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Caitlin Bettenay on Representing Australia and Conquering nerves

Caitlin Bettenay is an Australian National Volleyroos player and junior Beach Volleyball player. She has experience playing both in Australia and in the USA college competition. Caitlin has extensive knowledge of the game and is passionate about developing athletes through a holistic approach to coaching. Caitlin is a focused and determined athlete who is keen to help the next generation of Volleyball players shine. Caitlin was one of the youngest players to make the Senior Australian Women’s Volleyball team aged 17. Caitlin had experience in track and field and then was introduced to Volleyball at 14 years old, she quickly fell in love with the sport, its competitive nature and uplifting community. In this conversation we explore Caitlin’s experience in both Beach and Indoor Volleyball, playing experience across the World and great coaches and mentors who has shaped her athlete journey.

You have experience with both beach and indoor volleyball. Obviously the teams are completely different, what are the fundamental differences in those team dynamics?  

There’s a huge difference. For indoor volleyball, you’ve obviously got 6 players on the court and 7 who play. You then have your bench players. It’s a really awesome atmosphere in that you have a lot of people coming together and there’s a lot of cogs in the machine. It’s definitely electric in the gym when you’re all going for it 100%. Beach volleyball is a lot more individualistic and being able to work really tightly with 1 person. You really have to work hard on that relationship to be able to get better and move forward. You have to put a lot of time into building that relationship with your partner so that you’re able to work together well.  

At what point did you have to choose between Beach and Indoor Volleyball?  

Honestly, I’m still playing both. I’m super lucky because the American system has enabled me to keep playing both so in College, I started at Portland State University just on an indoor scholarship. Halfway through, I transferred universities to play at San Jose State because they enabled me to play both indoor and beach at the top level. We trained all year round with no off season. I’ve just graduated with my Bachelors in Kinesiology and moved back home so it’s into the beach season at the moment. Once the international borders open, though, I will be playing indoor again as well.  

Can you represent Australia in both? 

You can but not at the Olympic level. I play for the Australian National Volleyroos senior team and I’ve been able to represent Australia at a junior level for beach volleyball at the same time. Once I hit the senior level representation for beach, I will have to choose one or the other. I’ve definitely taken a unique approach in that I love playing both and will keep playing both until I have to choose which is probably in about a year’s time.  

What was it like playing in the States? What’s the difference between playing here and there? 

What a lot of people may not know is that volleyball is the second most played sport in the world behind soccer. It is massive on the international stage, once you step outside Australia everyone plays volleyball.

It is quite competitive to get into the American colleges for volleyball because so many people play. The fundamental difference is that they have a really good system in place for university sport which we just don’t have in Australia. They have really good systems and structures and financial support behind their college teams which enable such an elite level of play. In college, a typical day is that you get up and lift or train, then you would go to your classes through the day and then have something again in the afternoon. We would train 6 days a week, 2-3 hours each session plus lifting 4 times per week. Then we have travel and school on top of that. You definitely need good time management skills but it’s a lot of fun.  

What was it like making your debut for Australia at such a young age?  

It was really exciting. I was really lucky to be selected in the Australian national team at 17 and we played in the World Grand Prix tournament. It was played in Bendigo which was great because it was the first time in a while the Australian team had been able to play on home soil. That was such an honour, for my first tournament to have on Australian soil. As soon as that tournament finished, we were off to Columbia to play the next leg of the Grand Prix.  

Were you nervous?  

The way I’ve been told to look at nerves is that you have your butterflies which exist, and you can’t ignore them. I was taught to make them fly the way that you want them to fly. I channelled my butterflies into being the aggressive competitor that I know I am. Once I got out on that court, I made my butterflies go where I wanted them to go and just went for it.  

Who was your biggest mentor in those early years?  

Early on, my school coach, Tim Wilson, was really awesome. He helped me to find a pathway. My QAS coach, Robbo, was really awesome. He made a lot of us the technical players we are today. Very disciplined, very technically proficient. Now I have the most amazing coach, Chico. What makes him so good is that he’s not just invested in me as an athlete but holistically as a person as well. That’s something that I try to incorporate into how I coach.

I think it’s so much more than just the sport, it’s about who we are as people. Having that faith and trust in my coach really helps me to grow not only as an aspiring volleyball player but as a person. 

When you think about coaching styles, do you think it’s approached differently in the US?  

Yeah, definitely. The thing to note about college is that every college is very different. I can only speak from the experiences I had with my college coaches. A lot of the differences that I found overseas was that the coaches have a certain coaching style. In Australia, I feel like there’s more investment into developing our coaches and ensuring coaches have their qualifications.  Our coaches tend to coach more to the individual rather than just a cookie cutter style. I would definitely prefer the style we have here but the opportunities they have available over there make it worth it. I also think Australia put a lot of focus on mentoring and mental health coaching too, which is really important. The US are slowly catching up but we’re definitely ahead of the curve. My performance coach, Matt, is really great at working with me to develop a strategy and mental health plan.  

From your career so far to date, what do you think has been the biggest character-building event?  

One of the biggest things was the start of my volleyball career when I first trialled for a QLD team in U15. I actually didn’t make the team. I got through nearly all the way but then just didn’t get the call up. I definitely went through some thoughts of ‘maybe volleyball isn’t for me’ ‘maybe I should try something else’. I then decided that I was never NOT going to make a team again. I then made sure that my work ethic backed up that statement.

The US was another big challenge for me. In terms of the culture, the way the teams were run and how the coaches coached. It was very tough but very worth it. I think having that resilience and mindset of keeping my mind on the goal really kept me focussed and built me into a stronger person.  

Were there ever moments in the US when you almost wanted to give up? 

I would honestly have to say no just because of how much I love the sport. I think it depends on the reason you do it. There are people who do it for the free education but if you go over for reasons besides love of the game, it’s very easy to give up. If you have a long-term goal it also helps to keep you focussed. The US wasn’t the end goal, it was just an opportunity to develop and launch myself into the next chapter. Having a long-term mindset really helped me get through. Along with that love of the game so that every time I got to touch a ball, I was just having fun.  

You’re an experienced Captain in College Volleyball. What do you think is important for young athletes who want to be leaders? 

I think every person is different but being authentic is a good start. The style of leadership I adopt is very much a servant-based leader. That means you lead from the back, carrying the balls and hanging with the rookies. I believe we’re all equal and then once we’re on the court you just lead by example. I think it’s important to have strong action as a leader and encourage your teammates unconditionally.  

Caitlin is now live on PlayBook and you can book a session with her here