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The Stress of Club Sports
I remember the first time I practiced with my club team. Club volleyball, mind you. Very competitive, and pricey too. Many of the clubs around the US are about three thousand dollars a year, sometimes more than that even. Often, that doesn’t include tournament fees or uniforms and warm-ups.
My parents always swore they wouldn’t be like their friends. Swore up and down that us, their kids, would not rule the family with club sports, for not only are they expensive, they consume an extraordinary amount of time. Traveling to tournaments, sometimes on holidays, practices, team gatherings and parties. My parents have had friends that said they couldn’t come to a party of ours because they had to travel to Vegas for a three-day soccer tournament. Those couples were the subject of lessons to my sister and myself for years. “You see that? That’s a spoiled kid. You’ve got another thing comin’ if you think I’m gonna sit at soccer in freaking Vegas for three days!”
My sister and I would nod our heads and agree, even if sometimes we didn’t. We were reasonable enough to see our parent’s point of view of course; sometimes even we weren’t committed enough to our sport to want to spend three days playing it during a Vegas July. That didn’t mean, though, that we weren’t drawn to that idea, that right, to say arrogantly, “Oh yeah, I’m in club,” and add a hair flip and ignorant hand wave somewhere in the middle of that.
Besides, we couldn’t afford it. My parents couldn’t afford four hundred dollars a month for club soccer or the down payment of nearly two thousand dollars for club volleyball. So we went through elementary and middle school, being happy playing community league soccer. And we were.
I’d always been tall and athletic, and it seemed like for all of my years age ten and up I’d been asked if I played a) basketball, b)volleyball, or c) if I modeled. Naturally, I’d been drawn to volleyball, not for its spandex or lack of contact (which, if anything, turned me away from it), but for Misty-May Trainor and Carey Walsh in the Olympics. If you looked at me, my long soccer shorts and carelessness with my hair and make up (or lack thereof), you’d take me as a basketball girl in a second.
When I was finally in high school, my dad and I decided that I should try out for volleyball. I was excited, to say the least. I went to a volleyball camp my high school put on during the summer and found a couple things to be true; firstly, I looked horribly different from nearly everyone else just by my clothes; second, despite my amateur appearance, I wasn’t afraid to dive because of my soccer back ground; and third, I was no longer thinking of myself as tall.
Volleyball was like snowboarding or softball; a rich sport. Its participants were wealthy, able to afford the gear and costs, and thought by me to be snobbish and arrogant. Not because I had any real proof I suppose, more so that I just assumed. They were privileged, and I didn’t envy them necessarily. If they could pay for a better league of sports, then great, good for them. I didn’t not, however, appreciate whatever it was about their club sports that gave them the false thoughts that they had a right to look down their entitled nose at either me or my sister just because they played club.
I made the Frosh-Soph team at my high school. That year, it turned out to be more of a training team, a team to cultivate those of us who seemed to hold some potential. More than half of the team had never actually played volleyball before outside of PE. Most of the time we seemed relatively hopeless, a thought that often made me feel sorry that the four sophomores that did know how to play who got stuck with us. They were still supportive though, albeit laughing at a couple of us every now and then.
Through three near-disastrous tournaments, about forty-five catastrophes, a suspended coach, and twelve learning curves, we finished our season. During our last tournament, one of the varsity coaches made an appearance and I was lucky enough that he talked to me afterwards about joining his club volleyball program. I gave him the same speech that my sister and I had all but memorized when coaches approached us; “I’d love to, really, but my parents just can’t afford how expensive it is.”
I was one of the lucky ones though. This coach, he wasn’t in it for the money. He truly believed in me, and was a stubborn guy. He persuaded my parents to say yes, yes to club volleyball, and I was more than ecstatic. But I was presented with a new issue; the team.
That brings me to my first practice with them. The coach that had gotten me to play originally needed me for a spot on a lower team, where I’d have a lot of playing time, but someone dropped from a highly ranked team, where I’ be the most inexperienced. He had me practice with the higher team first, which, for privacy purposes, I’ll refer to as team A.
