Haley Hampton, former middle-blocker for the Tiger volleyball program (2014-16), just completed her second year playing professional volleyball for Afturelding based in Reykjavík, Iceland. We caught up with Haley to see what she’s been up to, and her take on playing overseas.
2015-16 was your last season as a Tiger. What’s life been like since graduation?
When I graduated, I was putting film together for a position (right side) I didn’t play and, didn’t have film for. So, I went on an exposure tour in Slovenia and Italy and came back home September 12, 2016.
I stopped playing completely for eight or nine months. I was trying to control everything and I was working at a job I didn’t really like at the time.
One day, I had lunch with a middle school friend who said I shouldn’t give up on something I really want to do. A week later, agents started reaching out to me in abundance. June and July came around, and I said if teams didn’t call by August, I’d just stop. Two weeks later, I got a call from Iceland.
What was going overseas to play like?
It’s been great. It’s made me better because I’ve had to play a different position and live in Europe by myself. I had to find my love for the sport again and find the ‘why.’ I had to understand the different levels of being a professional – meaning, even though you don’t have to work out, you should so that you keep yourself healthy. Some teams don’t have a trainer, so it’s up to you to treat your body well. The body will do well if you treat your body well… which I didn’t do when I was at school.
How did this season go?
The team was helpful and everyone can speak English. The coach was from Spain, but spoke English as well, and we had another American. She helped because we were going through the same things.
Our team finished second in the league, and I finished at the top of the league in my position.
What was your best memory from this volleyball season?
The relationships that were built since I was there. I was trying to not burn bridges because you realize relationships can take you anywhere. I tried not to take it for granted, because if you do and you complain, it can be taken away from you.
They picked my roommate first – she’s a setter from Davidson. I was up against a girl who went to Lipscomb. My coach wanted me, and the other girl decided not to come because she thought it was too cold.
How was the adjustment to a new culture and a new team?
This is my first year because I got the full experience. I learned to be open to changes, both culture and physical. It’s a lot colder here than in Nashville or Texas. Before I left at the beginning of May, it was still snowing.
Making sure I stayed committed to the team, no matter how bad things got, I still had to work. A lot of the younger girls said I was a good teammate because of that.
I had to manage the sun because of how dark it gets over there, and manage money. October to December, when you went home it would be dark. The sun would go up at 11 a.m. and down at 3 p.m., and all you want to do is sit in the house because it was dark all of the time. It’s important to manage finances, like budgeting for food, going out, and I’m blessed to have a car, so managing all of these things is important.
How is driving in Iceland?
I get asked this a lot. We drive on the regular side of the street and the gas is a lot more expensive. Also, having nails on your tires is so important because of how much it snows there. It’s a beautiful country.
How’d you improve from your first year playing pro to now?
I continued to stay locked in. I’m always that person who says they need to go workout today. When the season finished, I had two or three days, and I started working out.
I made sure to improve on the little things because I’m starting over in a new position, like serve-receive. But being versatile and because I’m not tall, the little things are what help you stand out.
What are your plans for next year?
I should know something between June and September, but I’ve learned to go with the flow because if I think about it too much, I become consumed.
I want to go to a higher league. I’ve learned you want to continue to go up. My coach told me to go to a team where you’re going to learn something. In the first month you’ll know if you’re going to learn something or not.
How did TSU prepare you for professional play?
A few girls that played at TSU, went pro – like Erika Moss. They always told me, ‘Haley, make sure you keep working.’ Just because you’re good, doesn’t mean things are going to happen for you. Just keep working so when you’re called you can give your all. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
What is your advice for any Tiger who wants to go pro?
Stay committed and like I keep saying, keep working because you never know when an opportunity will come your way. Don’t let the no’s deter you because all you need is one yes. Surround yourself with the right people, because some people will tell you to just start your life. That’s harder for female athletes. Never let anyone rush your life. Do it on your time.