U.S. Paralympian Bethany Zummo on being a team player
By Greg Bach
Young athletes of all sports can learn a lot from U.S. Paralympian Bethany Zummo.
And we do mean a lot.
The likeable 23-year-old with infectious energy epitomizes what sports is really all about: doing your best, enjoying the process and being the ultimate team player.
“Play for fun because you love it, not for anything else,” says Zummo, whose right foot was amputated at 2-years-old as the result of two congenital disorders. “I didn’t start playing volleyball to become a Paralympian. I started playing volleyball because I wanted to play something; I wanted a challenge.”
Growing up, Zummo played everything her two sisters did. “Sports have always been important to us,” she says. “Watching, playing, they’re just a part of our family lifestyle.”
So growing up she took dance and ballet, played T-ball, basketball and soccer, and eventually fell in love with volleyball, where she played on her middle and high school teams.
And her approach to the sport should be a must-read for all young athletes: “I wasn’t fantastic at standing or sitting when I started,” she explains. “Nobody is fantastic at anything when they first start. I just really embraced the challenge of trying to be the best that I could be and trying not to compare myself to other players on the team who were taller than me or who could hit harder or could set better. I just tried to find my niche and really flourish in it. And good things came from it.”
Did they ever.
JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME
During her middle school playing days she saw a sitting volleyball demonstration and was encouraged to give the sport a shot, though she admits she was reluctant to do so for a while.
“I didn’t want to look different and that was just something with me and my pride that I wasn’t ready to try something new,” she says. “I just thought it was something for people who couldn’t play standing volleyball.”
But her outlook – and her life – changed during her sophomore year of high school.
“At that point I had been playing volleyball for a good number of years and felt like I had established myself and I wanted to see what kind of career path it could lead to,” she says.
So she went to Oklahoma to the U.S. team’s training camp site, came home bruised and battered from the intense sessions, and knew the sport was for her.
Now as the team’s libero – the defensive specialist who does her work in the back row – Zummo is participating in her first Paralympic Games in Rio. You can catch the action as Team USA goes for gold on NBC, which is airing nearly 70 hours of coverage of these Games from Sept. 7-18. The Paralympic Games are the second largest sporting event in the world.
“I never thought that I would have this opportunity to represent my country,” Zummo says. “I always thought my biggest triumph was going to be playing in high school on my varsity team and then this happened.”
THE ULTIMATE TEAM PLAYER
Zummo gets it when it comes to sports. She sees the value of facing a challenge, whether on the court or in life, and simply doing your best. And doing it with energy and enthusiasm.
It’s all we can ask of any young athlete.
Plus, being a team player is important to her. Her mindset should be the model for all young athletes to strive to emulate, because it really captures the essence of team play and is a wonderful attribute coaches should be striving to instill in all their young athletes.
“I try to be a self-less player,” she says. “I’m not the point scorer, I’m not the setter, I’m just the person who has to keep the ball up so we can keep playing and we can continue to have a chance to get that point. So I know that I’ve gotten a good pass when my setter gets a fantastic set and then my hitter kills it. To me it’s one of the more self-less positions on the team. And I like it and I embrace it 100 percent. I kind of live vicariously through my hitters. And that’s what I love. I never played any individual sports and I don’t know what that would be like, but I’m a social creature and a team player and I like helping be a part of something that works successfully.”
As the epitome of a team player, Zummo is focused on doing her job to help the team.
“It’s like we’re a little machine and we all have our jobs to do,” she says. “I only play back row because I’m good at it and that’s my part that I can give and contribute to my team. My hitters are fantastic at hitting, and my setters are fantastic at setting, and I can allow them to do their job if I do my job.”
She clearly does her job very well.
Katrina Adams, former president of the United States Tennis Association and author of OWN THE ARENA, on leading your organizations to greater success; her love of tennis; and what youth can learn from playing the sport to carry with them for a lifetime
Noelle Pikus Pace – a two-time Olympian, mother, motivational speaker and youth mindset coach – on unleashing the power of the mind to help young athletes perform at their best
The Loyola University Chicago head men’s basketball coach keeps it positive while working with his players – and encourages youth coaches to be all in on lifting their players up every chance they can
Aaron Weinstein, author of The Baseball Brain: Mental Game Training for the Developing Ballplayer, on helping young players learn and develop all-important mental skills to perform at their best both on and off the field