Middle Hitter Volleyball Player
US Olympian Heather Bown 

The untold story of how Olympic silver Medalist Heather Bown gained confidence in her volleyball skills

Extraordinary middle hitter volleyball players like three-time Olympian

and silver medalist Heather Bown have had to learn how to believe

in themselves and in their capabilities.

Many times that meant learning how to deal with those people who 

thought that their dreams and goals were unreachable.

If you are a young player surrounded by people who don't believe in

your goals or your plans for how you want to excel in this sport, then

this is a great story for you to read.

Learn how one of America's best volleyball players set goals and

how she learned how to take steps in reaching those goals.

When I look back on all the things that influenced and helped me to

become the person I am today, I never really realized at that point in

time that they were good things. The roads traveled, the decisions,

good or bad, made.

So I guess it’s not so much a story but a journey. A journey that each

of us takes, some in different ways than others. However all the same,

we make it.

It’s what we call life.

Middle hitter volleyball players come from all sorts of backgrounds.

Our lives are strange that way. In the end it doesn’t matter where you

come from or what you have or don’t have. It comes down to the ideas

and desires and dreams that you follow through with, and never let go


I believe that the strongest motivators in our lives are our dreams and 

our desires.

People will do almost anything to get what they want…they will work

extra hard, they will give up being with friends, being with family.

Sacrifice many of the things that other people may take for granted. In

the end they are that much stronger and happier for doing so.

As for myself, my journey with sports started when I was really young.

I have an older sister and naturally we had sibling rivalry growing up, so 

anything she participated in, I was close to follow.

We were born and raised in the same town our entire lives. Only moving

once, from one side of town to the other…so in that respect I guess I

was fortunate in not completely changing my surroundings.

However, even with that I still found it hard to make friends, I was a bit 

of a loner in school, never really fitting in. I was always the tallest in

my class and for that as you can imagine didn’t fair well with the other 

kids…I was different, and at that age different wasn’t a good thing. 

I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it better now.

Middle hitter volleyball players learn that its okay to be different from everybody else.

My being different set me apart from the others, I had an ability within

me that I had not yet learned about.

Through my years in elementary and junior high I was usually found

playing hand or tether ball on the blacktop.

I don’t even know if they still play those games now…but my 

mother always said if there was a game with a ball involved I was 

playing it. Again, I didn’t see any connection.

When I got to high school, I once again followed in my sister’s footsteps 

as I did when I was growing up. She was one year ahead of me in 

school and she had joined the swim team her freshman year, and I had 

witnessed how easy it was for her to make friends with her teammates 

and so I figured I would do the same. It would keep me in my comfort 


Middle Hitter Volleyball Olympian Heather Bown explains
what its like to play for USA Volleyball

So there I was a freshman in high school on the swim team…trying to 

convert my social phobia into making a good teammate and friend for 

others. It was hard at first, I was so used to not having many friends to 

be surrounded by so many people all the time was weird for me.

However as the year went by I opened up a little more and made a few 

good friends which also helped me in the transition from junior high to 

high school. It was a whole different world. So I continued to swim until 

my junior year in high school when my life took an unexpected turn.

Middle hitter volleyball players learn from other players who are better than they are.

You see it's strange why certain people are put in your life…the old

saying that everyone is here for a reason, yeah well I believe it now.

had become friends with a girl on the swim team that was also on the

school volleyball team.

London Olympic Volleyball Stadium (photo Steve Oldham)London Olympic Volleyball Stadium (photo Steve Oldham)

We had become almost connected at the hip, we did everything 

together. However when swim season was over she had 

her volleyball practices to go to, and once again I was left alone.

Middle hitter volleyball players start setting goals for themselves in high school or before.

High school is a scary place to be when you feel alone. 

It’s a time in our lives when we are transitioning and questioning 

everything about us. We seem to be more concerned with what the 

other kids think of us than what we think of ourselves.

We seem to lose sight of the important things. And care more about the 

superficial ideas and trends of the time. Maybe because I was a bit of a 

loner I sheltered myself too much, I guess you could call me a nerd if 

you want.

On the weekends I was at home, I rarely went out I never dated and

boys scared the hell out of me.

However not always, I mean I had friend from sports, and I could be

seen as “one of the guys” but not as a girl they liked.

