I always liked volleyball. I wasn’t good in P.E. class, but it was the sport in which I felt the least humiliated and incompetent. My mom moved me around three times after my parents split (thankfully) when I was 14, and we ended up in Kettering where I learned the basics of volleyball; those kids had been playing for years because it was part of their P.E classes so I still stood out, but I had the excuse of being new to the district, which helped offset my lack of skill.
I’ve spent my whole life telling myself I was uncoordinated because that’s what my parents and maybe others taught me at an extremely young age. I remember struggling to learn proper swimming techniques, and the lifeguard becoming frustrated with me at our private pool, Phillips Aquatic Club, which was racist, blatantly so….as I learned later, but I digress. I soon learned that people with privilege have little patience for those who fall outside the norm, and my grandparents were upper middle class while my parents and I were at or below the poverty level; my grandparents took us on vacation and paid for my pool memberships and passes.
For me, learning sports from adults was stressful because it was always accompanied by yelling, shame, derision, put-downs, anger, violence…..I was scared to learn anything new because I didn’t know if someone might hit me or throw something at me. I think, no, I know, this is why I’m good with my ED students in a public district. My feelings about privilege and my experiences student teaching only emphasized where I belonged. I understand all too well the fears my students have day and night. I just masked it and functioned better as a child because I didn’t have an emotional disturbance; I was typical emotionally, and gifted intellectually; I had coping mechanisms, but none of these translated into sports.
I know I’ve evolved a lot in recent years and dealt with many of my issues, so I was ready to give sports another try. I kept telling people I really wanted to try volleyball, and when I went on a date with someone who plays in a league, and we decided to just be friends, I asked if he would show me the basics so I could start playing, and he said yes! He invited me that very week to come practice somewhere, and I got to play actual games, and I loved it. Then he asked me to come watch them play with the possibility that I could practice later also at their league, so I went. I ended up playing six or seven games, one of his friends and teammates helped me practice bumping (I so don’t have that skill) and reminded me how to set properly. I was told more than once that evening that I have tremendous confidence….I think I finally fteel that confidence inside and out, and it shows. I am pretty terrible at volleyball, but I am playing. I made new acquaintances, I felt alive and happy.
I loved it so much I went back again last night into the soupy wet sands, taking my two kids with me. I practiced with my twelve year-old and some of my friends while my son played in the sand soup. He was soaking wet with water and sand, looking as if he’d been through a sand hurricane. Later that evening, I played with my daughter and some other kids, and I loved that as much as the real play; I felt like a teacher should, being patient, playing with the babies and helping them feel good about playing volleyball with a grownup. I remember the lack of support I had as a kid, and so I played even when my ankle and knee were sore from the day before. I am a competitive person and I used to compete only on the academic field. With running, and now volleyball, I can be intense; mentally and physically focused; I can, despite my asthma and lack of coordination, overcome genetics and my environment to play sports, even if not very well. No one can stop me from loving sports but myself…..now a participant, not just a spectator.