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Embrace the Game
Palms sweaty. Butterflies flying frantically around in my stomach. “Transition, load, and swing, that’s all I need to remember, swing.” The ball comes gracefully over the net and sets itself in the path of our number one passer, our libero. It forcefully bounces off her forearms, projects itself towards our setter. When the ball arrives softly in her hands I begin to wonder who she will choose to set. I become even more nervous knowing that it could be me. She releases the ball along with my fate and my stomach turned upside down. I take a deep breath and a large, pounding step towards the net. I throw both of my arms low, behind my back just like a skier after a massive push off. As the sweat drips down my face, I take the last two steps in tandem and shoot my hands up towards the ceiling. I jump as high as I could and swing once I reach the peak of my jump. The ball slides right between the two hands of the opposing teams’ blockers, as I land with great surprise. The next obstacle the ball has to face is the libero. It passes the test as it slams on the wood floor finishing with a high rebound. The crowd cheers as I stand amazed at what I had just done. The announcer caught my attention as his booming voice yells excitedly, “Samantha Adkins with the kill. We could be in for a real treat this season folks.” The game ended with a score of 25-18. My team and I then went on to win the entire match against Lockport High School.
The following day at school, I walked the bland halls of my high school proud of my performance the night before. The day continued as my teammates and peers congratulated me on the win as if I was the only player on the team. I tried to play the “confident not cocky” guideline but I don’t know that it worked. I felt almost like a celebrity in school as unfamiliar faces approached me with words of praise. When I walked into practice that day I was more confident in my abilities than ever before. I expected to earn something at practice that day. Maybe I wouldn’t have to run or maybe I could take it easy for the next two and a half hours. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The coach, who was standing right next to me at the time, gave me no appraisal what so ever. To my disappointment, I was not treated any differently at practice. Maybe my skills as a volleyball player were not as good as I thought they were. Maybe my head got too big and my cockiness took over my humbled confidence. As the thoughts of doubt floated in my head like the snow within a snow globe, I continuously compared myself to my teammates trying to see where my skill level fit in on the team. The doubts continued as perfect passes and astounding hits emerged from the talents of my teammates. Was I really up to par with my teammates or was it just my age accompanied by my immature abilities that surprised everybody last night?
I went home confused about my capabilities, but it was quickly redirected by my mom’s comforting comment at dinner. “A coach from Bradley University called today Samantha.” I looked up with uncertainty about the upcoming conversation. “He wants to meet with you after your game on Thursday.”
“I’m kind of young to be meeting with college people aren’t I? I mean I haven’t even started to think of college yet.”
“Well they want to grab you early on before anybody else can. Besides it is early in the season and they have only seen one game. If you are consistent with the ability you had last night, I am sure more will come your way. But don’t get me wrong, Sam; you’re skilled, but don’t let it get to your head. You still need to work hard. Keep a humble attitude and God will bless you.”
A quick flashback of the practice earlier that day reminded me of my shortcomings. “I know mom. I’m still not as good as I want to be so don’t worry, I will still work hard.”
The next day I went through school as I normally did, stressing out about grades and excited for practice. The bell rang in my eighth hour class and I quickly left the room heading towards my locker. I grabbed my math book that weighed down on my arms like a brick. I arrived at the athletic locker room soon after, meeting my teammates with a smile. I slipped on my black practice t-shirt and black spandex. I pulled up my white socks and my odor reeking kneepads over my bruised knees. I tugged on my shoe laces repeatedly, tightening the grip they had on my feet. I threw my long, brown hair into a high pony tail and placed a yellow headband around my head to keep my bangs from interfering with my play. I pushed the heavy locker room door open and went to burn off a whole lot of calories. I felt like cake batter being put into the oven as I stepped into the balmy gym, sweltering with the humidity from the outside air. As I put my bags down I was startled by the booming voice of my coach. “You’re late,” he pointed out, “We are a team and that means everyone needs to be here to help set up the equipment.”
“Oh yeah. Of course, sorry.” I walked away with an unsettled impression left on my face. I didn’t think I was that late. I mean, all I did was go to my locker and change.
I quickly went into the cage that was designated for girl’s volleyball to help my team that I apparently had let down. I grabbed a garbage can full of tattered volleyballs. As I walked onto the gym floor rolling the garbage can in front of me, I noticed my team had already started to warm up. With silenced fury, I jumped in as if I hadn’t even noticed I was late. This along with many other occurrences made me feel like the new kid that just arrived in her new class for the first day of school. I knew I was young to be on the varsity team, but I didn’t know it would be so hard to learn how to fit in.
