Chinaza Ndee – Pittsburgh Volleyball

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that volleyball has permanently changed the way I approach everyday situations. Volleyball has taught me the importance of cherishing and nurturing relationships and how much caring for those around you can motivate you. It has shown me (sometimes painfully) the importance of time management and prioritizing the things I value. It has made me comfortable with important aspects of teamwork like conflict resolution and problem-solving. I am a better learner due to volleyball and I deal with failure and discomfort in a healthier, more productive way. I am much more mentally tough. I am more willing to take on challenges and tasks that take me outside of my comfort zone. I have found a new appreciation for self-care and how it can really help improve my performance when necessary. These are skills I take with me on and off the court, so along with all the lessons I’ve learned about being a better athlete, I truly believe volleyball has made me a better student, athlete, daughter, sister, friend, and person.”

“Actually, one recent moment that has defined me as a person was when I saw the George Floyd video. Of course, the events in that video are not new. There have unfortunately been many videos of Black people dying due to police brutality circulating the internet for years. I have always been invested in social justice, but have deliberately not been very outspoken about it. I did not want others to know that I cared about police brutality. I didn’t want to be the “angry Black woman”. I wanted to be liked by my white peers. I wanted them to be comfortable around me. So, I would quietly do what I could and would then use my busy schedule to distract me from the pain that each and every hashtag would bring. However, being in quarantine without the usual activities to distract me as well as the clear, pure evil shown in the video has moved me to be more outspoken and open about my beliefs than ever. I’ve realized that the people who would get mad or pull away are people I don’t want in my life anyway. I’d rather have fewer people in my life that care for me in my entirety. I am no longer making myself small to please other people. I am Black 24/7. I can’t run away from this, so I am no longer allowing those around me to run away from it either.”

“I would tell myself that I am inherently valuable. When I was younger, I would often shy away from stretching outside of my comfort zone because I was scared to fail. I placed so much of my value on my successes and whether I felt like I was “achieving my potential”. If I wasn’t doing well, then I wasn’t good enough. Now, I would tell myself that my value is something that cannot be swayed by achievements or accolades. The process of achieving my goals and bettering myself as a student, athlete, or a person includes awkward moments, failures, and plateaus along with the big successes, accolades, and peaks. Therefore, the times when I feel discomfort or insecurity cannot diminish my value when they, too, are moments of growth and progress.”

“Like many black women in white-dominated sports, being a black female volleyball athlete can feel isolating. Unfortunately, due to disparities in resources and (in my opinion) lack of representation, there is definitely a lack of diversity in the sport, especially in higher-level clubs. That’s why I am grateful I played the majority of my club years at an elite volleyball club with significant black representation across the board, from the players to the coaches to the directors. I never felt boxed into a stereotype of what a black volleyball player should look like. This allowed me to holistically develop as a player in a way that black girls are often not able to.”

“Now, I am an athlete at a predominantly white institution (PWI) on a team that is mostly white, and when I started at Pitt, I was the only black girl on the team. While this initially scared me, I am glad to say that I have loved my time on the Pitt volleyball team. This can mostly be attributed to a coaching staff that has been supportive and thoughtful and committed to inclusion since day one. Unfortunately, I know that my story is not the norm for black athletes, especially at PWIs, and even more so in white-dominated sports like volleyball. I think the main thing I have taken away from this experience is that leadership matters, especially for black athletes and other athletes of color. This is not to take away from personal responsibility, of course. However, in a sports environment, there is an inherent power imbalance and players often take cues from coaches and other leaders on what is acceptable. Team culture often starts from the top, so a commitment to a safe, inclusive environment for black student-athletes must be championed and embodied by those with authority, from individual team coaches all the way up to administrators and athletic directors.” 

“The last thing I’ll say is that representation matters. One of the single biggest things that helped me gain confidence in my role as an athlete was seeing black women excel in sports, regardless of the level. I was inspired by watching older black players at my volleyball club or rooting for the black women on the college volleyball teams I would watch on TV before I came to Pitt. And, of course, then there is Serena Williams. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Serena. Of course, she inspires me on a purely athletic basis due to her dominance and mastery of her sport. However, just seeing someone who looked like her (black woman, muscular, dark-skinned, all of the above) succeeding and thriving in a sport that is overwhelmingly white while also speaking up for what she believes in has inspired me more than her skills themselves.”

“Athletes have much more influence than we might even realize. There is a tendency for athletes, especially Black athletes, to be almost dehumanized and seen more as machines and sources for entertainment and profit. However, as we are seeing recently, athletes are opinionated and care about injustice just like everyone else. So, I think the best way for athletes to promote positive change is to just start talking. Start asking questions. Start having hard conversations. Start spreading awareness. Start speaking up for others. Just start. Athletes often have the attention of people who won’t hear what we are saying from anywhere else. We need to take these conversations into spaces that others might not be able to reach and start talking. We cannot let opportunities for vital interactions and even the slightest amount of change pass us by. There is so much work to be done, but talking is something well within our control.”

“After volleyball, I am planning on attending medical school. I’ve wanted to be a physician for as long as I can remember. Of course, the initial draw was a combination of scientific intrigue, giving to others on a daily basis, problem-solving, and leadership. However, as I’ve grown and learned more about racial disparities in healthcare as well as the lack of black representation in the medical field, I feel even more compelled to enter into this career field. I am grateful that I have so many people in my life at Pitt and beyond that have remained supportive of my future goals.”

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