For Nia Bedard, her journey into sports was all about finding what she loved.
“My introduction to sports was lacrosse when I was in third grade, she says. “But I wasn’t doing it because I loved it, I did it because it was just something for me to do in my spare time. I stopped playing in seventh grade.”
But when she discovered volleyball at around the same time, “I felt like I found a sport I loved,” she says. Nia had found what she had been missing in lacrosse.
“My main role is defensive specialist/libero, so I do most of the passing,” Nia says. “I feel like when I pass, I am in control. That was something different than lacrosse. I felt like I didn’t have that much control of the ball when I did have it. I felt like I wasn’t in control.”
And control has always been important for Nia, who says she hates feeling “incompetent” at anything. As talented as she found she was at volleyball there were things she knew she needed to work on.
“I think one of the hardest things is serving, because being a passer I don’t have as much upper body strength as a person who is strictly a hitter,” Nia says. “I’ve gotten better, and I’ve worked a lot to try and get to where I am.”
Today, Nia is a freshman at St. John’s Catholic Prep, in Frederick, and plays on the school volleyball team. But it was yet another change she undertook in seventh grade that put her on a path to be playing in high school at all. That was her decision to first try, and then to stick it out, at Player’s Fitness and Performance, a gym with a focus on cultivating young athletes, where Nia’s siblings had already been training to improve their skills in baseball and lacrosse.
“I figured if I went to PFP and started getting stronger and faster, then my volleyball skills will get better,” she says. “It was sort of like 50/50 health and then for volleyball.”
But it quickly became apparent, to Nia, her parents and coaches, that the key thing PFP would help her with was her mindset, her own sense of self.
“When I first started at PFP, I was very anxious,” Nia says. “I always thought that everyone was judging me.”
Her anxiety was initially so paralyzing, Nia’s mother Maria says, that it was keeping Nia from fully participating in the group discussions and workouts.
“The folks at PFP came to us and they said, ‘we really think you should put her into one-on-one training, and maybe the best person to put her with is Stephanie,” Maria says. “Man, was that just the smartest thing in the world to do.”
“I have such a heart for that age, especially for the young women, the girls, because I know they are going through so many things,” PFP Coach Stephanie Furman says. “I just met her where she was at.”
And where Nia was at then was uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, not ready for the precondition for learning new physical skills.
“That was the biggest thing — Just starting to train was out of her comfort zone,” Furman says. “I was constantly challenging the comfort zone while also making her somewhat comfortable outside her comfort zone.”
It was a process, Nia said, but one that ultimately let her relax into learning new things, which built her confidence, and let her learn further.
“They helped me to think and to realize that, no, you’re not incompetent — you’re new,” Nia says. “You’re getting used to things. It’s different and it takes time.”
But from the outside, the gains in Nia’s self-confidence were apparently almost immediately.
“I started getting emails, totally unsolicited, from teachers at school. Telling me they could notice a difference in her self-confidence,” Maria says. “If she had not been with PFP, I don’t think she would have said, ‘I want to try out this volleyball thing.’ I think she probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to say, ‘I don’t want to do lacrosse.’”
And the gains in confidence have gone hand in hand with athletic gains as well, with Nia torching her previous benchmarks in her most recent testing.
“I ran a 20-yard sprint in about 2.5 seconds, which was an incredible improvement for me,” she says. “When I started, it was maybe a little over 3 seconds.”
“She used to be scared to hold weights. Now she is grabbing dumbbells,” Furman adds. “Push-ups were really hard, but now she does them like a champ.”
In recognition of her progress, both mental and physical, PFP has named Nia April’s Athlete of the Month, a nod that took her by pleasant surprise.
“Honestly, I thought, ‘are they serious?’” she says. “It was awesome.”
And now that she’s found her confidence, what is Nia going to do with it? She’s still figuring that out. She is thinking of a career in medicine one day, for instance, perhaps even “being a psychologist or psychiatrist for veterans or current military.”
As for her sport, Nia has realized that for her, volleyball and athletics have been less something she arranges her life to succeed at than a vehicle to help her succeed at life. She’s not that interested in collegiate athletics, but will keep playing and training through high school to further her own discovery of her best self.
“I think I wanted to join PFP to become a happier person and become a better person, not just with nutrition or athletics. But mentally, emotionally and physically,” she says. “When it comes to sports, I want to be happier and I want to be proud of myself. I think in my two and a half years, they have really helped me succeed and helped me feel that.”
That’s Nia Bedard’s why. What’s your why?