Reflections From A Volleyball Parent

Monday, September 14, 2015

The following story was written and submitted by Paul Carter, an OVA Parent:

In the next few weeks, as the heat of the summer begins to fade, the metallic buzz of cicadas will be replaced by a different sound. Gyms across the province will echo with the rhythmic slap of volleyballs on a hardwood floor.

By late September the indoor volleyball season will be in full swing, and we’ll be shuttling our sons and daughters, week after week, month after month, to practises. We’ll be greeting familiar faces in over-heated gyms on Saturdays, and spending hours on the highways. We’ll be celebrating and commiserating. Some of us will fly to distant tournaments and be approached by university coaches, while others will be deciphering the intricacies of triple ball. We’ll be talking, thinking, and sometimes even dreaming, about volleyball.

Of course, we can all rationalize why we do it. It’s for our children. But even if you’re a part of the most storied volleyball club, with its long list of provincial and national champions, it’s not usually about winning. After all, only one team can win a tournament. So what is it, then, that makes our sport so compelling?

We can say that volleyball is an articulation of grace, beauty, and athleticism. We can say it’s about the intensity. We can say it’s about the camaraderie and the rivalries. We can say it’s about the joy in a perfect pass, an attack-line spike, a diving dig, an impenetrable block, or a service ace. We can say it’s about conquering fears. We can say it’s about teamwork, training, and those moments when months and months of practising pay off.

But most of our kids won’t think about these things. It’s not that these reasons are irrelevant, but for them, the real point of volleyball is that it has no point. They do it because they love it. It’s simply part of who and why they are.

Yet in this, our children are unwittingly engaging in the central question of what it means to be human. In ancient Greece, Plato, himself an athlete, felt that physical education was a key component of one’s mental education. He called this concept “thymos.” The closest English word we have for this idea – which incorporates bravery, mindfulness, and the urge for glory – is “spiritedness.” It doesn’t suggest aggression, but rather, equal training for the body and the mind. Plato wanted to develop this admirable quality in all citizens of his ideal Republic.

Volleyball is itself a balance of the physical and mental. Even at the youth level, the more accomplished players are often keen students of the game. They reflect on their own performance, and watch – interminably, on YouTube – others play. They’ll subconsciously note a team’s movement, individual positioning, hitting and setting decisions, defensive alignments, and the ebb and flow of the game. Then, you’ll witness what a good coach can accomplish. Our children’s love of the game is transformed into skills training, shared goals, and a level of dedication and focus that a classroom teacher can only dream of. It is education in its purist sense.

As for the competitive nature of youth sports, the novelist and essayist Wilfred Sheed famously observed that victory and defeat give rise to “a joy and despair way beyond the run of normal human experience.” This is true for players and spectators alike, as any parent who has ever stood on the side of a volleyball court – and lived and died with every rally – can attest. In other words, coping with the intensity of life on the court can teach the players, and perhaps even their parents, how to better handle the interactions of everyday life.

And so, as I begin to mark my daughter’s seemingly unending list of volleyball practises, events, and tournaments on our calendar, I have just one thing to say about the season to come:

Bring it on.

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