The sweat ran down my forehead as it dripped into my eyes, the same way dew drips down a blade of grass. All the players, including me, were suffused with exhaustion. Our t-shirts submerged in sweat. The girl in front of me sprinted, dove, and glided across the floor, stretching out her arm as far as she could to get the volleyball up. The play was made. Then it was my turn.
I ran on the court. Another ball came. A powerful hit from the outside hitter targeted straight for the left side of the court where I was standing. The ball bounced off my arms, which were placed in front of me, and headed straight towards the setter. She was ready by the net to take the ball into her hands and quickly release it. A soon powerful outcome. The girl in the middle took an approach, jumped, and smashed the volleyball to the ground with her wide-open hand. Another ball flew over the net. This time it was a serve. The ball ricocheted off one of my arms and slammed into the back wall. What an embarrassment! Now it was time to refocus, forget about the last play and hope the coaches didn’t see it. I ran back in line and attempted to empower myself. I thought of all the great plays I had made before. As I hustled to my spot on the court, I began to get in ready position for the next serve. Feet a little wider than shoulder width. Knees and hips bent. Arms out in front of me. Ready on the balls of my feet. Eyeing it, I shuffled to the floating volleyball and put my arms together with urgency. The ball hit my platform and was popped up. Perfect!
I continued my tryout, finding as many ways to alleviate as much stress as possible. Never give up. Dive a few more times, hit another 50 balls, serve some more float serves. If I didn’t someone else would. Didn’t want to lose my spot on the team. Keep the dream alive! Want to play in college!
The nerve-wracking time arrived. We gathered around on the middle court and all took a seat. Each of us slowly began to untie our shoe laces, pulling on each one until they unraveled from each other. Then we took our shoes off and shoved them in our bags. Fear raced through me as my knee pads were slipped off. My whole body shaking. The coaches stood in the front, grasping their clipboards as they began to call out names. They called out the numbers of the girls that made the teams. My number was called. I made it! And so the real fight of the student athlete began.
I got up early and headed to school. Tough AP and honors classes consumed my schedule. A good education is important. Need to get into a good college, get scholarship money, have a chance to play sports in college. The fight continued. Striving to be one of the best students, I had to squeeze in time for homework and studying along with my practices. Working hard for straight A’s, working hard during practice to play in the games, working hard to be seen, noticed, and stand out for college recruiters. Didn’t have time for anything except for working hard.
The grueling school day ended and straight to practice I went. We put on our gear and started warming up. Balls were tossed to one another, flying across the gym. Afterwards it was time to start the drills. Players had to dive left and right to make a play on the volleyball. The fight continued even later on into practice when we had to play a match. The team was split in half and we battled out every point throughout the whole couple of sets. I wanted playing time, wanted to be seen, noticed, so one hundred percent effort was needed. Determined, pushing beyond my limits, filled with exhaustion but pushing harder. How was I going to get ahead? Stand out in the sea of talent? I had to work harder, do more, go above and beyond.
Two hours later, filled with exhaustion and ravenous with hunger, practice ended. The desire to eat, lay down, and relax was overwhelming. Determined to win the struggle I ate a quick dinner and started the never-ending hours of homework. Can’t fall behind. Must get good grades. Have a high GPA. Take notes for history, complete the math homework, and study for the Spanish test. It was 10 pm. If I went to bed then I could still get a good nights sleep, a full eight hours. Want to compete at a high level the next day. Earn a starting spot. Maybe a few private lessons were needed. Some extra clinics. Needed an edge, a way to get ahead. But the language arts paper was still due. Can’t let the grades drop. Stay up until midnight and get the paper done. Six hours of sleep. Not too bad, could be worse. Late nights were the norm. All night every night.
The alarm rang, 6:00 am, time to get up, but the urge to sleep longer was overwhelming. Exhaustion, stress, and sleepiness consumed me. A slow start to my morning. Determined to get ahead I scheduled a private lesson after practice. Off to school, try to stay awake, focused, and engaged in the classroom. After school it’s time for practice again. Work harder, play harder, fight harder! Not good enough. Everyone’s working hard, everyone’s fighting. Grab a quick bite to eat and head to the lesson. My legs were like jello, wobbly, unstable, and consistently needing assistance when standing up, but I needed to get the most out of it. Want to play, be a starter, earn some court time. Be the best I can be. Achieve my goals.
I got home at 7:30 pm and was ready for bed but grades are important. I needed a high GPA, can’t slack off. I read two chapters of the assigned book, my eyes were heavy, body lifeless, mind empty. What did I just read? Try reading it again. Do the math problems, complete the Spanish worksheet, submit the homework online. Couldn’t get the internet to work. Couldn’t get the assignments submitted. I spent an hour until it finally worked. It’s 1:00 am. Still have to shower. Less than five hours of sleep. The following day was the big game! Needed to compete, fight through the exhaustion! Be determined!
Game day had arrived and off to school I went, although I couldn’t concentrate during class when thinking about the first game. Will I play? Am I good enough? Do the coaches like me? Needed to pay attention in class. Couldn’t let the grades suffer. The team was missing 7th period to get on the bus for the game. There was a test in 7th period. I needed to make that up before school. Couldn’t go after school because of practice. I needed to be to school by 6:30 tomorrow. Going to be tired. Always tired.
I didn’t start the game but I tried to hide the disappointment. Wondering if I would forever be a bench warmer, I finally got put in. Great play followed by another great play! And I was out again. Why? What did I do wrong? Do the coaches pick favorites? Work harder, keep fighting! Want more court time, need more lessons. Find the time. Fit it in. Couldn’t let the grades slide. Needed to keep up with schoolwork. No time for a social life. My friends were going to the football game. Couldn’t go. I needed to take a volleyball lesson. I was super tired but sleep would have to wait. Felt rundown and probably going to get sick. Couldn’t compete if I was sick. Couldn’t keep my grades up if I was missing class. Work hard, fight, keep fighting! Stay determined. Focus on the goal. Want to play in college. Needed to be seen. Needed to be noticed. Needed good grades.
The last game of the season approached. I started the game! Played great! Hard work was paying off. Couldn’t let up. Years of club sports, private lessons, small group clinics, hard work, determination, and fight to get there. I enjoyed the sense of pride and accomplishment of playing for the school. Being a part of the team. Achieving goals. It’s a part of the identity of the student athlete, who they are. I’m a volleyball player. Couldn’t let up though. Competition was tough. Always someone fighting for the spot. Stay determined, keep driving.