If I had the choice I would choose school over social events. I loved the 

hard classes like chemistry and physics. I think now it may have been 

more of an avoidance tactic than anything. If I was busy with sports 

and school the social scene couldn’t bother me. I had an excuse to not 

go out.

Watch as Middle Hitter Volleyball Player Heather Bown is honored during her senior year at the University of Hawaii. 

My parents never seemed to notice. It’s funny how we can hide things 

that are right under our noses.

So anyhow, the end of my sophomore year in high school I figured I 

would try out for the JV volleyball team. As you can guess, once again I 

was the tallest on the team, which in my opinion was the only reason I 

made the volleyball team.

I mean I was horrible; I couldn’t even pass a ball. I didn’t know the 

footwork for anything. All of the girls that were there had played club 


Middle hitter volleyball players don't start out that way, they have to work to get better and they do.

I mean I was 16 years old and I was just for the first time picking up a

ball and playing with girls that had been playing volleyball for at

least 3 years if not more.

I was ridiculously intimidated.

My self confidence, which was never high to begin with, fell through the


However, I kept trying.

Despite any limitations or lack of confidence middle hitter volleyball players keep on trying, they don't give up.

So my junior year I competed on the JV volleyball team and had fun, it

was so much different from swimming. I mean I could actually talk to

other people during volleyball practice…swimming was way too

difficult, my face always being in the water and all, you could


Middle Hitter Volleyball Olympian, Heather Bown talks about being courageous everyday!

The season flew by and I struggled a lot, but enjoyed myself enough to 

want to keep at it. However my love was still in swimming.

It wasn’t until I made the decision to join a volleyball club in my area 

that things really started to fall into place for my path in life.

As many of you know with club volleyball you travel to different volleyball 

tournaments and many college volleyball coaches have the 

opportunity to see all different levels of players.

From beginners to advanced and all of us in between. As you can guess

I was in the beginner category.

A view of the London Olympic stadium middle hitter volleyball player Heather Bown competed in with Team USA

Middle hitter volleyball players find ways to get better at their sport during the offseason.

When I returned to high school volleyball the next year (my senior year)

they had to put me on the varsity volleyball team because of my age.

Now I was excited to be on the team and be able to contribute


So I would go to volleyball practice everyday and give my

best…even though I was still in the learning phase of the game.

However, I still say that now and it has been 12 years. Nonetheless I 

learn new things everyday, and I believe that the day I stop learning is 

the day I retire from the sport.

Anyhow, I honestly can not tell you what brought up the conference 

between myself and my volleyball coach one day, but we had a 

meeting and in that meeting I heard some of the harshest but at the 

same time motivating words I think I have ever received in my career.

Middle hitter volleyball players turn criticism into motivation.

Now when you are a young volleyball player still trying to figure out 

what you are doing on the volleyball court, you really would like to 

have some support from those that are your superiors, but on this day

support was definitely not what I was going to get.

In the course of the conversation I was told “you will never be a 

Division One volleyball player”.

Now he was referring to Division One in High School.

In other words, making me doubt myself and my reasons for being on

the volleyball team.

I don’t think I have to tell you that in about 0.1 seconds I started to cry,

and cry, and cry. I couldn’t believe it. I mean you go through life with

disappointments, and believe me I had had some good ones.

However, I wasn’t expecting that from him. So I had to deal with it. I 

never really understood until the day I started getting letters from 

schools that were interested in me to come play for them.

Now up to this point I had never even thought about going to college. 

After the harsh words spoken to me I made a pact with myself that I 

would do everything in my power to prove him wrong.

I would be a Division One middle hitter volleyball player, I would be

worth something to the team. So with the letters came also requests to

come see me play.

Middle hitter volleyball players make their own breaks because they work hard and train hard all the time.

Well you can imagine this posed a bit of a problem, seeing as I never

got to play on my high school volleyball team. So a coach had

contacted my volleyball coach to let him and I know he would be

attending a game, and gave the exact date of the volleyball game he

would be attending.

So that day comes and you would think that maybe my volleyball 

coach would allow me to play just a few minutes so that the college 

volleyball coach could see what I had to offer, but no.

Not one minute of the game. This coach had driven 3.5 hours to my 

school to see me play and I sat the entire time.

