The first time I played volleyball, in a more serious manner than passing a ball back and forth over a net on the beach I mean, was when I was at university. At the beginning of each year at uni, we would attend a sports and clubs registration day. At that stage, my focus was probably more on the social aspect of the day rather than actual sport. So naturally I was an easy target when a particularly good looking young man charmed me into signing up for the surf club. My other two choices were soccer (football) and volleyball, because I had done neither, and wasn’t university all about new experiences?
Unfortunately, my dad was having none of it, using the example that my high school surfboard remained untouched and gathering dust in our family home to illustrate that I had a tendency to pick up phases without any seriousness or desire to stick with them. I moaned and kicked up a fuss in response, my fantasies of cute soccer shorts paired with long socks and finally tanning my luminescent skin on the beach alongside aforementioned charming surfer quickly disappearing. However, my dad did agree to foot the bill for volleyball and so began my journey with the sport.
Joined by my best friend, who too enjoyed the odd phase here and there, having previously been my high school surfing partner after we developed an obsession with the movie Blue Crush, we met regularly in our university sports hall, trying to master the various volley hits and jumps and learning to whack a ball with a certain degree of elegance.
But dad was right. It did turn out to be a phase and my volleyball-related hopes and aspirations faded into the back of my mind while chocolate and alcohol took the centre of attention. Four years later, taking a closer look at my fatter and lazier self, it became time to re-visit the concept I once knew intimately (health and fitness) and so I returned to the gym while working as an au pair in the States. By the time I moved to the UK two years later, after a year of outdoor climbing, running and the gym, I was fitter and ready for a new chapter of sport, determined to no longer indulge in phases and motivated to complete goals.
It was around this time that I gave some thought to playing volleyball again and so I joined one of the local clubs. When asked what level I was at, I explained my brief flirtation with the sport, labelling myself as “probably a beginner”. My first training session ended up being with one of the club’s ladies teams. Apparently there was one other ladies team in the club who were one league higher so I probably figured this particular team would be OK for my ‘level’. I quickly realised I was very mistaken, as a multitude of tall, long-legged woman introduced themselves, showcasing a diverse mix of accents while they casually announced their ten+ years of experience. I quickly realised I had made one of my classic errors by throwing myself into another potentially humiliating situation. I must have been sweating with nervousness by the time I began witnessing the first few hits of the session. Are these Amazonian women human, I wondered, as their ‘warm up’ shots flew from one wall to the other.
In less than five minutes, after fumbling with the ball and feebly hitting it in any direction but up, I made my emergency escape. Running out of there like I was being attacked by ravished zombies, I whispered a hurried excuse to the coach, admitting I was definitely in the wrong place, and escaped with impressive speed. My face was probably still bright red by the time I made it home, in a non-exercise related way.
However, after my initial scare, determined not to lose my newfound joy with not-quitting, I returned to the club, this time to the mixed social team. It was the best move I could have made. I joined them twice or even three times a week and, because they were a warm and friendly bunch, I quickly started to feel like part of the team. We usually went to the pub afterwards and this was a great way to get to know one another better. Over time, I began to see my skills improving. But even though I was never, and would never be, anywhere near the level of some of the players there, I developed joy for the game and made friendships that I still have today. More than that, I gradually moved into one of the ladies teams after encouragement from the girls and began taking part in the matches. I’ve never really played a proper match in our yearly tournaments, preferring to support where I can while watching my brilliant teammates give the teams some serious competition. But I love going to training once a week and joining the socials. And would you know, the team of Amazonian women who previously scared the wits out of me are now some of my teammates, except rather than being intimidated by them, I have great respect for their playing abilities and consider them friends.
Volleyball is a really fun sport and not only is it a great way of exercising, but it’s also an opportunity to get to know new people. You don’t have to be an Amazonian to play volleyball and you can start at any age. There are lots of clubs out there. I’d encourage you to find a club close to you and try out a few sessions. And if you don’t like it, at least you tried a new experience. And don’t forget to search for their social side before throwing yourself in the deep/tall end.