After warm ups, I decided to shake everything that had happened so far at practice off and start over. As we lined up in our hitting lines, I began to feel the nerves travel into every crevice of my body. I had to do well. If I didn’t, my coach and my teammates are going to hate me. They aren’t going to want me on the team anymore.
I took a deep breath as the ball landed into the setter’s hands as quiet as a leaf falling on the chilled autumn ground. The pallid ball containing the chance to redeem myself was released towards the antenna sitting quietly on the outside of the net. I started and finished my approach with ease as I tried to jump higher than I ever had before. Swinging as hard as I could I must have done something wrong because the ball flew to the other side of the gym about one yard from the court’s back line. I stood at the net completely embarrassed of ruining a completely well set up play. How could that have happened? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that my coach was not going to be too happy about it. To my surprise not a word was spoken as I ran to retrieve my ball. I guess hitting the ball out of bounds was a common error when warming up your arms. All I needed to do now was prove my talents as a second chance was thrown at me. I got up and swung as hard as I could just as I did the last time. For the second time now, it sailed out of bounds. Utterly embarrassed, I hoped my teammates and coach just thought I was having a bad day. My hope did not prevail as my coach screamed, “Adkins off my court. You do not deserve to be playing for my team.” I stood there with complete shock as my face turned as red as a rose pedal. I slowly walked off of the court and stood by the sidelines watching the other girls on the team. My mind was not concentrated on them, but the words that had just spilled out of my coach’s mouth.
“One, two, three, water,” my team cheered as we all headed towards our bags to quench our hard worked thirst. The team captain, Maddie who was a senior on the team, walked over to me.
“Look, I know what coach said to you was harsh, but don’t let it get to you. He does it to intimidate all of us. Even though he is our coach, don’t listen to what he says. When he tries to correct you just nod your head, ignore everything he just said, and then go on to play the best volleyball you can. We are a team and we are all here to support each other. Ok?”
“Thanks Maddie.” I started to jog back towards the court with Maddie along side of me, “I didn’t know he could be so mean. Does he do that to everyone?”
“Yeah, it’s not just you. Don’t worry; I have gotten my full share of insults thrown at me. But like I said, just try to have them go in one ear and out the other.”
“Ok,” I giggled.
I jumped into the next drill not knowing if he wanted me back on “his court” or not. We were practicing serve receive, which I could not do for the life of me. Even though I hated it, I had to accept that it was part of the game of volleyball and the only way to improve upon it was to practice.
I was in the left back position, nervously shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Jackie stepped up to serve. I got low, touching my shaking hand to the floor. Stepping left, right, left, right, my dry eyes stared at the ball across the net. Keeping my arms out, ready to pass, the nerves kept building as Jackie bounced the ball twice in front of her. She threw the ball up and took a step forward. As her arm’s angle to her body reached one hundred and eighty degrees, I glanced over at my teammates to my right, both looking confident in the play ahead. I quickly turned my attention back to the moving ball. Jackie followed through as the ball cruised over the net. The ball was coming towards my right hand side. I shuffled over, enclosed my hands, one in the other, and shrugged my shoulders waiting to absorb the impact of the accelerating ball. The ball hit my platform and continued its journey to zone seven. A perfect pass! I smiled with relief as my teammates commended me on my achievement. My coach opened his mouth sarcastically, “Wow, Adkins can pass. Oh wait but she can’t talk.” I looked at him confused. “If there is no talking on the court, nothing can be accomplished. Call the ball Samantha!”
Well if I counted every time I did something wrong at practice that day, I think I would have hit one thousand, maybe more. I tried to remember and apply Maddie’s advice throughout my coach’s three hour long “lets point out every flaw Samantha has” session, but it was too hard. When someone is just sitting there degrading you as a person and player, how do you just ignore it? I couldn’t and his insults ran through my head all night, like a reoccurring nightmare. Though the insults were in my head the rest of the day, I could not show the devastation on my face. No one could know. Everyone knows me as the pretty, tough, and athletic girl. I couldn’t break down about a few little criticisms from a coach. I had to stay strong on the outside even if I wasn’t feeling the same way on the inside.