I was devastated, totally lost on the concept that my volleyball coach

could not allow me the chance to go to college and play.

I thought it was all over. 

Maybe he was right maybe I couldn’t be a D1 volleyball player.

Even in warmups good volleyball players show they are serious about playing the game.

But after the game in the parking lot the college volleyball coach said

something to me that turned my life around. He said to me that he

didn’t have to see me play in the volleyball game, but that even in

warm ups he could see that I was something special.

Then he handed me a phone number to call when I got home. It was the

number to the Head Volleyball Coach of the University, a real D1

University. I was so nervous to make that call; I had no idea what to


So I was off to play volleyball in college. My freshman year went as 

fast as lightening especially with all the transition in playing and 

learning, and all the new experiences.

Middle hitter volleyball players learn as much as they
can about the game.

I was again lost and the only thing I had that was the same was 

volleyball. So I buried myself in the volleyball game and my workouts

and tried to learn as much as I could in the short time I

had before season started.

I still felt so behind everyone else, so it was natural when I didn’t get

recognized for things, I would just continue my preparation as if nothing

happened, but in my heart I was dying for someone to say hey…"Great

job Heather".

It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year when another bomb was 

dropped on my dreams, almost shattering them again.

I had gone into my end of year meeting with the volleyball coaches and 

we had a talk, within the course of the meeting I had mentioned that I 

wanted them to train me for the 2000 Olympic volleyball team.

Middle hitter volleyball players set long term and short term goals for themselves.

I wanted to go to the Olympics!

The response I received from one of the volleyball coaches was “Don’t

set your hopes too high”.

Don’t set your hopes too high?

I was crushed. Maybe I had delivered the proposition in the wrong

manner, but I was asking for help to become the best volleyball

player I could be and I got shot down.

Watch as Middle Hitter Volleyball Player Heather Bown Talks about Military Service and Sacrifice

So with a deflated heart I competed another season with the same 

college volleyball team, but just could not get myself to really feel 


So after my sophomore year I transferred schools. 

Leaving my home state and going quite a bit further than I had ever 

been before for school and volleyball.

Middle hitter volleyball players look at the big picture and make decisions that put them on the path towards reaching their goals.

When I arrived at my new home, I hated it.

I regretted leaving what I had, and thought maybe I had made the

biggest mistake of my life.

However, as time always does, it showed me that my taking the

initiative and moving out of my comfort zone was something that I

needed in order to help me grow.

Middle hitter volleyball players make the most progress when they move outside of their comfort zone.

So I was off and running with a new volleyball team and a new air about

me. I felt free and alive.

After my junior season I was given the opportunity to try out with the

USA national volleyball team. My new volleyball coach had

arranged for me to be a part of a tryout.

I think I almost fainted when he told me, I was terrified.

How was I supposed to be able to play volleyball with those


They were all so experienced and, well… really, really good. I was…

well…not those things.

Middle hitter volleyball players work hard so they are ready when their opportunity presents itself.

So the day of the tryout came and I didn’t even know what my name 

was, I was so nervous. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, 

having the chance to be looked at by the USA national volleyball 

team coaches.

So I made the best of it and just did what I could. Hoping, and praying

that it was enough.

At the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to be selected to be part of

a group that trained for the World University Games Volleyball Team in


At that point I thought the hard part was over, but I was way wrong.

Middle hitter volleyball players learn to adapt to new rules, new situations and new environments.

Even though in college I was somewhat successful, when I got to

the national volleyball team it was a whole different ball game.

Actually it wasn’t even the national team it was the WUG (World University

Games) team.

I was told I had to lose weight and I couldn’t eat certain foods, I

had to drink nothing but water.

I mean it was horrible. I had never been flat out told I was


I had always just kind of accepted the fact that I was never going to

be skinny like the other players, but it was finally ok with me. I was just

comfortable in my skin and I was being told I was not the right image.

I couldn’t do it. I began to play volleyball badly because I wasn’t happy.

My secret has always been that I am happiest

when I am playing volleyball

because I feel free.

I was no longer free.

I was  encaged in an image process. (sic)

That I didn’t

know how to be.

So needless to say that summer was the hardest on me psychologically.

I had to really get to know me for me and really love who I was in order 

to make it through.

