the larger image.

Take her ninth in Hermosa Seashore earlier this yr. It was a light-weight occasion, with most of the prime groups competing within the Gstaad Elite16. Harward and Kelley Kolinske had been the No. 1 seed within the match, their greatest shot at profitable their first Professional or Gold Collection as a staff, and Harward’s greatest alternative so as to add a second AVP title to her resume. As an alternative, they’d bow out in simply three matches, with losses to the 9 and 14 seeds.

Relatively than taking the highway traveled by most each participant after a disappointing end, Harward didn’t lament the disappointing end on social media. As an alternative, she wrote about what a cool alternative the match was proving for her pals who had been making surprising deep runs in an AVP.

“As a lot as I’d like to be enjoying on championship Sunday in the present day, God is writing a reasonably cool story for the groups nonetheless in it,” she wrote.

Hailey Harward
Hailey Harward reacts to an enormous block by teammate Lauren Fendrick/Mark Rigney picture

This isn’t a present, both. Not a well-refined PR marketing campaign for Harward to look kinder or extra magnanimous than she really is. That is simply Hailey being Hailey — an distinctive athlete who leaves no stone unturned on the court docket or within the weight room and who additionally has one of many warmest, most real hearts in skilled sport.

“Hailey is the epitome of the final word competitor however an individual who is ready to separate their sport from their each day life,” mentioned Julia Scoles, who counts herself as considered one of Harward’s closest pals. “On the court docket, she’s fierce, ferocious, giving it her all, after which off the court docket she’s caring, she’s loving, she’s supportive.”

If solely she could possibly be so form to herself.

Like many high-level athletes, Harward will decide aside her personal sport, scrutinizing her flaws till there’s nothing left to look at. When she takes a fast scan of her season, she doesn’t see a participant whose common end on the AVP (5.83) would have been a dream end only a yr prior. She doesn’t see her second-place run on the Manhattan Seashore Open, or a defender so proficient she was picked up by an Olympic gold medalist in her return from being pregnant. She sees flaws, areas of enchancment. It’s each what makes her nice and what drives her mad.

“I couldn’t dig a ball however perhaps I’m near it, and I’m engaged on, in my mind, saying ‘Oh you didn’t dig it, that’s so dangerous’ whereas a coach, Tyler Hildebrand, who’s being working with me just a little bit, he goes ‘That’s so good! You’re so there!’ In the meantime in my mind I’m like ‘however I didn’t dig it! That’s so dangerous!’” Harward mentioned. “And I’ll hit a swing out and he’ll go ‘That’s an excellent swing!’ and in my head I’m like ‘However I hit it out!’ However it’s the method that for me has been a 180 of speaking to myself of, you didn’t get that one however you’re shut, and shifting the assumption to I’m going to get the following one.”

It’s a perception that has been examined in a number of methods. From an analytical perspective, she had a quantifiably higher yr in 2023 than she had in 2022. Her prize cash jumped by almost $6,000 on the AVP regardless of enjoying two much less occasions. She greater than tripled her prize cash on the Seashore Professional Tour and completed within the top-10 4 occasions, three greater than she did in 2022.

From a psychological perspective, it nonetheless wasn’t adequate.

“There have been excessive expectations,” she mentioned of this season. “It was coming from an excellent place of I consider in our staff [with Kelley Kolinske and coach Evie Matthews] and I feel that’s an excellent basis however to not get too caught up in the place you understand you ought to be vs. the method. Simply be the place you’re proper now. There’s no sense of being prior to now or the long run.

“Once I stand again, and I don’t get nitpicky about myself, I actually consider having Evie as a coach and being with Kelley, I used to be capable of enhance rather a lot this yr. But when I zoom in and solely have a look at the outcomes, properly, I received an AVP final yr and I didn’t win one this yr with a extremely good associate. I feel total as a participant I’ve gotten higher and enjoying the very best.

“I’ve heard it mentioned you ought to be a child on the playground. You shouldn’t be placing this a lot stress on your self. You’re younger, you’re athletic, you’ve gotten this profession forward of you, this needs to be a lot enjoyable so that you can play the very best on the planet. Don’t put this weight on your self.”

