If anyone had told me that one day in the twilight of my life I would be obsessed with girls’ volleyball, I’d have shaken my head and laughed out loud. Obsessed with a sport? Not a chance. I have tolerated sports only for the Town Spa pizza after.
And then last year, everything changed.
My granddaughter, Charlotte, was in ninth grade then and she’d made the freshman volleyball team. Her scheduled games were in CAPITAL LETTERS on the family calendar and because my love for Charlotte trumped my non-love of sports, off I went with the rest of the family to her first game.
And this is what happened: I fell in love at first sight. First of all, volleyball is civilized. As opposed to beach volleyball, it’s played indoors. No shivering in the stands. No sudden shower soaking you to the bone. No squinting and sweating in the sun. The game, to steal a line from “Jerry Maguire,” had me at hello.
Second, volleyball is exciting. It’s all serves and swerves and smashing the ball or slipping it over the net. It does not drag on forever. It does not have halftime.
Third: With volleryball, you get a do-over. If a freshman team loses the first game, there’s a second to win. And if two teams are tied after the second game, there’s a third game to determine the winner. And, if it’s a varsity team playing, there can be up to five games played.
Maybe, when my son was in first grade and playing T-ball, I liked T-ball as much as I like volleyball now. But I don’t think so. Mostly what I remember are black flies, spring mud, and 6-year-olds crying every time they struck out.
There’s another reason I love volleyball, a surprise reason, at least to me. Volleyball has taught me that effort, real effort, isn’t sporadic. Effort doesn’t mean trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing. And then giving up. There is no giving up. Effort means sticking to the task. This is something I wish I had learned when I was in my teens.
I know I have never tried as hard at anything as Charlotte tries at volleyball. Until I witnessed her effort, until I saw, every day for more than a year, her single-mindedness and determination, I would have told you that yes, I did try. I would have spun the old story of how years ago when I was just starting to write, I taped rejection slips onto my office walls, one wall plastered with blatant, standard “Dear Contributor, We’re not interested,” notes, another wall festooned with friendlier rejections like “Try again!”
See, I would have said. I did try. But the truth is I tried sporadically. Each rejection was a setback. I’d lose momentum. And confidence. I can’t do this, I told myself. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
Charlotte never says I can’t. She keeps trying until she does. There is no stopping this girl.
I’ve watched her train. I’ve watched her take up running, first a short distance, now miles. I’ve watched her get up on school days in the winter in the dark, mix up a power drink, then go to the high school at 6:30 a.m. to work out with other athletes. I’ve watched her set up a net in the backyard and practice her serve, over and over and over and over. She joins different teams to learn. She plays in the off-seasons. She is constantly practicing.
All sports teams are full of Charlottes. That’s what I know now. I think about this every time a girl gets up to serve. I think of the thousands of practice serves and shots and kills it takes to be part of a team. I think of how amazing all of these girls are. How skilled. How trained. How motivated. And still, sometimes, despite their best effort, they miss a shot.
“I can’t dance,” I have said since I can remember. I’m uncoordinated. I have no grace.
Maybe grace isn’t my strong suit. But maybe grace, like volleyball, like anything, can be learned. Maybe with effort I can learn to dance. Watching Canton High’s varsity team — which Charlotte is now a part of — keep the ball in the air, then nail a shot, I believe this. I believe that with practice and determination, all things are possible.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.