I realized over the weekend that I never closed out our winter sports season. I think part of the delay was because of how winter sports ended for our two oldest girls.

Let’s start with M, whose volleyball team had a fine regular season, going 5–2. By the end of the season they had a number of girls who could consistently rip off a long stretch of serves in a row, including M. They also had several girls who could set well and a couple girls who could hit at the net.

For the first game of the city tournament, they faced a team that had only won one match all season. Our girls won the first set rather easily, with M closing it out with seven straight from the serving box. As tends to happen, for some reason, the entire team lost their focus in set two. M and the two other girls who had served best in set one won a combined four points in set two. They never really got into it and we went to a third set to see who advanced.

It was tight through the first 4–5 servers for each team, but St. P’s was always playing catchup. They got the serve back down 14–7 and won five straight before a ball into the net ended their season. It was a frustrating loss because they seemed to be a lot better than their opponents. But they lost their serves and their confidence in set two and never got them back.

M continued her steady improvement. She had some games where she served really, really well. She was almost always good for a point or two when her turn came up. Her passing got better and she was one of the second-choice setters. She was the loudest kid on the team. You couldn’t not hear her yelling “COME ON GUYS!!!!” anytime they lost a point. Most of all, she really enjoys the game.

As for C’s team, as you will recall we had not won a game through our first four of the regular season. In game six, our girls played as well as they had played all year. They won set one, lost set two narrowly, and in set three raced out to a quick lead. They got the set to 14–7 and needed just one point to win their first match of the year. You could see the excitement and the preparations to celebrate on our girls faces.

I was keeping score this game, so rather than being on the bench I was sitting at midcourt. The other team won a couple points, and then our best player muffed an easy pass. And then another. 14–11 and I could see every ounce of confidence just drain out of our girls. 14–12. 14–13. 14–14. In youth volleyball it’s just first to 15, you don’t have to win by two points. Another good serve, another poor return, and the set and match were over.

Huge bummer. They were so close. There were some tears.

In the next game we got our asses thoroughly kicked by a team that had like eight girls who could serve better than anyone on our team. And in the tournament, same thing: we just got hammered by a team that had a roster full of servers. These games were tough to watch. It’s like the other teams had fifth graders and our girls were all third graders. You now it’s bad when the other coaches, who were all moms/aunts/big sisters, give you sad, “I’m sorry for your girls” faces when you shake hands after the game.[1]

Our girls did improve over the year. The head coach and I just couldn’t figure them out. They would be silly and laughing and loose in practice, but as soon as the games started they tightened up and stopped chasing the ball. As I mentioned before, the head coach played in college – and was really good I should add – and I think she struggled to figure out what she needed to say/do differently to get the girls to put what she taught in practice into their game performances. I told her after our last game that a good chunk of these girls will probably be a lot better next year, and the base she gave them will be responsible for that improvement.

This was my first time coaching volleyball and I realized how complex the game is. I played a lot of volleyball into my early 30s and I always just played without thinking too much about strategy, positioning, etc. I’ve coached soccer and basketball before. Soccer, at the youth level, isn’t too tough to relate to kids. Basketball can be complex, but I’ve focused on the basics which I think are fairly easy to grasp. But volleyball, with knowing when to go after balls, when to let your teammate get it, how to move around the court, etc. is deceptively complex. I often found myself at a loss at how to help our girls. My contributions generally were yelling “You have to call the ball, girls, and if you call it, you have to go get it.” I told the head coach I was pretty much there to throw and shag balls in practice and stay out of her way.

C has a chance to be a decent player. She was the most athletic kid on her team. She can hit the ball hard. But she is just so unfocused. She’ll hit a couple perfect serves, then go through a couple games where she was lunging for the ball and couldn’t get it in to save her life. She got to the ball better than anyone on the team. But almost every time she would wind up and hit it as hard as she could instead of gently passing it over the net. I kept telling her, use your legs to pass, but every time she’d start with her hands near her ankles and end with them above her head. One game she just hit the shit out of the ball and knocked it straight up into the gym rafters. The look on her face was classic, like she had just broken a window or something. She would get excited when we played in gyms with really high ceilings.

So volleyball is done. C started kickball practice last week. M starts Friday. L has her first soccer practice next Thursday. Spring sports have already sprung.

  1. Not in a condescending way, either. Like they were genuinely sorry for beating us so badly.  ↩