Christian: Today I’m joined by Celeste Plak. Celeste is a volleyball player from the Netherlands whose biggest achievements include placing fourth at the Rio Olympics in 2016, 2000 runner-up of the European Champs in 2015 and 2017, champion of the First Division in 2016 and 2017, MVP (most valuable player) in the Italian Cup in 2015. Celeste is currently playing for Igor Gorgonzola Novara, an Italian First Division club, with which she won the Champions League in 2019.
I had the pleasure of working with Celeste when she was a talented up and coming junior volleyball player from the age of 14 to 17 years before she moved on to join the Volleyball National team.
Celeste: Thank you.
Celeste’s darkest moment
Christian: Celeste, what was your darkest moment?
Celeste: Well, to be honest up until now I haven’t really had a dark moment, up until now everything has gone pretty smooth and I’m pretty happy about that.
I have not had any major injuries or big disappointments. I have to be honest, that fourth place in at the Rio Olympics 2016 did not really feel like a big accomplishment, because I think we were closer to the gold medal than we were to the bronze one, but it’s not a bad thing in my career.
The 4th place in at the Rio Olympics 2016 did not feel like a big accomplishment, because I think we were closer to the gold medal than we were to the bronze medal.
Celeste’s best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Celeste: The qualification for the Olympic Games 2016. I think it has been 20 years that the Dutch women have been playing volleyball in the Olympic Games, so the qualification was a big achievement, a lot of explosion of emotions and things like that.
Also, winning the national championships with Igor Gorgonzola Novara was really nice. For the rest, great things are still to come.
Great things are still to come.
Celeste’s advice to a younger Celeste Plak
Christian: What advice would you give your younger self? If you could go back in time 10 years, what advice would you give to young Celeste Plak?
Celeste: To not be too scared of the unknown. I had some difficulties adjusting to the life I was going to have, I was a little afraid of what was coming. There was nothing big that held me back, but I think it would have been better to just enjoy some moments.
Don’t be scared of the unknown, and just enjoy the moments.
That’s also something I have to remind myself of now almost every day, to enjoy what I’m doing and not only wanting to go further forward, but also sometimes just stand still and realize the great things I can do now and how fortunate I am, so enjoying it more.
I have to remind myself every day, to enjoy what I’m doing and not only wanting to go further forward. Stand still, realize the great things I can do now and how fortunate I am.
Christian: When you say you were not prepared for the life that was coming, what are you referring to?
Celeste: I did not know what it meant to be an athlete, it’s just by accident that I am here. I just wanted to play volleyball with my friends for fun. And one day I got selected for the Junior Team, and I did not even know that there was the national team, just to give you an impression of where I was.
I did not know what it meant to be an athlete, I just wanted to play volleyball with my friends for fun and one day I got selected for the Junior Team.
So, I did not know what was coming, I had no idea what I wanted, where I would go, what was expected of me. But slowly by looking around and being at Papendal surrounded by the best athletes, we have in Holland I found my way.
Celeste’s success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful and athlete and successful person?
Celeste: At nights when I’m in my bed, I reflect back on my day, what I did, what I did well, but mostly what did I not do so well and what I can improve. I go back to situations or conversations and think back on what I said, what I could have said, what I could have done to make it better.
Sometimes it can be tiring, but I think it guides me a lot and that’s the way I learn and improve, and I’m still doing it and still improving. So, I think that’s a part of self-reflection, and really being able to look yourself in the mirror and say, “Hey, am I doing this right?” has helped me to be where I’m at right now.
At nights when I’m in my bed, I reflect back on my day, what I did, what I did well, but mostly what did I not do so well and what I can improve. It guides me a lot and that’s the way I learn and improve.
Christian: When did you start doing that?
Celeste: I think maybe when I was 16 or something like that when I started to realize I can do great things and I’m not just an ordinary player but that I can be better than the rest of the people at my age if I work for it. And then I realize I had to step it up a notch.
When I was 16 years, I started to realize I can do great things and I’m not just an ordinary player if I work for it and step it up a notch.
Christian: And you figured it out yourself, or you had someone to advise you?
Celeste: Probably there was some advice. There wasn’t one moment that I realized, “This is the moment when it switched.” I think it changed slowly.
When you come to Papendal as a young teenager there is a lot of guidance, a lot of people that help you like psychologists, lifestyle coaches as well, also you as a strength & conditioning coach helped me.
There are a lot of people talking and you pick up different things from different people, and I think with that I pick some different things out and I made it my habit. There is not one specific moment that it happened.
Christian: And has your dad helped you? I read your dad was also a successful athlete in his sport, something like a runner-up at the World Champs or something.
