Very charismatic, the libero from USA, Dustin Watten shared with us in this interview some truths about the bright and the dark sides of being a professional player. – After great first season in Finland, I found myself in the end without a single offer, so I really didn’t know what to do – said Dustin Watten.
– Starting from the very begining – Dustin Watten and volleyball: how did it really happen?
– I used to be very passionate about soccer. My dad was a volleyball coach and he always asked me if I wanted to play, but I never went to the volleyball court to. In high school in USA there are three seasons for sports. The second one is for soccer and third one for volleyball. By the time my soccer season was finished, I joined a volleyball team – some friends of mine who were training asked me to play and so it began. Before I started trainings I thought that volleyball was a girly sport. People who don’t know this sport very well usually think this way and I was one of these people at the beginning.
– In Poland when some youngsters want to go professional, all their career is focused on professional clubs. They can play in junior teams and later in senior. How is it in the USA?
– To be honest, I haven had the possibility to be a professional volleyball player untill I was 22. When you are younger you can play for a club team. You have a high school season and then, apart from the high school season, you have a club season. After my first year of playing in high school I really enjoyed it and I wanted to play more and more. I tried playing in a club – especially this one was very bad, so in the next season I found a better team. We played some tournaments and then we took part in one really big tournament where college coaches were looking for new players. This way, I called the attention of some coaches, but also in my city there is a college and since I was always on this local college camps, the coach knew who I was. So, I started off with high school team, then I went to a club team and then to college team. If you are good enough in college team, then you have a chance to get invited in the USA trainings. We have some kind of A2 team, which goes to Panamerican tournament. You play there against Brazil, Argentina etc… If you do it well at this tournament you have an open invitation to tryout for World League team. Usually the Panamerican team is completely separate team from the main one, but if you get good results you can stay in the gym with best players. I spent 4 years with A2 and I was a third libero at the gym, but never really playing, just shagging balls and do stuff like this. I kept on pushing, play a little bit more and then I made it – I traveled to Brazil with World League team.
– Your first club in Europe was in Finland. Did you start with this team after finishing your college?
– No. I finished college and I wasn’t able to find a club, so I stayed in the USA to be in a training block, but there were actually no players during the winter. It was just me and the setter, who was setting left and right. We also trained with weights and coaching other groups to earn some money. It was literally just me and him. The coach told me that there will be some more players and eventually there were 5 or 6 more guys in march or april. But since the beginning of the winter until april – I spent five months just with setter. In my second year after graduation I was able to sign my first contract in Finland.
It’s a quite exotic destination for a volleyball player. How did you find this club?
It’s another interesting story. In my youth club team it there were two liberos – me and the other one. I was in the first squad. After we finished high school we went to the different colleges, and we graduated in the same year. In the year that I stayed in Southern California, he went to Austria to play volleyball. In his second season he was speaking with this Finnish club, but he decided to come back to the USA and start a normal job. He told me about this team, and he was like “I think they will like you, here is the e-mail contact”. I was lucky enough – because of the kindness of this friend I was able to sign my first contract. Maybe without him I never would be a professional player. I spoke with this club and after two months I signed a contract.
Wasn’t it a little bit too cold for you in Scandinavia?
Oh yes… The first week it was sunny, then next two weeks it was raining and then whole the time afterwards it was snowing. It was one of the coldest winter in Finland! When I was there I didn’t have a car. The option was to walk for every training, but it was so cold for me that I ran to practice every day just because it was really cold outside. When I was in Finland I was so grateful that I had this opportunity and knew that if I didn’t take advatage and develope in order to be a great libero, this would be the end of my career. Every day I woke up with big passion and almost urgency to really push and work hard. I never looked at it like “Oh, it’s so cold and dark… I’m so sad and I want to go home”. For me it was an opportunity to show what I have and move on. I was always very focused on my targets.
Some of the leagues have limits regarding the number of the foreign players in team squad. Is it hard to find a club in such situations when you are a libero?
It’s very difficult. Like I said – it took me two years to sign my first contract, and it was by luck. In my first year in Finland I got some monthly awards and also the season award for the best libero in the league. But after this I didn’t have a single offer, so I really didn’t know what to do. The team told me that if I want to go back to them, they will be very happy, so I stayed with them for the next season as well. It was disappointing, because I had probably the best season that I could have and there wasn’t any team that would like to take me out from Finland. After my second year in Finland I was lucky again. I had two friends playing in French second division and their coach asked them if they knew some libero with a lot of energy, and they thought about me.
Do you think that the PlusLiga is good place to show your skills and that you are able to play in national team? A lot of good players from the USA have some Polish clubs in their CV…
Yes, I think so. Paul Lotman is my friend, so since I saw him in Asseco Resovia, playing in PlusLiga was my dream. The passion which people have in Poland, the level of volleyball, fans… it’s just fantastic. I watched a lot of games on youtube. So it alwas was something it’s been on my mind – if I work hard enough and play good enough, maybe someday I will play in PlusLiga. And one day I woke up and looked on my phone, I saw and e-mail from my agent – “Czarni Radom are interested in you. What do you want to do with this?” . And I said – let’s go! I already had signed a contract in France, but there was the option to buy out the contract, so I did it. I thought I was going to France, but now I’m in Poland, and I’m really happy because of that.
Since 2012 you are a vegan. Didn’t you lose some weight and strength after you changed the diet?
When I first did it, I lost a couple of pounds, because I didn’t know how to do it. But I was able to put it back on really fast. I think it’s a stereotype. Before I changed the diet I thought that as an athlete I need to be strong. To be strong I need protein and to get protein I need eat meat. I read a book that made me think differently. I thought that maybe everything that I heard from other people or that I saw in TV it’s not correct. I started to read more . I was able to not only put back on the pounds I lost but also gained more muscles. I saw a lot players from 2008 Olympic team, who achieve so high level of skills and knowledge, but their bodies was breaking down. You could see in their eyes that they wanted to play more, but their bodies couldn’t do this anymore. I wanted to take care of my health for short term – like on each training, but also on long term – to be able to play on good level till my late 30’s.