Volleyball is truly an international sport, with professional leagues in countries and continents all over the globe that provide opportunities for the standouts of the NCAA to continue playing the sport they love full-time. Even the top American players that regularly play on Team USA typically spend a portion of every year playing abroad, often moving around to different teams and leagues in pursuit of new challenges and experiences.
Many recent Washington graduates have continued their careers abroad. Since it can be tough to keep track of alumni playing in foreign countries (with team websites in foreign languages) GoHuskies.com reached out to a number of former Dawgs to hear about their lives and share their experiences with Husky fans.
Becky Perry was a standout outside hitter from 2007 to 2010, helping the Huskies reach the NCAA tourney all four years, and the Elite Eight in 2008 and 2010. After earning a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team in 2007, Perry made the All-Pac-10 squad in 2008 and again in 2010. She was named an AVCA All-America Second Team honoree in 2010 and a Volleyball Magazine All-American in 2008. She is currently playing for a team in Germany.
1) How many years have you played abroad?
This is my 3rd season.
2) How many teams have you played for?
Spring 2011: Lancheras de Cataño (Puerto Rico)
Fall 2011: GS Caltex Seoul KIXX (South Korea)
2012: I had shoulder surgery
Spring 2013: Las Gigantes de Carolina (Puerto Rico)
Fall 2013-current: Dresdner SC (Germany)
3) What team do you currently play for? What league are they in?
Dresdner SC; they are in the German Bundesliga (the top league in Germany) & the CEV Champions League (highest European league in which only the top 1-3 teams from each country is invited to participate).
4) What are some of your team’s best achievements?
Consistently 1st or 2nd in the Bundesliga in the past years, currently 1st in the Bundesliga; recently qualified for CEV European Cup semifinals (1st time in club history)
5) What are your personal best achievements as a pro?
-Hold record in the Puerto Rican league for points in a match with 43.
-Currently leading German Bundesliga in match MVP awards, ranked 1st in scoring, 1st in kills, 2nd in hitting % at 50.00% (only non-middle blocker ranked in this category).
6) What is your team’s record and how is the league structured?
We are 1st in the league with 39 won sets and 18 lost sets for a total of 34 ranking points. There are 11 teams in the league and 8 teams make the playoffs. The top 6 ranked teams at the end of season are guaranteed a playoff spot, then numbers 7-10 play each other for the last 2 playoff spots. After this, the quarterfinals begin in best-of-3 format (1 home, 1 away). The semifinals are best-of-5 and the finals are best-of-7 with the same home/away format.
7) What has been your favorite country to live in and why?
Every country has been an amazing experience for different reasons.
-Puerto Rico was the easiest to adjust to because it's an American territory so just about everyone speaks English, you can use the American dollar, cell phone numbers and plans remain the same, during the season the time zone is the same as the East Coast, most teams only practice once a day at night, and it's absolute paradise! Beach, sand, sun.
-Korea was unique in that the volleyball league is similar to that of the NBA in America. Every game is televised, there's a televised all-star game, walking down the street people recognize you. I had an enormous banner of myself outside the gym, people chanted "Perry" over and over during warm-ups and games every time I hit a ball or scored a point, and some of my teammates and I were even featured in Men's Health magazine with Orlando Bloom on the cover. I bought like 8 copies! I definitely wish volleyball was as popular in America as it is there.
-Germany is also different than most leagues because there is no limit on the number of foreigners allowed per team. We have 6 foreigners (me, Canada, Belarus, Slovakia, Belgium, and The Netherlands) and 7 Germans on our team so naturally the common language is English. This is not always the case playing pro as I've played on teams before where I could only speak to 1-3 other girls in English. So here communication has been really easy for me and fun because this allows our team to get really close. I would definitely call us a family.
8) How is the foreign experience different than you imagined?
Every culture is different in how they approach winning preparation and before I went pro I had this idea of how a pro team was going to train before I got there. I thought their schedule would be similar to my college or USA training schedule because that's what I was used to, and that's what created winning teams at UW and with Team USA. But like I said, every culture approaches sports with different mindsets. In Puerto Rico it's normal to train once a day for maybe 1.5-2 hours (the main reason for this is that majority of the locals on a team in Puerto Rico work normal 9-5 jobs and so they cannot be present at practice unless it's one time in the evening), in Korea it's normal to train three times a day where each practice is 2.5-3 hours with weight sessions on game days. Germany has been the most like my college training with passing/weight training in the morning and team practice in the afternoon.
9) Where have you had the opportunity to travel leisurely?
Puerto Rico has some of the world's most beautiful beaches and Discovery Channel ranked Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island as the second-most beautiful in the world. I've gotten to go there three times. The sand is like sugar! I have also gotten to explore the Buddhist temples in and around Seoul and seen real monks praying and meditating. The city I live in in Germany (Dresden, picture below) is over 800 years old and has incredible history. It was bombed during World War II and completely rebuilt by women. The buildings and castles here are stunning and it houses the largest royal treasure museum in Europe.