Celeste: He became World Champion in Muay Thai Boxing, you can compare that with K1 nowadays. How he helped me was in my career as a professional athlete he’s supporting me but not really guiding, he’s just letting me figure it out all by myself, which I think is a good thing, I can explore everything myself.
As a child, he mostly taught me discipline, that if you want something you have to work for it. He also taught me social values such as having respect for people, having morals, being a good person. And combining those things made me who I am right now, so I think he did a good job in his guidance.
My dad taught me discipline, to have respect for people, having morals and being a good person. And combining those things made me who I am right now.
I’m really happy my parents did not push me because that would not have worked in the right way for me. There was one moment when I was 14 years old, I quit the Junior National Team because I was really unhappy, and I can understand that there would be parents that would say, “Go back, you have to do this.” But they said, “If you are not happy, don’t go, but please try it one more time.” So, that slowly guiding, not really pushing but just guiding that, as I said, have helped me. That was special, I think.
Celeste’s morning routine
Christian: You mentioned your reflection routine in the evening, do you also have a morning routine?
Celeste: Cursing at people and smacking my alarm [laughter]. No, I’m not really a morning person. I have to be honest, I do not really have a ritual.
Now, that I’m talking I realize I do prepare mentally for my practice, before going to practice.
I think about, “What do I want to do today?” And for example, “In this session I want to make good angles, I want to be more aggressive in my attack, I want to hit the ball high.” I think about the space, “Where can I hit? What’s the smartest solution?” But those are I think small things. I think it’s normal to do that. So, not really big morning rituals.
I’m not really a morning person, I do not really have a ritual. But I do prepare mentally for my practice, before going to practice.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?
Celeste: I visualize a lot. I take a moment for myself, sometimes with music, sometimes without, and I just go in myself and I think about all the good actions I want to do, I think about the past, the good things that I did and what I have to do tactically, what I have to do to be smarter than the opponent, and that’s it.
I just go in myself and think how much I want to win, how much I want to succeed for myself and for the team, and then that’s how I do it, sometimes in the bus, sometimes in the changing room, the locker room, it depends.
I visualize a lot, I take a moment for myself, how much I want to win, how much I want to succeed for myself and for the team.
But the danger of that is that I go all in myself, that I turn too much in an introvert, so I need to be aware that there is a balance between really focusing, visualizing, and being open for people around me to still communicate with me. Once I’m on the court it’s fine though.
Christian: That would have been my next question if you are set point down or set point against you.
Celeste: Well, give me the ball to hit, I want to score. I think I perform very well under pressure, so at the end of the set where it really starts counting, I want that ball, maybe I will jump five centimeters high, I don’t know, but mostly those are my good moments.
Give me the ball to hit, I want to score, I perform very well under pressure.
Check out a few of Celeste’s best points
Christian: Why is that?
Celeste: The extra adrenaline I think, or being aware of the fact that now it counts. In volleyball, we play a set until 25, and we play all the way until 20 and the last five points are the ones where we will decide who will win. I think that may be just the reason.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Celeste: Thinking back on what I could have done to prevent those moments and what I can do to prevent it next time, and if it’s not preventable how I can manage the situation better, that’s it.
And also, when something bad happens I don’t feel sorry for myself or for the moment, but I just try to see it as a fact.
This is something I thought about a lot of times. When I was 14 or 15 one time you said, “You should see things as a fact, information, and not as a negative thing.” So, for example, you look at the clock and it’s 3:00, you don’t think, “Oh, 3:00, I should do this and this and I might be late”, but just see it as a fact that it’s 3:00. It’s just a fact, don’t put a label on it positive or negative thoughts that it’s like this and what am I going to do with this. One time you told me that and it really stayed in mind.
When something bad happens I don’t feel sorry for myself. I think back on what I could have done to prevent those moments, what I can do to prevent it next time, and if it’s not preventable how I can manage the situation better.
Celeste’s role model
Christian: Who is your role model, and why?
Celeste: I do not have one particular role model. People that inspire me are people that are really good at their job, have passion and enjoy it. And also, I really admire strong women, think about Anouk or Serena Williams, Beyoncé, people like that, really powerful women.
Christian: Strong women refers to that too? Because if you picture these three women, they are also very different in terms of physical shape. What do you mean by strong?
Celeste: The whole picture. I’m not talking about body composition, I’m talking about doing something you’re really good at, enjoying it and inspiring other people. Like when they’re in the room it’s impossible to not notice them; they’re just there and doing their thing. And that’s what I admire and that’s something that I work for too, to just be good at what I do and enjoy it. As I said before, enjoy the things that you’re doing.
People that inspire me are people that are really good at their job, have passion and enjoy it. And that’s what I work for too, to just be good at what I do and enjoy it.
The best advice she ever received
Christian: What is the best advice you have received, and who gave it to you?
