May 11, 2014

Set To Survive

Marc and I have been laughing about how I will have played more volleyball in this month of May than in the previous 8 months combined. I have already won more matches in the past two weeks than in the entire season!

Moving to VGA this year opened up new opportunities, like being closer to Paris and playing for a club that has men's teams has meant that coed volleyball tournaments are now on my map. I was very happy to receive invitations to play in two 4v4 coed indoor tournaments the last two Thursdays with several of my new guy volleyball friends around Paris.

The tournament day is LONG. Check-in at 8:30AM. Play starts maybe around 9:30AM...okay, 10:00AM. There are two pools of three teams on each court, so the schedule is like "play, off, ref, off, play, off." Understand also that French players like to warm-up at the speed at which they eat their lunch: SLOW. The only saving grace is the "play" is one set to 21 points. But add three rounds of pool play (continually re-seeding teams to sift by talent level), then playoffs, and are you yawning yet? I know I was!

The May 1st tournament was in southeast Paris, in a suburb called Villejuif. There were 5 gyms in action, and over 70 teams. My team won our first two pools, then got second in the third pool, eliminating us from the playoffs. We went 5-1, with me attacking on a coed net for half the day. Not bad. Also received a tryout invitation from the local club team (level N2), so the day was spent very well, indeed!

The May 8th tournament was further outside of Paris, in a small town called Limeil, close to the end of the RER A line. This tournament was smaller with 36 teams in 2 gyms, and my team ended up winning 2nd place! These guys had me stay at setter the whole time (much better for everyone), and it is always fun to set guys who can crush the ball. Plus, these tournament hosts were awesome, giving us a breakfast snack when we arrived, and passing out free bananas throughout the day! YES!

Team "4 As Trof" - Like "Catastophe." Real clever. Go Team Catastrophe!
I played in these tournaments because friends of mine asked me to, and it sounded like a good time. Both tournaments were definitely fun, and the second tournament was made even more awesome when they lined us up afterwards to receive our...PRIZES!!! Every placed team received a prize bag of a t-shirt, hat, USB key, keychain light, water bottle, and shopping bag. Then they led us to the grand prize table, where we were allowed to choose any item out of things like: remote control race car, voice recording spy pen, video recording spy sunglasses, barbecues, crepe making hot plates, noise-canceling headphones, and some other random things. I chose the wanna-be-iPod-but-I-have-no-brand-MP4 player, and now I have a terrible camera and music player again! It'll tide me over until I get back to the USA in a few weeks, and it was FREE.

The level of play was exactly like the coed open gyms in San Diego County that my brother-in-law, Seth, takes me to when I am back in California. There's always some freakishly huge and scary attacker, then a bunch of people who just love volleyball. But I think it would be really difficult, even in the heart of SoCal, for a club to get over 70 local teams of 4 players to pay and sign up for a day-long tournament like these. Too many adults are "busy," and other local clubs try to block interest in competing clubs, even for something as basic as a community volleyball tournament. Volleyball is just happier and friendlier in France, and it is nice to enjoy this no-capitalism-in-sports attitude.

Maybe French photographers just don't count us down to the photo well enough? I was ready!
Besides these fun coed tournaments, two of my teammates have invited me to play in an outdoor women's 3v3 tournament at the end of May. I'm really looking forward to it, minus the probable sunburn the day after.

And as I briefly mentioned before...volleyball club tryouts. There is still the possibility that I will stay at VGA next year, but the fact that the team is going back down to N3, coupled with a few other issues, means that I am back on the club-hunting track. I have actually experienced a healthy amount of success in receiving responses from clubs, and have four tryouts scheduled in the upcoming weeks. We would, of course, love to stay in the Paris area, but I really want to continue to play at the N2 or N1 (now called "Elite") levels. We had to be a little too lucky this year to make our lives here work, and we can't afford to live like that again next year.

I have seen enough European volleyball by now to know that it is NOT too much to ask for all the players to be at all the practices and games, or to train 3-4 times a week, or to feel like I have actually exercised by the end of a practice. It is possible to play medium-level volleyball in a serious way, with real commitment and concentration from players and coaches alike. It's such a funny and basic thing for me to be focused on now, but I totally took it for granted in America.

Especially as a coach, this year was brutal training several boys who literally had ZERO interest in getting better at volleyball (in defense of the minority, I did have about 7 boys out of about 25 who genuinely cared and listened to me, and, I know this is crazy, but they actually improved at volleyball - WHAT?!). Most of the boys just wanted to talk to each other, bully somebody, kick the balls, push each other, serve and hit the ball as hard as they could into the walls, and pretend I wasn't there. Lord of the Flies was my every Wednesday and Friday.

I used to ask American players, "Why are you here?" and they would respond, "To get better!" This year, I would ask myself, "Why am I here?" and the answer was usually, "To referee and keep score!" I stopped "coaching," and instead would ask the player, "Do you want to know how you can do that better?" The response? "Oh, I know how already." I would shrug my shoulders and say, "If you know, you do it." (My version of this phrase in French rhymes, so that's about as satisfying as practice would get.) Sometimes the boys would snap back at me when I would "forget to not coach" and "accidentally tell them what to do." All I would think was: I feel sorry for your mom, and I never want to have one of you. All I would say was: "You do know that I'm here to help you, right?"

My coaching world was thoroughly refreshed the past two weeks when my coach was gone and he asked me to train our team. Let's just say that people who actually pay attention and want to play volleyball can really do well in my practices. I won't be signing up for teaching volleyball P.E. anytime soon.

All this to say, yes, going on tryouts to see what else is out there. Totally ready to be back in NorCal in a month to do camp at Redding Christian with good kids who are excited to listen, understand, and learn. Thrilled to get to spend time with Cuatro in Colorado for a week. Looking ever so forward to relaxing with my happy family, and to not being around hoards of children regularly. American volleyball. The pool. Driving with the radio blasting. Loud, uncontrollable laughter. High fives and hugs.

Who knew I'd be so excited to fly back to America?

It's been one of those years.