I discovered my love and passion for volleyball in sixth grade. It was just a section of PE class where we learned the basics of the game and the skills to play it. And sure, I was terrible at it. I missed the ball half the time and barely came up to the bottom of the net.
But I remember coming home and gushing about it to my parents – telling them about how to serve, and pass, and how hitting was so hard when you could barely jump to the middle of the net. They found a club team for me to join, courtesy of one of the moms at my school. She helped me try out and introduced me to the coach.
As an eleven-year-old newbie, joining a travel competitive club volleyball team was not easy. To put it mildly, I sucked. Still, I put all my effort into practices – some days going early and leaving late from practice just dying to improve – but rarely saw the court during games and tournaments. Arguably, this was fair considering how terrible I was.
But this coach, the coach of my new team, was terrible. She was never hesitant to punish us, yell at us, and push us way too hard if something went slightly wrong. We were 11 and 12 year olds sprinting more ladders and doing more conditioning drills than the 18 year olds.
People who know her and her coaching styles call me “a survivor.”
She taught me a lot though. She trained me well in the skills and techniques I needed to become a good volleyball player. She taught me sportsmanship and how to act cool under pressure. She taught me that being tall and skinny wasn’t a requirement to love volleyball with my whole heart and be excellent at it.
She taught me what it means to be so committed to something that you don’t stop doing it because you don’t have to be good at it to love it.
I’m grateful to her. I don’t think I would have improved as much as I did, or ever have become good enough to play in college without her. I don’t think I would have continued to play volleyball if she hadn’t taught me to stick by my passion. No matter how much I groan about her coaching styles, I honestly was blessed to train with her.
8 years, 3 shoulder surgeries, countless hours of training and game time, and many late nights in the gym later, I played in my last competitive volleyball game. My body, genetically and physically and mentally, could no longer keep up with the demand of what it takes to be a competitive volleyball player. My knees ached all the time, my back hurt, I was always dehydrated, my shoulders were tight, and some days, I was so exhausted that school was difficult.
Being a competitive athlete can ruin you. You’re playing, practicing, and training for your sport more than you’re doing anything else. But it teaches you how to truly love something. It teaches you this passionate commitment. I loved it with all my heart as it broke me down.
But that didn’t stop me from loving the game.
I miss it. I miss the feeling of finishing an hour-long match with a killer serve and taking home that win. I miss practices with my teammates – my second family. I miss the sound of tournaments: dozens of volleyball games and whistles blowing all at the same time. I miss the sound of an amazing hit across the net. I miss the stupid cheers we would scream at the top of our lungs when we won a point. I miss the feeling of my shoes on that court, the ball between my hands, and the breath you take as you soar above the ground. I miss it all.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my career as a competitive athlete. It gave me so much more than just the joy of playing volleyball.
For a long time, it gave me an identity: I was a volleyball player. It gave me something to do with my hands on those days I just couldn’t sit still. It gave me a passion while I scrambled to find myself off the court. It gave me an opportunity to grow into myself; I discovered how much I could love something and still be able to let it go in the end. Volleyball gave me skills to be a good sport and smile in the face of adversity.
It sounds silly, talking about a sport like it’s a life lesson to learn, but it’s true. For 8 and a half years, I travelled to tournaments, met amazing people, and learned more about myself than I think I ever will. And even though I’ve hung up my court shoes and jerseys and spandex, volleyball is a part of me. I carry those life lessons with me everywhere.
I treat people differently. My identity is so much more whole than it was. I love things and people and ideas and passions so wholeheartedly – no matter how terrible I am at them at first.
And I’m forever grateful that our horribly wonderful coach taught me what it meant to love.
Featured Image via Waterford Ravens Athletics.