The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

Growing up, I was never great at team sports. I like to take control, to do things my way. I was always the person who would say, “No, no, I don’t want to talk” when we were doing group presentations, and then inevitably jump in and talk for half our time (oh God, you don’t even need to tell me how annoying that must have been). I did gymnastics, kickboxing, bellydancing; anything that I could do by myself.

I also harbored a belief that you were either born athletic or you were not. I believed that athleticism was an innate trait that I could not foster in myself, and that I had been born unathletic, and there was nothing I could do to change that. So I didn’t try. Then I proceeded to complain about how unhealthy I was. (Sigh.)

In the past five years, I have been working on changing that. I have learned a lot of things about myself in the process, including that I am as athletic as I want myself to be. I have done the Insanity workout program twice through, run a half-marathon, gotten deep into my yoga practice. I have achieved things that I would not have dreamed possible at the age of 17.

This past fall, my cousins mentioned that they were playing recreational volleyball, and they wanted Bryan to play with them. They also extended the invitation to me, but I waved it away, mostly because the idea of playing a team sport made my heart pound with trepidation. And volleyball? I was that girl in gym class who ducked every time the volleyball came her way. But after a day of thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to try it, for the very reason that I had originally said no: it made my heart pound with fear, and I believed I was terrible at team sports.

I hadn’t started my failure challenge yet, but I was already in that mindset.

We played one season, and, to my great surprise, I kind of enjoyed playing. I wasn’t very good: I hadn’t played volleyball in almost eight years, and the other people on our team were much more experienced. I made a lot of bad plays. I suffered from a lack of confidence. As with many co-ed teams, I got frustrated with the way the boys seemed to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do something, and so they stepped in to do it for me.

Then, for me, the season ended on a rough note, with a bad game where emotions got out of control, and I felt like I had been badly treated. I thought that I was done, that I wouldn’t play again. That I had tried it out, but that I didn’t want to go through all of that again. Still, I waffled. A large part of me had enjoyed playing, and the only reason I was undecided was because my confidence and ego had taken a battering. So I sucked it up, and signed up to play again.

We are four games into our season now, and I am playing much better. Two weeks ago, I had the best game I’ve ever had, even making a few key plays. Last week, we beat the best team in the league. I am beginning to enjoy the experience again. Here are a few things that I have learned from this sojourn into team sport territory.

  1. I am responsible for how I play, no one else. Just because someone doesn’t believe that I am capable of making the play doesn’t mean it’s true.
  2. I do not have to be affected by how someone else is responding to a situation. Other people have the right to their own emotions and responses, and so do I. Someone else getting frustrated or responding badly doesn’t mean that I have to respond that way too, and it doesn’t mean that I have to start feeling badly about myself or how I am playing. I am the one who makes that call.
  3. I do not have to be forced into a box that I don’t want to be in. Playing on a co-ed team can be an interesting experience. The boys on our team are more athletic than I am, have more experience with volleyball, and more experience with sports in general. They tend to be more confident and more assertive on the court. One of my cousins likes to be in control, and will often step in to take over a situation even when it is not necessary. I have learned that I don’t actually have to do exactly what he tells me to do. If I miss a serve once, I don’t actually have to step back and let someone else take the next serve, even if they tell me to. I can analyze the situation, adjust myself, and attack the ball on my own terms.
  4. Having my own measurements for success is very liberating, and I can celebrate those for myself. I am a competitive person, but winning a game is not my only measurement for success, especially because I am not a star volleyball player. My measurements for success are often things such as getting several serves over the net in a row, getting the ball more often than not getting the ball, and being there and ready to make a play even if the play doesn’t happen. Being able to look at these events and judge how my game went rather than simply the score on the board is a much more objective measurement of how well I am doing and what I am learning, which is a huge confidence booster, which then helps me play better in the next game. And so on, and so forth.
  5. I don’t have to apologize every time a play doesn’t go exactly right, or I make a mistake. I noticed that the boys on our team rarely, if ever, apologize for not making a play or for messing one up. But nearly every other word out of my mouth was, “Sorry, guys.” Even when something wasn’t my fault. So I made the decision to stop saying I was sorry. And that has also helped with my confidence. Things happen, my team will deal.

Ultimately, I am glad that I decided to try this thing that scared the pants off of me. Seeing how I have already grown over the last five months has been an amazing boost to my confidence in so many other areas.

Is there anything that you have tried recently that really scared you? What have you learned from the experience?


The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

One thought on “The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

  1. […] A lot of the beliefs that I hold about myself are dichotomous: I am this, I am not that; I am this way, so I cannot be that way. I’m sure that a lot of these beliefs are unnecessary and limiting. Like how, for instance, I used to believe that I was creative, but only with words. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I’m just not visually creative.” I looked at my friends who could easily draw beautiful pictures, and my boyfriend who took stunning photos, and the bloggers who created perfect scrapbooks, and I told myself, “I’m simply not creative in that way and there is nothing I can do about it.” (Much the same attitude I had about fitness.) […]

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