March 18, 2021

Volleyball in Your Bones

"I love volleyball!" She passionately explained. "I will go anywhere. I will do anything."

*   *   *  Six months later...  *   *   *

"I hate it here. This is not volleyball. I don't need this [fill in the blank: team, money, location, culture, community, etc.]."

What changed?! 

Or, better phrased: what was it about the idea of "volleyball" that you thought you loved?

Sadly enough, this conversation has happened at least once every year (and usually four or five times) in the decade I have lived abroad playing and coaching volleyball. It is such a normalized annual discussion at this point that I just accept the players' feelings of loss and simply redirect them toward their next life steps.

Maybe you are also a volleyball player or coach, maybe even just a fan. 

(Americans: check it out! Our country isn't lacking a pro league anymore! Please support AU Pro Sports in any and every way you can so the league can continue to pick up momentum and continue!!!)

When you pick up a volleyball, what do you feel? 

What do you think about?

These players who seem to so quickly "give up on their dreams" will tell us true and wonderful stories about championships, best friends, team bonding, coaches better than parents, adoring fans, brand-new sponsored equipment and gear, school spirit, pushing themselves and their teammates to their physical limits, and a hundred other awesome memories. It is almost always essentially a story about supportive community and/or individual accomplishment.

Take. It. All. Away.

Take away the glamour of stardom, the glitter of the trophies, and the hearing your name from the stands. Take away your last name and favorite number on your jersey, the perfectly fitting new shoes, and the multiple travel outfit options. Take away the coach who cares, your teammate-roommates, and anyone you meet asking you about the game. Take away the clean court, your personal locker, and even the basic safety and health resources.

It's all gone.

What do you have left?

You have a round leather blue and yellow ball and a pair of metal poles tied together with strings in a space the size of a small apartment.

This is the stripped down version of what volleyball actually is. 

Do you still love it?

Why does anyone quit any sport, at any age, at any level?

The most simplified reason is that either the sport or the athlete did not meet the expectations the athlete held, and the athlete was not willing to adjust to whatever the actual reality was.

And the reality of "volleyball" is that it is just some equipment and a set of overly complicated rotations and ever-changing rules. It is everything and everyone around volleyball that makes players, coaches, and fans alike fall in love with what they define as "volleyball."

You know what I feel when I pick up a volleyball?

Sacrifice. Pain. Joy. Frustration. Relief. Gratefulness.

I feel everything. So much of my life and world exists because of volleyball, that I cannot separate the good from the bad, and that is what makes my emotions about volleyball extremely real and always accessible, no matter the situation.

What do I think about when I pick up a volleyball? (Yes, it is a different answer.)

I think about math, especially the angles and spaces derived from geometry. 

I think about time in relevance to music, how the timing of every movement and touch can create chaos or the crescendo of a point. 

I think about art and the expression of connected humanity and physicality being displayed in ugly or beautiful ways. 

I think about theology and how the worldview of each person in the gym contributes more than we can understand to our interactions, communication, effort, and values.

I think about dance, and the choreography of footwork and hand-eye coordination of individual players and how we move collectively as a group in or out of rhythm.

Yes, I really think these things on a daily basis, both in the planning and execution of practices and games. And I enjoy it.

Volleyball is my place.

It didn't matter before how many bad experiences or injuries I had, or how many teammates I did or didn't get along with, or if I won or lost. It didn't matter before, and it won't matter later. 

I belong here. 

Many -- dare I say, most -- players do not have this depth of feeling and thought associated with volleyball in its most barest form of the ball, net, and court. I really believe more coaches, and especially career volleyball coaches, do feel and think these things as I do. All of the responses are valid and fine; it is simply a situation where each individual must be super honest with themselves about what volleyball actually IS, and in that basic form, what it actually means to them.

"Non-USA Volleyball" is NOT for everyone. My playing and coaching careers have been VERY different abroad compared to my time spent in colleges, high schools, and junior highs. 

Trying to find the exact same combination of experiences that an elite athlete had at a D1 university with a happy team who won all the time is like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

A very, very select few can find this rare treasure. In fact, so few find it, we may as well call them the leprechauns of volleyball.

What I can tell you is that it is possible to find an actual rainbow! 

And we all know that a rainbow only shows itself after: the rain.

I love volleyball in a deep and irrevocable way. This will be a love that I carry in my heart and mind until the day I die. Volleyball can love me or hate me, but it won't matter. I will be there and find all of the ways to continue to spend time with the sport that I love.

I was warned at a young age to not make my sport a god or idol in my life. I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether my love for volleyball has become an object of my worship or has kept its place as just something that I do.

I have tried to get away from volleyball and do other things. I tried to major in journalism, I tried to teach physical education, I tried to teach English, and I tried to create any kind of career in travel/tourism. But every single time, whatever I attempted, it always faded in comparison to what was possible with volleyball and where my heart and mind actually thrived.

This does not inform me that volleyball is my idol. Rather, volleyball is exactly where the only true God has called me to exist and to serve Him. 

Volleyball is where I worship God the most. He has embedded it into the structure of my being for His purpose.

You can tell me you love volleyball [or fill in the blank] all you want.

But is it in your bones?