I learned that there are a lot of people out there that believe they know

what is best for everyone else, when the only person out there that can 

really answer that question for you is the one that looks you in the 

mirror every morning.

No one else.

You may think things turned all happy and pink once I was on the

national volleyball team for good.

This occurred in Feb of 2000.

I left school early, not finishing my degree, and moved to Colorado 

Springs full time to live and train.

Although my confidence grew the more practice I had in both my

personal life and professional, I had one more bump to pass over

before I was in the clear.

It came in the summer of 2001.

I was told by one of my national team coaches that “I thought 

I was better than I really am on the volleyball court”.

Middle hitter volleyball players learn how to believe in themselves.

Now if you can tell me what middle hitter volleyball player in the

world can succeed without believing in themselves…since in the

past I had learned that I am the only one who can 100%, I would be

open to learn.

Now this cut me like a knife. I was not expecting it from a volleyball

coach of mine at this level.

So once again I had to dig deep and confront the ugly monster that was 

once again stirring. All that I had worked so hard for was demolished in 

a split second. My self doubt was again in the forefront of my mind.

It seems as though no matter where you go or what you do in life there 

will always be obstacles, be it people or things that will cause you to 

stop and debate if you are really on the right path in life. 

It’s those moments when we really see what we are made of…

Middle hitter volleyball players never give up.

I had three very defining points when I had to question myself and if it 

was really worth it. I could have easily listened to others and packed up 

and gone home…or never even tried in the first place, but I did.

Today I am writing to you from an apartment in Italy where I

have been fortunate enough to have spent the last 7 years of my

life playing professional volleyball.

I have traveled the world and been exposed to different cultures, 

people, and sights. I have grown up with the world as opposed to 

growing up in the world.

None of that would have been possible had I not believed first in myself

and loved myself enough to venture away from what was comfortable

and easy for me to do.

Middle hitter volleyball players challenge themselves.

Challenging myself and pushing myself whether it was on the volleyball

court, or in the classroom, or in life in general.

Like I said before 'Life is funny that way… you never really know what

you are going to be faced with and what will come of it.'

For many middle hitter volleyball players the glass is always half full.

But just remember, even in the darkest moments of your life something 

good will come from it.

Just believe that and even if you mess up every once in a while it

doesn’t always mean the end of the road; it just means you have to

make your own path for a while and who knows what you might find.

Sometimes the best things in life are unexpected gifts.

So I wish all of you a good journey and maybe our paths will cross



Heather Bown

Read more volleyball stories like Heather's Bown. 

This story was written by Heather Bown exclusively for the Volleyball 

Voices project created and produced by April Chapple. 

No reproduction is allowed. All rights reserved. Volleyball Voices 

copyright 2017.

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The purpose of this project is to empower, educate and inspire female volleyball players to become self-confident athletes with positive body images and through this collection of stories to provide ideas and inspiration to IFVP readers that will serve to help improve self-esteem.

The ultimate goal is to create the largest collection of inspirational female volleyball players stories on the web and your help is needed to accomplish this goal.

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Breakfast Club 60

About Breakfast Club 60

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  • 60 minute intense Training
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Elite training for very advanced hard working players who INTEND to play volleyball in college.

Exclusive opportunity to train with teammates/friends with similar high goals and are ready to push YOU and themselves to improve. 

Not for the curious, weak hearted or distracted player, we do more in 60 minutes than most clubs and teams do in three hours. 

If you’ve never attended a Breakfast Club class contact Coach April BEFORE registering.

Brunch Club 60

About Brunch Club 60

  • Four Mondays 5pm - 6pm
  • 60 minute intensive Training
  • Class Max 12 - Coed
  • Ages 13 - 15
  • No Beginners
  • Intermediate Skill level
  • Registration is Open
  • Stupak Community Ctr 
  • Pay $195 for a four class pack Breakfast Club 60 
  • Pay $195 late registration (1-3 Mondays)


Perfect for regular Boot Camp class players and players who've ALREADY played on a City of Las Vegas/NYS Elite local league team and who're interested in more advanced training and/or trying out for the Volleycats Elite 14s/15s/ local team competing in June/July/August. 

Private and Semi Private Lessons with Coach April
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Ten (10) - intensive 60-minute sessions of semi-private (small groups of six) volleyball practices 

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