The air is thick with the smell of sweat. While I am new here in this gym, I have been here a thousand times before. I have heard the roar of an excited crowd, seen bleachers packed with parents and coaches pacing the sidelines. I grew up on the hardwood.
“Get low”, “get off the net”, “jump”, “MOVE”! Instantly I am back to being sixteen when coaches pounded volleyballs at me for hours. Where I was yelled at for my mistakes and pushed to the edge of my pubescent emotions.
Now it is my turn. Volleyball tryouts begin and twenty-three kids come. Molly and I are the coaches. We start teaching skills. We watch footwork, hand control, player motivation or lack of it. At the end of the first practice we go out to run a mile. It isn’t pretty but all of them finish. We wonder how many will show up tomorrow. I ask Molly why she played when she was young. Why she let coaches like us scream at her. Her answer, “I loved it. Nothing is more satisfying than a great dig. Even better than a scorching hit.”
The next day the kids arrive before us. All twenty-three of them. Molly and I look at each other in disbelief. We had hoped that running would discourage a few. Three days later we choose our team. Five days pass and I have heard their excuses and watched them stand idle while the ball hits the floor. So it begins. Molly and I pound balls at them, yell and keep them in drills until they want to throw up. When they say they can’t, we tell them they can. When a ball drops, we make them run. We do these things over and over. Sometimes Molly and I want to quit.
Our home opener. Our team is nervous. We watch our junior varsity team lose. Molly takes the varsity to the locker room. I stay and watch the opposing team warm up. I think to myself, “we are in trouble”. We take the floor. We lose the first few points. Molly adjusts our positions. The game rages on. We lose the first game. Win the second and lose the next two. Even though we lost we are encouraged by their play. They went for every ball and played with intensity. I ask myself, “is this is the same team that I have been coaching for 10 days”?
After the game, I tell Molly about my pre-match reservations. Molly’s response, “I thought we were going to get killed”. Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow”. And now I know why the kids show up everyday. Why Molly coaches with her three year old clinging to her hip all through practice and why I leave work early three times a week. I believe sport imitates life. It can be painful, exhilarating, and heartbreaking. And if you show up to ready to play sometimes when you least expect it, it can be downright fun.
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