I dreaded going to practice throughout the whole school day. I went from class to class paranoid about what would happen at practice that afternoon. When the school day ran out I attempted to avoid tardiness by embarrassing myself in the hallways by running to the locker room, not even caring to stop at my locker for school books I would need later for homework. I changed at lightening speed, whipped my hair up, and put a red headband on. I decided to put my socks, kneepads, and shoes on in the gym where I could monitor how late I was. I got to the gym expecting to see my whole team setting up but instead it was like a ghost town. There was no one in the gym, not even the coaches. That either meant that I was really early or we were doing something else that I had forgotten about. We watch film on Friday, and only have games on Monday and Thursday of this week. Today was Wednesday, so we did have practice. I sat down and text messaged my cousin’s best friend who was also on the team just to make sure. Do we have practice today? Send. I searched my bag for a pair of clean white socks, my kneepads, and shoes. I must have forgotten to put a pair of clean socks in my bag this morning because I had to wear the pair I had worn yesterday at practice. Gross, I know, but it was all I had.
Chelsea and Kylie walked in gossiping about something that had happened at school that day. “Hey guys, where is everyone?” I asked with a little embarrassment. They walked closer.
“Well a bunch of girls were still in the locker room, but I don’t know where coach is. He is usually here by now. He is probably just running a little bit late,” Chelsea concluded.
Now I was embarrassed that I had sent that text message to Jackie. I continued the conversation, “What do you think we will do today,” hoping to hear a good response.
“I don’t know, but we didn’t do so well in the serve receive drill yesterday so I am guessing we will be working on that a lot.”
“Oh, sweet.” But it wasn’t so sweet. I hated serve receive and now I would have to struggle through it for double the amount of time.
Coach eventually showed up and we were able to set up the nets quickly. Since he was ten minutes later than usual, there was ten minutes less of practice I had to worry about. We did our routine warm ups and then started hitting lines as normal. All of the balls I hit landed in that day, even if they were not the best hits ever. I still did not receive any appraisal from the coach, however, the only kind of comments I got were constructive ones like, “reach higher” and “make sure you load before you go up”. Which, I admit, were a whole lot better than the comments yesterday.
I was pumped going into the next drill until I heard that the rest of practice was going to be different serve receive drills. How the heck do you spend an hour and thirty-eight minutes on serve receive? I had no clue but I knew I was about to find out…unfortunately. We first started out with a drill I was used to. It was a very common drill known to almost all volleyball players where you have two sides of servers and two sides of passers. I swear coaches use it as a drill to work on focus because it was so easy to get distracted watching to see how the other side of the court was passing. I started in my regular position of left back. This time, I made sure I was talking the whole time I was on the court. I said “mine” when the ball was coming towards me and when it wasn’t I said “in”, “out”, “short” or “deep”. Though I talked constantly, my passes were not great. My coach’s comments during this drill were far less neutral than the earlier one. Actually, they were demeaning. The comments included “Adkins you’re playing like clown who’s trying to juggle at the same time. Come on now” and “tell me why you are on my team again because right now I don’t remember”.
These kind of comments continued practice after practice. As I looked at my statistics after each game, I began to see a pattern of decline in almost each skill listed on the chart. It all accumulated into one devastating day after practice. Practice had just ended and my team and I were taking down the nets and putting the equipment away. Coach called me to the table he was sitting at. He stood up and looked at my face with a blank stare.
“Look, Samantha, do you want to play volleyball? Because I don’t see any passion or effort out on the court ever since you made the varsity team.” My face was frozen and I could not decide whether it was a good idea to say something or not. He continued, “Well you just are not performing to the elite level that you should be on a varsity team. Even though your play is atrocious, you do have a good attitude and you seem like you are friends with all the girls on the team. I think you would make a good supporter from the bench. Each girl has a special part on the team and I think yours is supporting other girls during the games.” I can not believe he just said that. Basically he is asking me to be a cheerleader for the team. I was crushed, but maybe I really was that much behind the other girls on the team. “You can think of yourself as the savior when the back row is really hurting. Maybe when Kylie or Haley is playing horribly, you can go in and try to do whatever you can to stop their bad run.”
I did not know how to respond other than saying, “Uhhh, yeah ok. I can do that.”
I turned around and walked into the cage where my teammates were finishing up putting equipment away. Trying to hold back the tears as the girls asked what we talked about; I lied and said he was worried about my grades because it was my first time on a varsity sport. They did not know any better, so they just accepted that answer, thank goodness, and walked away.