Simpler mentioned than performed, significantly if you transition from being a participant who competed with seven companions in 2022 to getting picked up by a veteran and profitable participant in Kolinske to defending for Klineman. It’s simple to let that get to your head.

“Just lately I’ve been placing just a little stress on myself,” Harward mentioned. “I simply need to get again to what a possibility that is! That’s the place I need to be. I play my greatest after I’m stuffed with gratitude and for the flexibility to compete. It’s so cool.”

It’s particularly cool when contemplating the truth that, just a little greater than a month in the past, Harward couldn’t consider that Klineman had even saved her cellphone quantity, not to mention wished to play in Paris and Mexico and probably extra occasions along with her. After Harward graduated from USC, a pair of NCAA Championships in hand, she had messaged Klineman, saying that if she ever wanted somebody to shag balls, perhaps fill in for April Ross, she’d be prepared. Klineman was well mannered sufficient about it, however Harward didn’t assume something may come of it.

Two years later, Harward acquired a textual content message:

“Hey,” Klineman mentioned, “can we discuss on the cellphone?”

“My coronary heart instantly jumps,” Harward recalled, laughing. “What does she need to discuss to me about? What’s occurring?”

Harward’s schedule magically cleared, and abruptly she was on the cellphone with Klineman, who had performed the maths, figuring out that “based mostly on who signed up, I see that you simply and Kelley wouldn’t make it into World Champs,” Klineman mentioned. “I simply have this itch to get again within the sand, would you need to enroll with me for the wild card? I don’t know if we’ll get it, I don’t know what will occur, I simply need to see if we are able to get it, what we might do.

“I bear in mind you performed large with plenty of power, and I’ve watched you play earlier than and I simply assume we might do very well if we are able to play collectively.”

Harward made her greatest try at retaining it collectively.

“I used to be like ‘That is insane! What?’ Thanks a lot, I’m honored, I want to speak to my staff about it only for transparency,’” Harward mentioned. “So we join the wild card and I’m praying about it the evening earlier than and the following morning we get the wild card.”

Alix Klineman-Hailey Harward-Beach Volleyball World Championships
Hailey Harward and Alix Klineman on the 2023 Seashore Volleyball World Championships/Volleyball World picture

With Klineman’s factors frozen from her being pregnant, they had been capable of get into the Paris Elite16 qualifier and parlay that right into a run on the World Championships. Harward savored each minute of it.

“It’s been unimaginable simply being along with her at apply and we’ve had April with us as properly so to have April and Alix, speaking backwards and forwards, and I’m simply sitting there like ‘That is nuts!’ I need to have extra of that awe issue but additionally conscious of Alix has been superior of we’re on the identical degree,” Harward mentioned. “It doesn’t matter what I’ve performed, we’re a staff, we’re fully friends, you give me suggestions, I offer you suggestions, I need you to really feel empowered, we’re a staff.

“If we’ve some good finishes, perhaps we make investments and go for it, and if that’s not the case, new child, perhaps we simply see, really feel it out. I don’t need to let that put stress on it both. Simply attempt your greatest, play the way you need to play as a result of that’s what you management. Wherever the chips fall is the place they fall.”

The finishes — a first-round qualifier exit in Paris and a pool play exit in Mexico — weren’t what both would have had in thoughts. Then once more, what might the expectations have realistically been? They’d solely been practising for just a few weeks, enjoying in opposition to groups that had performed collectively all the yr, if no more. Klineman continues to be solely 4 months out from having her son. The truth that they swept the defending World Championship bronze medalists is nothing shy of extraordinary.

“I’m very motivated proper now however I even have this attitude of if Worlds is my final match of the yr, alright, I can take a break, relaxation my physique just a little bit, however I’m nonetheless going to pursue my purpose relentlessly till that occur,” Harward mentioned. “I don’t know what the remainder of this yr goes to seem like, however no matter it’s, I’m going to go for it one hundred pc.”

Alix Klineman-Hailey Harward
Hailey Harward, left, and Alix Klineman in Mexico earlier than the match Alix Klineman Instagram



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