Celeste: The best advice I think is to follow your heart. It’s very cheesy, but it’s like this – when there are decisions that you have to make you know what the best option is. And then maybe your mind wants to mix in things rationally, things like that, but I think in the end your first option will probably be also your last option. And in between, you can doubt a lot and things like that, but just follow your heart.
Your first option will probably be also your last option.
Until now I did that every time and there is nothing I regret, because if you do that you always listen to what you feel. You cannot look back and think, “Oh, I wish I did it differently”, because that’s how you did it.
And also accept the consequences that are with that. For example, when I was younger, I had a test, I didn’t want to study, so I was like, “Okay, tomorrow is the test, if I study, I will get eight, if I don’t study, I will get four.” And in the end, I decided not to study. But if I had gotten a four, I would accept it, that would be the consequence. But I was okay with it because I felt like it, so I knew before that would be the consequence, so it’s okay. So, I do not regret it because I felt like that in that moment. Who gave it to me? Different people, or also like quotes on the internet, you see it everywhere, it’s not one particular person.
Christian: Just out of interest, you said the first idea you have is probably also your last idea or the best one, is that the same on the court? Is it the same on the court that the first thing that comes to your mind is what you stick with?
Celeste: Well, there is not so much time to think about what you want to do. With serving there is a lot of time, you have time to walk to the ball, and once the referee whistles you have eight seconds, so there I mostly do what the coach says, I follow instructions.
But for example, in volleyball, it’s not always like this, in one moment you really have to decide fast, and I think the older you become the more knowledge you have of the game, the more logical options will be and you will recognize it and you will understand what you have to do. But I think when you don’t have much experience you just have to try things and you cannot always know how you have to react in situations.
Also, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, and so if your strong ball is always diagonal and you feel like doing a diagonal, but the opponent is number two, and so they will put a block diagonal.
Mostly in life when you follow your heart, you’re in your comfort zone, of course, you have to use your brain and be realistic and think about what would be wise and what wouldn’t be wise, you have to come out of your comfort zone. But on the court, I think it’s a balance between both of them; without risking you cannot win.
It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but you have to come out of your comfort zone. Because without risking you cannot win.
A typical training day in the life of a professional Volleyball player
Christian: How does a typical training day look?
Celeste: Very different, very alternating. Some days we practice 6 hours a day, which is regular. In the morning we have weights for 1.5 – 2 hours, then we have 1.5 hours volleyball technique training. And then in the afternoon, we have 3 hours of ball training.
And when we are in a tournament, in the morning we have just 1.5 hours of training and 2 hours in the afternoon. It depends.
Also, with the national team and the club team, it’s really different. With the national team you have a lot of time to invest in improving technically, individually; with the club every week you have a game, you have a match, so there are two days for yourself to improve and then the rest of the days, the three days you have to play as a team and practice for the opponent that’s coming. So, it’s also different, there a lot of ways.
Training with the national team and the club team is really different.
Christian: How is the training for the national team different to the club team?
Celeste: The training for the national team is more intense in every way, emotionally, because as a group we bonded, because some girls are together for 10 years, maybe more. In Holland, there is just a certain number of girls that can play each year, but with the club, there is a change every six months, so there is not the time to really bond, to come together. That’s why it’s more intense with the national team.
While practicing we practice way harder, we have long periods of practice, and then there is a period with a lot of games, and then practice again. And with the club it’s like five days of practice and one day of the game, so you cannot really push because if you push too much you will not perform on game day.
We practice way harder, we have long periods of practice, and then there is a period with a lot of games, and then practice again.
Also, with the club, you have a lot of older girls. I have one on my team, she is 40 years old, if you let her practice for five hours a day she will die, so it’s different, it’s really different. I prefer the national team, although I miss my freedom. With the club, you have more free time and you have more time for yourself, but I prefer the national team.
What country does Celeste prefer? Italy vs the Netherlands?
Christian: Do you prefer Italy or the Netherlands?
Celeste: Volleyball in Holland is not at a high level, but it is really high in Italy. There are a lot of great things about living in Italy, but it’s also great here in Holland with my family and I know everything here, the air is different. So, if I were to quit playing volleyball, I think I would stay in Holland, I would choose Holland over Italy. But for volleyball definitely Italy, definitely, it’s a no-brainer.
Celeste’s interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Celeste: The person I want to nominate is Stephan Boersma. Stephan, good luck.
Where can you find Celeste Plak
Christian: Where can people find you?
Celeste: They can find me on Instagram, it’s just my name, Facebook, just the same. I do not do Snap Chat or Twitter, so that’s it, Instagram.
Facebook athlete page
Christian: Thanks for your time Celeste, that was awesome.
Celeste: You’re very welcome.