It was raining outside so I waited inside of the double set of doors for my mom to come and pick me up. I couldn’t think of anything worse that could have happened at practice that day. My mom’s black Honda Accord drove up and I ran out getting soaked by the downpour over head. My wet hair dripped all over the comfort of the dry seat surrounding me. Parts of my coach’s talk with me repeated through my head, “your play is atrocious…good supporter from the bench”. I could not hold the tears back any longer. At first, the tears rolled down my face slowly, but after about a minute I could not help it and they came rolling down my face as fast a slalom skier down a mountain.
My mom quickly turned and looked at me with perplexity. “Samantha, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, mom. Don’t worry about it.”
“Well it’s obviously something Samantha. Otherwise you of all people would not be crying.”
“Can I quit volleyball?” I blurted out without consulting with my sensible state of mind.
My mom chuckled, “Where did that come from? That is an odd thing to ask considering you absolutely are obsessed with volleyball.”
“Never mind then. Whatever, I don’t even care anymore.”
“Samantha, something is bothering you. You never cry. What’s wrong? Why would you want to quit?”
“I’m just not good anymore. I don’t enjoy playing, when I suck all the time.”
“Sam, you are a fine volleyball player. Let me ask you this, would a bad volleyball player be scouted by a college coach her sophomore year in high school?”
“Mom, he just happened to see me play the one good game I had this year.”
“Well, I will admit that you haven’t played to the level you did in that first game, but you certainly are not a bad volleyball player.” She paused and then continued curiously, “Something else is going on. You wouldn’t sit here sobbing if the problem was just that you don’t think you are good at volleyball. Is it someone on the team? What’s wrong Sam?”
“It’s not someone of the team,” I took a deep breath, “it’s the coach.”
“What happened?” I could tell my mom was thinking the worst possible situation because she looked absolutely terrified.
“Well it’s not anything horrible it’s just that he keeps making comments about my play. They aren’t just a normal coach’s comments about what I am doing wrong and how I can improve; they are mean, humiliating insults. It’s horrible mom. Every practice I leave, thinking I am worse and worse. I mean the statistics do show that I am getting worse and worse, but I never thought I was this bad of a volleyball player,” I took another deep breath to try to stop the sobbing. “And today was the worst of all. Basically he told me I would be a benchwarmer. I can’t stand it anymore. I don’t understand how some of the seniors have put up with it for two or three years now.”
“Sam, I wish you had told me this earlier, we could have addressed it with the coach.”
“I don’t think he would listen. I just want to quit. I can’t go back there. He makes me feel like I have no purpose on the team, he called the way I play atrocious, and he called me a clown trying to play and juggle at the same time. He told me I didn’t deserve to play on his court and wondered why I am even on his team. He insults me every practice. I can’t go anymore. It’s horrible.” I started to cry hysterically again. “Why would you make me go through this?”
“Oh my gosh! Sam, why didn’t you tell me earlier? You know you can always talk to me about these kinds of things right?”
“Yeah, I know, but I was embarrassed. I thought those things were true about me.”
“Sam, you are a great volleyball player. Don’t listen to anyone who tries you to degrade you like that. Those people are just insecure about themselves and have to put others down to feel better about themselves.”
“So I can quit, right?”
“In my opinion, you should walk straight up to him and tell him how you feel and then quit and see how his team does without you. Although I am deciding based on my emotions right now, so let’s go home and talk to dad about it ok?”
“Ok, but that doesn’t mean I won’t decide to quit on my own,” I insisted.
My parents and I talked a lot that night about what the future would hold. The big dilemma was between whether I wanted to play volleyball in college or not. If I quit, there would be no chance for any of the schools to scout me. If I stayed on the team, I could sink into further depressive thoughts and my volleyball skills could possibly get worse rather than better. My ultimate decision was in fact to quit volleyball. My mom helped me to see that putting myself in a position where someone would be criticizing me constantly would not be the best decision for my mental health. She also pointed out that I could still play on a private volleyball team, so that I would not have to give up volleyball forever.
Through this whole experience I figured out that life is in fact like a game of volleyball. The clichéd statement, “it is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” is true. If your skills have improved and you have lost, you have still gained. Just like in life. There might be many circumstances that you seem to lose in but if you have grown as a person, you have won the game of life. From the incident with my coach, I have learned that even people we are told to show respect to can disappoint you. It is important to have a trusted parent, adult, or friend you can talk to about these kinds of problems with. Life is a game that you get better at after much practice. Embrace every situation; take the positive to define yourself and the negative to improve yourself.