The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned

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by Caitlin Cantwell, 
Neumann University student-athlete (volleyball)

Caitlin Cantwell

I was told to get moving on my “elevator speech,” so here’s to that. Hopefully I’m not headed to the balcony level! Just kidding—kind of. I’m Caitlin Cantwell! You can call me Gaga, Cantwell, or the really loud, blonde girl on the volleyball team. When applying to colleges, I had no idea what I wanted to study. Partly because I could not understand why there wasn’t a major strictly concerning volleyball or eating pizza—but I’ll save that for another blog. I decided on being a Communications major because I liked to talk, write, and laugh. I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years, 5 days, or even 5 minutes—but I do know that I like to make people laugh, and I do not see that changing any time soon. My blogs will be about my experiences as a student athlete, the journals I’ve written along the way, and how the concept of Sport and Spirituality has changed my life. My Sport and Spirituality class taught me many essential lessons, but the most significant—as one would have guessed, is that Sport and Spirituality are indeed connected! I had always thought of myself as a fairly spiritual person because I have naturally been in touch with my own feelings as well as those around me for as long as I can remember. I tend to think about things on a deeper level, as well as spend a lot of my time alone, quietly. On the other hand, I am a fierce, intense, and competitive creature who thrives off of the company of others. Together, those two aspects have made me an entirely different individual. My sport molded my spirituality, and my spirituality molded my sport.

Oddly enough, my Sport and Spirituality class was on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, which were game days. It seemed like each morning the things that we discussed were perfect for what I had either been going through, or what I was about to go through. Several of the stories, quotes, and articles struck me more than most—enough for me to relay them to my team. There was a quote about an archery member doing too much and changing his shot—ultimately leading to his failure:

When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him.
He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting –
And the need to win drains him of power.

– Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton

This passage could not have come at a more perfect time in my life. I read the quote aloud to my teammates before a huge conference match and they absolutely loved it. They respected it because they understood how it could be applied to us on that night. My coach referred to it before our semifinal match, as well as our Championship match. It was a substantial quote for that evening, and not to mention, a pivotal moment in our season. (I owe you, Dr. Hastings!)

Our night of reflection was the central point of our season. Not the big wins, not the even bigger losses—but the night we had the opportunity to connect on a spiritual level. We opened the evening with the sentence, “If you really knew me, you would know—” which gave everyone around the room an opportunity to fill in the blank. It was honestly one of the most powerful and significant conversations I have ever been a part of. We went through hell and high-water together on the court, but were mindful of the fact that until we organized trust on a personal level, the physical aspect meant close to nothing. Walking out of that room filled me with such an appreciation for life—and more importantly, a higher gratitude for the 18 girls I assumed I knew everything about. I truly believe that our success stemmed from how well we knew one another, and how much we were willing to do for each other. My team spent massive amounts of time together off of the court, and for the past four years, that was indisputably our strength over opponents. Ask any member of my team—that evening of reflection was the reason we won the Championship.

Individual spirituality is key to victory, as the teachings in our text, Sacred Hoops provided. Before games, I would get myself mentally prepared by going through personal rituals, listening to specific music, and envisioning how I was going to perform. My coach was big on “visualizing” the feel of the game, and picturing what things each individual needed to do to make the team successful. We were mentally set before every game—but it was up to us to act on it. Phil Jackson, as I learned in Sacred Hoops, was a pusher for individual spirituality, team chemistry, and getting each member to work toward a common goal. Jackson reminds me a lot of my Coach, Deana. They definitely share the same views on team unity and the ridding of egos. Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in the history of professional sports because of this—and it’s not bologna. It truly works! Getting members of a team to earn a better understanding of themselves as an athlete and a human being is good for not only individual success, but for the success of the entire group.

The Institute for Sport, Spirituality, and Character Development means so much more to me than any amount of blogs could explain. It isn’t about the million dollar structure, the flashy pillars, or the way the sun sets on the rocks out front. OK—maybe it is! What I have discovered is that it is really about the stability that the building provides, the message that the pillars illuminate, and the idea that the rocks serve as a space for reflection. All in all, I will always stand behind the fact that Sport and Spirituality are linked. Not only do I believe the two are linked, but absolutely cannot thrive without the other. Do I think that amazing, unbelievable, unforeseen sports plays cannot happen without spirituality?—not necessarily. Just as I am aware that one can be spiritual without ever being an athlete. Nevertheless, from my own experiences, I believe that an athlete is at their peak when they are in touch with their spirit. Without it, they are incapable of becoming the full athlete that they could be.

Love you, love your show!

– #14

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