Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook

What 2 Pros Would Tell Their 12-Year-Old Self

Team ZGiRLS had a blast at the AVP Seattle Open! By the end of the tournament, we connected with hundreds of young female athletes (future ZGiRLS!), made courage contagious (even world-class player, April Ross wore her ZGiRLS teal bracelet in her matches!), and cheered on the pros, especially Katie Spieler & Karissa Cook. The two of them generously spent time with us to dive into their mental game, teamwork, and resilience. Plus, they share what they’d tell their 12 year-old self. Let’s do this!

Katie: Hi everyone, I’m Kate Spieler! I play beach volleyball with Karissa Cook we play on the AVP tour and we also played on the University of Hawaii beach volleyball team

Karissa: We just finished up here in Seattle with 7th place, so it was a fun weekend!

Bianca: How has resilience been important on and off the court?

Katie: Great question! Karissa and I are both pretty undersized for volleyball, so being resilient and pushing boundaries with what we can do to be our best version as a player, even though we are a little bit shorter than the other players has really helped us grind it out and reach a higher level. It (resilience) has played a big part on the court, and then obviously that translates to life. When you’re working really hard in a sport, you learn all about that and translate to life.

Karissa: I think volleyball is just all resilience. Every point you have a chance to be resilient, especially when the point didn’t go your way, you get to bounce back to get the next one. From the start to the end. It is what we are working on the most. How to move on and get in that fresh mindset and tackle the next challenge.

Bianca: That leads into my next question, volleyball is a game of mistakes, so how do you bounce back mentally?

Karissa: I think for us our mantra was just how can we move to the next point. I think that that is just so critical. That’s what we would talk about between points, like okay, let’s fix this and let’s stay together and come back to our mentality.

Katie: I’m really lucky to play with Karissa because she is so steady and she has helped me a lot to move on to the next point. I think having a partner to help you be steadier and just keep reminding you to think about the next point is huge!

Bianca: How do did you do that with other partners?

Karissa: I think every partnership negotiates how they want to behave on the court and how they want to approach different challenges. I’m really lucky that I get to coach at Stanford right now, so I see a lot of young women navigating that. I think everyone has their own approach to it. Tournament to tournament we may have a different approach, so I think it is always a fresh topic but the most important one for competing and staying at a high level.

Bianca: How do you train your brain?

Katie: We’re constantly working on that. It goes back to what Karissa was saying, our focus is to try to just be in the present and move onto the next point. There’s always going to be moments where doubt enters your mind, just recognizing that, letting it go and trying to be present. It’s something I’ve learned a lot from Karissa, and I’m super grateful to be playing with her. I was a different player before her and she is helping me find that mental steadiness.

Bianca: This is amazing! What do you do to build one another up?

Karissa: Yeah! Being successful on the court is a lot about trust. I know our first match of the weekend, I had a really bad match. I did a pretty poor job of staying with Katie and leaning on her. I got in my own head. Having that kind of learning experience helps move forward, like before all of our other matches we said, “alright, we’re going to stay together!” We then between every point we make eye contact and hit hands and say what we are doing next. It just recenters you and it is really hard to stay in your own head when you have another human saying “you’re doing great, let’s go!”

Bianca: Who are your role models?

Katie: There are so many great role models. Volleyball-wise, I’d have to say Misty May. *Snaps for Misty!* What draws me to her is just her mental game. It is so strong. She would be down and would always come back and win. Just seeing that resilience and mentality. On top of that, she is just super humble and helps the young players.

Karissa: A lot of our competitors are role models. I think everyone approaches this game in a really cool way. Beach volleyball is a super tight knit community, but you can go really hard against each other and compete full hearted on the court. By the end of the match, we are all friends. We’re all tackling the same hurdles. And my mom, my mom is a baller.

Bianca: How do you recover from a loss?

Katie: What has helped us a lot is sitting down after the game, we are obviously bummed that we lost, but chatting about what we can do better next game, what went well, and what didn’t. Just having open communication is hard in the moment, but we have that trust to where we know we are just trying to help each other out.

Karissa: Yeah, I think jumping in the water! We’re like alright we’re not going to talk from 5 minutes, and then we’ll go through the match. We just chill for a minute.

Bianca: Do you have any pre-game rituals to get you in the right mindset?

Karissa: We say ‘let’s get spicy!’ We can come out flat or even and it’s reminding ourselves to have an edge to us.

Bianca: I love that! What advice would give your 12-year-old self?

Katie: I would say to just always keep going. There’s always obstacles and looking back I would let those get to me and be pretty upset, but through it all it has definitely made me way stronger. Just taking obstacles a little more lightly, like okay, great opportunity here. With Karissa and I have both hurdled a lot of things and it has totally made our game better to be challenged. Being lighter on myself and looking forward.

Karissa: I think we were both the 12-year-olds that would lose a match and be like balling in a corner because you just care so much. I would just go back and give my 12-year-old self a hug. It’s going to be cool. You’re doing what you love, it’s fine!

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