Life Lessons from Volleyball

This month, I had the honor of watching my high school’s volleyball team compete in the state tournament. Small town sports teams are a close-knit community of learning and growing and bettering oneself and others.

I had a wonderful volleyball coach in high school – someone who guided and molded and shaped me as an athlete and a person. Unknowingly (or, maybe to her full knowledge), my coach provided me many nuggets of advice that have stuck with me throughout the years and have turned out to be applicable in many contexts of life beyond the volleyball court.volleyball

  1. Know your responsibilities, but be willing to go out of your way.

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, this means a player knows which parts of the court they need to cover. It is that person’s job to make sure no ball falls on that part of the court, and that they are playing the ball in a way that contributes to the team’s goal of making a competitive attempt at scoring a point. There are grey areas, though, which are the boundaries where the zones belonging to two different players meet. In that region, either player could play the ball equally well, just so long as someone plays it rather than allowing the ball to fall to the court. (Side note: This grey area is often known as the “husband and wife” area because lack of communication can lead to failure to make a play on the ball and loss of a point.)

Real life meaning: We all have things that we have to make sure are covered and taken care of in our day-to-day lives: rent, bills, kids, feeding ourselves, and going to work. All the tasks that fall into our realm of responsibility can feel like a lot at times, but we need to be willing to flex on that and even add more tasks. Sometimes a coworker or spouse may need help to get things accomplished, or something unexpected could come up that has to be handled. Taking on that responsibility yourself could mean that you are effectively managing the situation in what would be the real-life version of competitive-ness – doing a little more than just existing and surviving by making that situation just a little bit better and figuring out how to use it to contribute to your overall well-being.

  1. Trust your teammates.

Volleyball meaning: You don’t have to do everything yourself. This is a balance with my previous point. While you need to make sure you’re covering your area of the court and step up to cover the periphery of your area sometimes, you need to trust that your teammates are doing the same. One person can’t effectively cover the whole court. If they could, a volleyball team would just be one person. Trust your teammates, and lean on them to help you.

Real life meaning: There are people in our lives who can help us accomplish everything that needs to get done. A lesson that I’m still learning (slowly, and repeatedly) is that it’s alright to let people help me. It’s okay to take someone up on their offer to contribute to your life even if they don’t have to do it – they wouldn’t have offered if they didn’t want to be taken up on it. It’s even okay to ask for help. The end goal here isn’t to score a point, but to get everyone through life and have each person be as okay and good as they possible, and sometimes (usually) that’s more than one person can do for themselves.

3. TALK.

Volleyball meaning: It’s impossible to look both at the ball and see where each teammate is at all times. It’s also impossible to know what’s going on both on your team’s side of the court and the opponent’s side of the court at all times, and what you can see is often from a different angle or perspective than another person’s. Talking, LOUDLY, is a major part of volleyball. Players go home hoarse all the time from talking so much.

Real life meaning: One person can’t see or know all that is happening, and each person involved in any situation will have a different perspective. As humans, we tend to fill in the gaps in a story with details that make sense in our own minds, even if those details are not true. It’s incredibly and dangerously easy to believe that they are true, not even realizing that we generated those “facts” ourselves with no basis for knowing whether they are real. Talking and communication are just as key in real life to make good decisions and handle situations effectively so that we can do more than survive and exist.

  1. Make a decision and commit.

Volleyball meaning: The best way to play a ball may not always be clear, but one thing is certain: the ball will fall to the court and a point will be lost if we don’t do something. Anyone who has spent much time playing volleyball remembers a moment when their hands felt stuck at chest level because they couldn’t decide whether a forearm pass or an overhead contact would be best with the ball coming at them. Usually, this ends in a messy contact just to keep the ball off the floor, when committing to a technique would have resulted in a ball played more cleanly that would be easier for a teammate to use.

Real life meaning: The same thing happens in real life. Occasionally, we find ourselves waffling on a decision for so long that we end up backed into a corner and having to do something, anything, to get out. Sometimes it is impossible to know all the information we want to know to make a decision. And sometimes, even when we have all the information, we can’t see into the future to know which decision is best. In that moment, you just have to make a decision and commit to it. Maybe you trust your gut, or pray over it, or make a Rory-Gilmore-esque pro-con list. Whatever your method, though, something has to be done. Personally, I would rather know that I made my own choice rather than getting pigeon-holed into doing something I didn’t choose.

  1. Swing through.

Volleyball meaning: This is serving and hitting vernacular for “follow through.” If you’re going to serve or make a competitive attack on the ball, you need to swing your arm all the way through the ball to put as much power behind it as possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of the ball falling short of where you wanted it to go, or that the attack was too gentle and allows the opponent plenty of time to reach the ball before it hits the court. Knowing where you want the ball to go and how you want that attack to end gives direction and a goal to a hit or serve, and swinging through is the action to get the ball there.

Real life meaning: Goals and desired outcomes are great, but a half-hearted attempt is unlikely to have the power needed to see a goal to the end. Committing to a plan and following through with a directed force to achieve those end results is critical. This means going after ambitions with passion and gusto to make them reality!

  1. “Plan B” is not “Plan A – Harder.”

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, the same set of skills are performed repeatedly to make up a match. If a player makes a mistake in their skills, or is completing a skill incorrectly, it can quickly lead to frustration and attempts by the player to perform the same faulty skill simply with more aggression. My coach always used to say, “I don’t care if you do nothing else right, as long as you don’t x again.” That x could be letting a ball fall to the ground, it could be hitting into the net, it could be serving the ball out the back of the court. Whatever it was, the requirement was never for perfection. It was to avoid making the same mistake repeatedly. Even if I still messed up, I just needed to make sure I messed up in a different way. Breaking skills down this way helped to take the focus off of coordinating everything and doing it all just right, and instead helped to hone in on adjusting just one part of a skill and working specifically on that. This was an excellent way to overcome repeating the same faulty skill with frustration, and instead work on making even a small improvement or change.

Real life meaning: I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Even if we add more enthusiasm and desire to a method that hasn’t worked, it is unlikely that it will work just because we’re trying harder. A better method is to re-work that fervor into a new plan to avoid wasting time, resources, and energy on an action that just isn’t delivering the effects we want. Trying a new approach certainly won’t make anything worse, and it might even make things better in ways we never expected!

  1. Better every ball.

Volleyball meaning: In volleyball, it is very common that teammates make mistakes and by the time the ball is yours to play, it is not ideal. There might be a weird spin on the ball, or it might be in a position on the court that’s difficult to finagle into a competitive play. This is incredibly common and happens frequently. Here’s the deal, though – just because you were left with less-than-perfect conditions under which to play the ball, you can’t cop out. If you do, it ends in blame that is destructive to a team mentality. No matter what, you have to do the best with what you have. And sometimes, those plays can be the most effective because the other team doesn’t see them coming!

Real life meaning: Whatever hand you’re dealt, it is critical that you do your best with it. We’re all going to catch tough breaks; that’s just a fact. And they’ll be hard and frustrating and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably cried. But we have choices. We can just blame the circumstances for our mediocrity, or we can put in work that we’re actually proud of, and maybe find more success than we would have had if things had gone the way we wanted!

 

What lessons have you learned from your sport that you have carried with you throughout your life? Please share in the comments section below!

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