10) Do you enjoy the food and culture, or is it difficult to adjust to?
I'm not very picky when it comes to food so everywhere has had great cuisine. Only sometimes in Korea I had to politely decline a meal when watching live squid and octopi go into a boiling pot and cook directly at our table.
11) Have you learned the language (or can you just say “Small coffee, please”)?
I am able to survive in Spanish. I wouldn't call myself fluent but I can understand almost everything and have a conversation as long as who I'm talking to doesn't mind a little bit slower of a response haha. In Korea I can say hello and goodbye but I didn't pick up much else. The language is very difficult as age hierarchy in their culture plays a large role in grammar. And German has been fairly easy and similar to English.
12) Are you able to stay in touch with family and friends back home?
We are on such a routine schedule with training, travel, and games that with the time difference I always make Skype appointments with my parents. There's a 7 hour time different between Texas and Germany so that's really the only way to see each other. But with whatsapp and iMessage I'm able to talk to them instantly if I want to.
(Below, Perry with former Husky teammates Tamari Miyashiro and Jenna Hagglund)
LIFE OF A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE
13) What do you like most about playing professionally abroad?
From a volleyball standpoint I'm not only playing against the best Americans like I did in college. Now I'm playing against the best players in the world from every country. Olympic gold medalists, world champions, hall of famers; I get to play at and against the highest level in the sport.
I also love learning about new cultures and learning new languages. Plus I get to travel and see historic buildings and monuments, most in Europe are older than America. The city I play in now, Dresden, is over 800 years old with beautiful castles still standing.
14) What is the biggest challenge being a pro athlete?
I would say the fatigue from the amount of training and competition. In college the volleyball season is 4 months, with team USA the season is only during summer, also about 4 months. The professional season however is 10 months from August-May. It's crucial to know what your body can and can't handle and to take advantage of every opportunity to rest and regenerate. I have a love/hate relationship with foam rolls and ice baths haha.
15) What is the biggest reward?
I'm getting paid to do what I love. Even on the days I am so tired I could cry or my body just physically won't do what I want it to, I just chuckle to myself like, I could be sitting in a cubicle working 9-5 for minimum wage. But instead I'm traveling the world for free and people are giving me money to play volleyball! My passion is my career. That's nothing short of an absolute gift.
16) Is the level of competition what you expected?
Absolutely. It continues to surprise me every year when I first get to a team how well everyone can play, how good their ball control is. Then it's really rewarding to feel myself playing at the same level. The improvement never stops.
17) How is the style of play different?
Like I mentioned before every country has a different training culture. Korea puts a huge focus on defense and passing. In a 3 hour practice we would spend at least half of it digging balls and blocking. In Turkey and Puerto Rico we spent a lot of time hitting and in Germany it's pretty well rounded, at least on my team. We spend a few hours every week just in passing practice, team practices include ball control drills, defense drills, and 6-on-6 wash drills.
PAST AND FUTURE
18) What do you miss about playing at UW?
I miss a lot about playing at UW but for sure the training is one of them. The way UW volleyball trains makes sense. The amount of practice and also what they practice. The skills and mechanics Jim teaches is something I have yet to find on any other team I've been on. Also the job security, knowing if you don't perform you won't get fired or asked to transfer schools. The people work with you and help you improve. Lastly, the medical perks haha. My team now is the first team I've been on with a team doctor and a real qualified physiotherapist or trainer like Mike Dillon. Before this year I (and most pro volleyball players) had to figure out how to take care of my body by myself. If something hurts you just try to foam roll and ice and if you're lucky your team will have someone that will massage the area of maybe give you some electric STIM but that's it!
19) How did UW Volleyball prepare you for the professional world?
Jim believes in teaching the girls skills that the best men's teams in the world use (Russia, Italy, Brazil, USA). Knowing these mechanics and tactics has given me an advantage on every team I've played for with the #1 tactic being blocking. Most teams don't know how to use a proper blocking system or proper blocking mechanics. I've always been able to help defend against the opponent's middle blockers, back row hitters and pin hitters all at once because of what Jim taught me.
20) Would you recommend other athletes to play abroad?
Absolutely. Not everyone has a positive experience overseas and some people decided after a season or two that it's not for them but it's something everyone should try at least once if they have the chance, if only to live abroad for free and get paid to play volleyball.
21) What are your volleyball goals and aspirations for the next few years?
I want to continue to play at the highest level and keep improving. I just want to see how far I can go.
22) What career paths are you interested in after volleyball?
I hope I play volleyball so long that my immediate path after volleyball is being a mom. I have no problem being a stay at home mom either. By the time volleyball is over and I've had a kid or two my body is going to need to stay at home hahaha.