Dear 7th grade self,
This is your second year playing volleyball. You don’t know yet what your future holds in this sport, but you do know that your heart is full whenever you step out onto that court. You have met these sweet girls who also think knee-high socks, turtle kneepads, and scrunchies are the coolest parts about the sport. What you don’t know yet is how every aspect of vollyeball will evolve to become something that can completely consume you, in both a positive and negative way. This is only year two, after all, and you are just getting started as a volleyball player.
High school will start. This bigger school carries with it a large, roaring crowd at your games that you are not accustomed to. That isn’t something you ever thought would be a part of your experience. As the years go by, you will face the pressure of growing into a leader for your team. You’ll believe the shy, quiet identity you have now will have to change so that others see you as a captain. You don’t think about this yet, but what does it really mean to take on this role as a leader?
Your team will confront others with a faster offense, unimaginable reaction times, and a discipline you can’t yet see yourself capable of. You’ll face losses that get you thinking about what you could have done to help lead your team in a different direction. The thought of that one missed hit or that error in your defense will keep you up at night. You will blame yourself for not being better or more athletic, even though you’re breaking school records. You will do everything you can to make sure your girls are happy and working hard, even if that light in your eye is slowly starting to dim. At this point in your life, you haven’t truly thought about it yet, but how does volleyball fit into your identity?
There will come a time when your coach will ask you and all of your teammates why you love playing volleyball. It seems to be a simple question, but it is difficult to answer. Your response will be much like the other girls’: “It’s fun and helps me get away from stress in other parts of my life” or “it is almost like a getaway to be happy and release tension.” Your coach will look at you all, disappointed and sighing, and say, “that should not be your reason for loving this sport.” You’ll think about it for a while, but what does he mean by that?
You make it far enough to play at the college level. Your first year, you know it won’t be easy playing at a higher level; you never really imagine how difficult it will be until you’re doing it. You are now with a group of girls who were all leaders of their previous teams, and most of them were the top athletes of their region. You will struggle keeping up with the pace. Your body will hurt and your lungs will often feel like they’re ready to burst as you push yourself beyond your limits on the court and in the weight room. Sometimes you wonder how you can continue on this way. You’ll beat yourself up for going from being at the top to feeling like you’re just barely at the bottom. You’ll think about it and wonder: will things ever change?
After all the hard work and pain, you will finally understand the parts of your journey that you didn’t before. You will finally understand what it means to take on the role of leadership. You will learn that you don’t have to change your quiet, introverted personality to be a leader. This role will no longer mean physical ability nor authority; leadership will mean harnessing the ability to inspire others so that they seek improvement in themselves.
You will also finally understand how volleyball is a part of your identity. You’ll realize it has shaped you into a better person. You are stronger, not only physically, but mentally as well. Volleyball can be a sport of errors and failures, but you’ll reflect on it all and see how it has helped you learn how to make adjustments in order to succeed. You’ll see yourself as a part of this wonderful and powerful group of women that are there to love and support each other throughout everything.
After all the years, if asked again why you love playing volleyball, you’ll finally know what your answer will and should be. It’ll no longer seem like a getaway or a place to relieve tension, because you’ll have found out it isn’t always stress-free. You’ll finally have learned to enjoy the pain that comes from pushing yourself to get better. The burning you feel in your legs after a tough workout or a high-intensity game signals to you that you’re improving, and you will be happy knowing your abilities grow more and more with time. You will no longer love just the good and easy parts of your sport, but you will love the hard times equally, because you’ll know they are only making you stronger.
Seven years later, and your heart will still be full every time you step out onto the court. Although you’ll grow out of your knee-high socks and turtle kneepads, you’ll know that you have your girls right there next to you. They will make you smile when you need it and remind you that your greatest efforts are always enough, no matter the outcome. You’ll finally stop beating yourself up for the things you have no control over, but that same determination to be the best version of yourself will not change. There is no way to imagine the overwhelming barriers that you have not yet faced, but know that you should never give up, because playing this sport is beautiful and will teach you more about yourself and about life every single day. Keep your head up and keep moving forward. In everything that you do, the most you can ask of yourself is to try your best. Maybe you won’t be at the top, but as long as you’re giving it all that you have, you will always be enough.
Sam, a proud member of CUVB