2017-11-24 10:00:00 CET
Love at first spike
Beach volleyball legends Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor might be one of the sport’s most decorated teams of all time but they were two very different individuals on and off the sand. Now the duo cast light on the recipe they used to conquer the beach.
Magical, beautiful and wonderful are just three of the words that Kerri Walsh Jennings uses during our hour-long discussion to explain the reasons why her gloriously golden partnership with Misty May-Treanor was so successful.
Having scooped every major competition under the beach volleyball sun together, including three successive Olympic gold medals and three straight World titles, Walsh’s words are of no surprise.
Over the course of a medal-filled decade, the American duo ruled the world on the sand. The pair were almost untouchable. Once they went 89 matches without defeat. Together Kerri and Misty were an unstoppable force – right from the very first spike
So what was their secret? Just how did these Californian girls forge such glittering careers for themselves and write their names into the beach volleyball history books?
Well, it’s a little thing called trust.
“Within every partnership there needs to be trust,” explains mother-of-three Kerri, who continues to throw herself around the sand on the World Tour at the age of 39. “That’s the big thing when it comes to partner dynamics. Every team goes through that ‘do we have this?’ moment – which usually only happens once during a time of discomfort when the team are not doing so well.
“Then comes that ‘belief’ conversation and Misty and I had that – and it helped form trust in the partnership.
“It took us time and it came over a 10-year period. Trust develops, and intimacy of a partnership takes time. You come to the table with honesty and respect. You cannot afford to take things personally – and as a woman that can be hard. As athletes, you put your heart and soul into it and that’s a lot. You’re doing this together as a relationship and you’re on a mission to achieve your goals.”
A friend in need is a friend indeed
“Kerri and I shared the same passion, goals and work ethic,” Misty says, reflecting on the halcyon days that saw the tandem win Olympic gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012. “It isn’t very often you find teams playing together as long as we did, but we weathered our storms – whether on the court or off – and believed in our team. Our goal was to make the person next to us better.
“Being open to new ideas helps the partnership to become dynamic, as well as working together for one another. I don’t think you have to be the best of friends with your teammate but you must communicate with each other, trust and respect one another and each other’s differences. Of course a friendship will be there and it will continue to blossom.”
Kerri freely admits that she drove Misty “crazy” at times during their partnership, but the five-time Olympian (she also represented the US in volleyball at the 2000 Games) explains precisely how their contrasting on and off court qualities and personalities worked – and how their union helped them create one of the most fruitful recipes in the history of the sport.
“On the court we had a lot of synergy; we complimented each of our styles,” says Kerri. “We had a good feeling, we just knew what we were doing and when. If it didn’t work, we’d butt our heads together and work through it so that at the end of the day we’d get through things with success. We just trusted each other and figured it out. We just knew as a team.
“Off the court we were comfortable, it’s hard to explain just how deep the love went. We both knew it wasn’t absolutely perfect. I know I drove her crazy!
“The relationship with Misty was magical in many ways. What a path it was. To chase your dreams with a person you love so much. We started at around 22-23 years old and played through many life experiences together: losses, marriages, births, and dealing with all of that. To do all of those things with Misty was priceless.
“We weren’t the best of communicators but we were just best on court. Our styles were different, we were both introverts, and we didn’t express ourselves a lot. We hung out a lot but didn’t say a lot to each other. Hanging out together for 14 days, living out of a suitcase on tour not saying a word. But we were comfortable being quiet. In a way, it helped us explore the richness of our partnership.”
In search of perfection
Misty, now passing on her expertise to the beach stars of the future at Long Beach City College in the US, echoes her former teammates’ sentiment glowingly. “We both communicated differently so that is something we had to work on, especially me,” she continues.
“I believe respecting each other’s other responsibilities off the court was a plus. We didn’t spend too much time off the court together unless we were traveling due to where we each live and our schedules we had to maintain off the court when we were home.
“We both have different personalities but learned to balance off each other which is important.”
#JOY is what I feel when it's FRIDAY & what I always hope to exude when I'm chasing & realizing my dreams on & off the court ✨😍😏 It's a little word that goes a long way toward a successful journey in life 💃🏼👩🎤🦁🦋🦄 #joytotheworld #joyriding (@kttape #tiy I 👀 you!)
8,931 Likes, 38 Comments - Kerri Walsh Jennings (@kerrileewalsh) on Instagram: "#JOY is what I feel when it's FRIDAY & what I always hope to exude when I'm chasing & realizing my..."
Ask any top athlete what drives them to glory and they will all tell you the same: success. Losing hurts. However, defeat cannot only act as a catalyst for a backlash but it can also strengthen a bond between two players even further.
“Losing in the 2011 World Championship final was heartbreaking, crushing,” recalls Walsh Jennings. Although the experience was six years ago, you can still hear the disappointment in her voice. “I hate losing. We had a match point in that World Champs and lost. But losses just made us stronger, and never did I feel we were pointing the finger at each other. It was beautiful – we’d be arm in arm even after a defeat.
“We just always wanted the same thing: to be the best. There are a million paths to the top of the mountain but if you find the right person, stay together and enjoy it – that’s the recipe for success. The only way in life is to live it.”
While Misty has stayed off the sand – competitively at least – to concentrate on coaching, Kerri – now playing with Nicole Branagh but currently recovering from a shoulder injury – is still working hard on the beach with the ambition of making a sixth appearance at an Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 burning bright.
Having already achieved so much in beach volleyball, the question is, why is she preparing herself for more early morning training sessions and traveling around the world away from her family in search for more medals?
Well, for Walsh, the answer simply goes back to what makes the game so unique, so special, in her eyes.
“Beach volleyball is the best team sport in the world,” Kerri declares, enthusiastically. “It’s just two people, taking on the world.”
And we couldn’t have put it any better.