Team A was more than nerve wracking to me. I was the youngest, the worst, and by far the quietest. There was, luckily, one other girl I knew from middle school, who had been a year older than me. Lana was probably the sweetest person I’ve ever known, and that extended to our time on the volleyball team.
I’d looked online at the club’s website and saw who was on this team. Some of them I recognized; they were on JV at my high school. In total, including me, four of us went to my school. I wasn’t sure if they recognized me, and the shy, secluded, introvert part of me hoped they hadn’t. Now that I thought about it, I think the unconfident part of me chimed in there as well.
I didn’t say much that practice. When someone asked me something, I’d give them short answers in an effort to avoid my tendency to ramble. When my coach, you know, coached me, I bobbed my head and muttered things like, “Yeah, I see what you mean,” or, “M’kay, gotcha.”
As the practice wore on, I began to scrutinize myself. No one else had braces. Everyone else seemed to have actually taken time on their hair today. They laughed and giggled perfectly. They interacted with each other seamlessly.
And then there was me.
I never went first in any drill. Not only was I uncomfortable with going ahead of everyone, but I didn’t even know basic terminology. “Hit from area four to area six on that side.” It was spoken in my native tongue, but it may as well have been in Japanese. I simply hung back, watched, and tried mostly unsuccessfully to replicate.
I was brought to the team to be their other middle blocker, to specialize in it, to live and breathe it. That was the whole point of me coming to this volleyball club, the whole point in me practicing with this team. I was tall, about ‘5”10, ‘5”11, which wasn’t tall for volleyball, but certainly not short, either. I was a high middle in all actuality, but it didn’t feel like it.
I couldn’t serve to save my life. I didn’t have the muscle memory quite yet, and coming from soccer, my foot work and leg muscle was stellar. My arm strength? Let’s just say it left something to be desired.
I came to learn that I actually wasn’t the youngest on the team. This other girl, Caroline, was actually a couple months younger than me, also a freshman in high school, which might have been mildly reassuring, had she not been one of the quickest girls I’d ever seen on the court.
I came to learn some of the other girls’ names, too.
There was Madison, who had a spike that sounded around the entire gym when she hit and a witty, sarcastic sense of humor. Reese had a powerful serve that was almost impossible to read as far as if it went out or not. Maine was almost as quiet as me at first glance, but I came to find that her favorite music was the explicit versions of any rap or hip hop song. Those three came to school with me.
There were others, too. Marissa had a kind face and was generally quiet. Lynn was good friends with Madison and could often drive the entire team into fits of laughter. Anna always offered me supportive, helpful advice, and had a tendency to dump a ball over, never failing to get the point. Rae was very vocal, and from the very first practice, I learned that she always had food in her bag. I only had one practice with one girl, Sally, before she hurt herself and couldn’t play for a while. Cali was great at passing and probably one of the only people on the team that could rouse us during a difficult game.
The girls were all intimidating to me. Not because they were hostile towards me in any way. No, they were all more than welcoming in all honesty. It was the thought of me being brand ne to volleyball that killed me the most. Even the most inexperienced on the team had more experience than I.
I didn’t block one ball that practice. I barely hit anything decent. I couldn’t hit a fuego, a hut, or a three, all new terms to me at the time. I felt like the girls were shooting me looks like, “Oh, that poor kid.”
My anxiety didn’t subside all of practice. I went home that night, feeling horrible, like I did more than pale in comparison to them; I became transparent as a ghost.
The next day I tried not to think about the practice last night. I had volleyball that day, and talked to them about it. I saw the other girls that day in the gym, and could tell they were almost as confused as I was. Did we wave? Smile nicely? I certainly hoped we didn’t talk.
Volleyball was my last period of the day. I called my dad after school like I always did so he could talk to me about how my day went and things.
“Hey babe, guess what? That coach that you practiced with yesterday? He wants you for that team.”
Tenafly, New Jersey
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Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
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"Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky,
Tongue-tied and twisted
Just an earth-bound misfit, I"
"Now is blessed