HERMOSA BEACH, California — Miles Partain thought he was a loser.

Those three AVP wins? Three Elite16 medals, a collection of every color? The stunning, back-to-back victories over Anders Mol and Christian Sorum to win the Gstaad cowbell? The accolades lavished upon him by his peers: two-time Best Offensive Player, Rookie of the Year, both on the AVP and Beach Pro Tour, Best Defensive Player?


All of it.

Meanwhile, the losses, few as they may have been?

His fault.

All of it.

It weighed on that lean and explosive left shoulder of his, as it would anyone.

“I used to see some athletes as winners and some as not, and I would view myself as not,” Partain said. “I was just like ‘Why do I see myself this way? What does a winner mean?’ ”

He didn’t know. For 21 years, he’d never bothered to ask. Until finally, he did.

It’s not an easy task, soul-searching. Not for the timid, either. But over the course of an extended off-season, the first, really, of Partain’s precocious and already successful career, the search for what being a winner meant began. He examined individuals he determined were in possession of what he calls winning traits. Observed the unimpeachable self-confidence of Trevor Crabb and Pedro Salgado. Pondered the sometimes comic, often bombastic assuredness of Donald Trump. Noted the ability to push forward, in spite of critics and setbacks that sometimes came to the tune of rockets blowing up mid-flight, of Elon Musk. Read and read and read the timeless wisdom and narrative building of Jesus Christ.

That was it.

A narrative.

A story.

All this time, for 22 years, Miles Partain had been telling himself the wrong story.

“I used to think objective world was everything, including story. Now I’m learning that the story world is super powerful. It’s the story of faith and hope and vision and dreams and heaven,” Partain said on SANDCAST. “You get to choose your thoughts and how you frame. You can call it positive or whatever, but it’s almost a miracle — the Gospel is a story that encapsulates all the limits of possible storytelling capabilities. The highest God, as high as possible, went all the way down to death, and then he was resurrected, so he destroyed death. There’s no story beyond the gospel. Whatever story I’m in, I can relate it to what I think is the highest story. I view things more as good and bad, up and down now, more than true or false. Stories have a true element to them — the glass is 50 percent filled, that’s true, but how you see it is really up to you. That’s the God you serve: how you view things, what you give your attention to, what you worship.”

Long a Christian, Partain had lived a life in which he deferred all things to God. Lose? God’s plan. Win? Also God’s plan. It left him wondering: Where did he fit in? If everything was, as he believed, up to a higher power, what was the point of all of this? Where was the autonomy, the humanity, in that?

“I viewed myself as a loser. I don’t know why. I could win an AVP and feel like I was a loser. I didn’t deserve it. I thought wins were luck and losing was all my fault. I’d win and think it was lucky,” he said. “I’d tell myself it was God’s will, it wasn’t me at all. But God made me. He gave me gifts, so I’m going to own those. It negates my free will if I say it was all God. It was, but it was also me, and he made me.”

Andy Benesh, Partain’s 6-foot-9 blocker, could see his partner struggling with it — the self-worth, the confidence, the battle between what was him and what was God, the constant editing of the story being written in his head. They could win all of the medals on the Beach Pro Tour, rake in one post-season award after the next, but what would be the point if Partain was mired in an internal battle that kept him from enjoying it?

“There were certain moments that were hard for him last year to go through,” Benesh said. “Phil [Dalhausser] helped us out a lot during those times. I just want Miles to be happy and stoked on what he’s doing. It’s cool — everything happens for a reason.”

There. Another story. Do you see it?

It’s cliché, borderline eye-roll-worthy, to bandy about the phrase that everything happens for a reason. Athletes do it all the time. Christians as well. But what if you mean it? If you actually internalize it? What if you reframe that rote sentence into the single most powerful five words a team can use for itself?

Partain has. So has Benesh.

“Everything’s a win. That’s what winners are. You see losses as learns and wins as wins and you just can’t lose,” Partain said. “The harder your experience is, the more you can learn from it and the more you can relate to other people too because life is hard. There’s a lot of good. You can just negate bad things and celebrate good things. I look at things like that. The main goal is to try and see everything as a growing opportunity. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is that there’s so much good to be found in things.”

Miles Partain at the Montreal Elite16/Volleyball World photo

That lull at the end of the season, with the pair of ninths and a pair of fifths and an upset loss to Sam Schachter and Dan Dearing at the NORCECA Continental Finals? Their winless stretch in the Beach Pro Tour Finals?

All wins to them, for no other reason than because they said so. Because that’s the story they’re telling themselves.

“You just have to apply the story that makes you confident. In a way, you just make it up. It’s just your imagination, as if your imagination is some small thing,” Partain said. “A lot of confidence is because I said so. I have the authority. Ultimately, God has the most, but among us, confident people say ‘Why? Because I said so.’

“The story world has less of a truth element. Faith can multiply. You can have one rep and say that’s going to be the one rep that’s going to repeat infinite times, because I said so. Or you can say you have one rep, that’s not necessarily going to repeat itself, I have to prove it again. That’s the kind of confidence I had. ‘That was just one rep. God’s will will be done, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen again, we’ll see. I’m not going to put any kind of faith into it, just very doubt filled or faithless.’ Now if I get a good hit, I go ‘That’s happening again. I know that’s happening again. Why? Because I said so.’

“It’s manifesting. The Bible deals with faith a lot. Jesus said it can move mountains. It’s a powerful thing. The power we have is immense. What I’m going to learn from this is going to make me better than if I had won.”

A frightening thought. When Partain was under the impression that he was a loser, he was already the best player in the United States and voted by his peers as one of the top four in the world. Now that there is a different movie playing in his mind, a different story being written, where’s the ceiling?

Is there even one at all?

Depends on the ending he decides to write.

“It hasn’t made me instantly better or whatever,” Partain said, and then he paused, laughed. “Well, I believe it has.”

The world will see soon enough. Partain and Benesh are expected to make their 2024 debut at the Tepic Elite16 in Mexico in two weeks. A long off-season will leave them well-rested and recovered, both mentally and physically. On the outside, they may appear to be the same, world-class team they always were. On the inside, they are, in some ways, reborn, a phoenix emerging from the ashes of an old and dead mindset.

“The doors open that you’re looking for. If you’re looking at a match and think ‘We’re going to lose’ that door’s going to open,” Benesh said. “If think you’re going to win, that door’s going to open. If it closes, you just learned that’s the wrong door.”

Philosophers both, those two. Though they are loathe to admit it, they are a lock for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris. Maybe they’ll win gold. Maybe they won’t break pool. Regardless of the result, it will have gone exactly how they planned for it to go, because that’s the story they have learned to tell themselves.

It will be perfect, for no other reason than because they said so.

Miles Partain-Andy Benesh
Miles Partain, left, and Andy Benesh/Volleyball World photo


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here