Someday I may write a book

If you are new to European Doorways and have never met me, I need to fill you in on an important fact about myself. I love to play volleyball.

Well, to be more accurate, I love to play volleyball with my teammates. There is something special about playing with the same teammates each week, learning each others strengths and weaknesses, making adjustments, cheering each other on, and trusting each other. I admit I am a volleyball snob.

Over the 17 years I have played competitive, co-ed volleyball there have been so many times I have had something happen during the game and I have thought I can totally use that scenario as an example of great teamwork - whether it is in the office place, family, church, volunteer groups, etc.

My game tonight left me with so many ideas that I "wrote" this blog post in the car on my drive my head. Now I just need to see if I can get the words from my head to the page.....and have them make sense.

A few facts to help set the stage:

  • My  current team name is Hit that Ball.
  • I am the oldest, shortest, and second fastest player on the team.
  • The fastest player on the team is Steve. We have played together for about 10 years.
  • My other (current) teammates team time ranges from 3 years to 3 months. 
  • I play the setter position. 
  • On paper, I am the team captain.

Change Happens - It can be hard, but it may be needed for the good of the team.
Up until 3 months ago, I have always played 4:2 (four hitters and two setters.) In September, we made the decision to switch to 5:1 (five hitters and one setter.) This was Steve's idea. He ran the idea by me. I panicked. He said "don't worry, you can do it" and we switched that night....and played horrible. We didn't know how to adjust the offense and defense positions, we couldn't pass the ball to the "right" (new setting position), I was running around the court chasing every bad pass, and was exhausted after the first game. 

There were so many times we all wanted to give up and switch back to our "normal" line up. I was setting and running twice as much as before. My hand joints were inflamed and I was struggling to catch my breath. But we persevered. 

After that match we did something we have never done before (or since), we stayed late and practiced. We ran through scenarios, we talked about where each of us were supposed to be, we hashed out who can hit better from which position, and we continually reassured each other that we can do this. Our newest teammate Christy played in college. She has been coaching us through this.

Since then she has been giving us simple skills to focus on some nights, along with how to make the changes/improvements. Even though she can't hit middle on the co-ed height net, or stuff the block, she knows the concept and can explain it. But the part that makes me so excited for my team is that the guys listen to her. They don't let their egos get in the way. Our team has a good perspective of healthy competition - it is a mix of fun and hard work.

Confess Your Mistakes
I am so thankful I have always played with teammates who "confess their mistakes." This might be calling themselves in the net or letting the ref know the ball hit the line (even though it benefits our opponent) or saying "sorry" or "my bad" when we mess up or saying "thank you" when we mess up and a teammate saves it for us.

Those words are so powerful to our teamwork. When we play teams that cheat or get mad at each other for mistakes we can stand back and watch that team completely fall apart. When we take ownership of our mistakes, my teammates always take the opportunity to build up rather than tear down.

That building up process looks differently for different people and situations. From my perspective I see myself and my teammates being built up with things like High-5s, teammates sharing the blame, inside jokes (that is mainly the guys), and words of encouragement. One of the best ways we build each other up, after a mistake is to keep "feeding them the ball." Someone keeps spiking it in the net? They are going to get as many of the next sets I can give them until they kill it. The guys cannot hide their smiles when that happens.

(We have played against many teams that fail miserably at this and I can safely say, I will never play on a team like that.)

Call for Help
Tonight was a great example of this one. For some reason, during our third game the back row could not get their passes up to me. They were going high, but only about 2 feet in front of them. I had to make the split second decision to either run after it and be in an awkward position to set the hitter or call for help, and let one of my teammates set the ball.

There are even times when my teammates (mainly Steve) will call help for me. I always tell them thanks when that happens.

Calling for help is just the first step in this teamwork skill. What makes it so successful for my team is that my teammates are happy to step in and help.

They get so excited when they get the chance to set and they make a good one. They have developed the habit of complimenting themselves when they make a good set. And the hitter always compliments them and so do I. 

I can remember playing volleyball in high school and we would mentally block off the court into squares and blame the girl in that square when and where the ball dropped. We had our space, we had our positions, and we did not cross those lines. That is horrible teamwork.

Another good example of my teammates stepping up when I "called for help" was when I told them my hands could not handle that much setting (they hurt) and with the 5:1 lineup I never received the serve (and I missed it.) So we thought outside the box, and made up our own system that for two rotations I stay in the back row to receive and Steve takes the first set of that play. It works beautifully....for us. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other teams that do that in their lineup. It is definitely not taught in other competitive volleyball worlds. But it works great for us.

Oh this one will probably end up being 10 chapters in my (make believe) book. 

  • Chapter 1 - Call the Ball: call it loud, call it confidently, call it all the time. If you call it, take it.
  • Chapter 2 - You can Call It for your Teammate: On my team we use the phrase "You go" to mean you are responsible for hitting that ball.
  • Chapter 3 - When in doubt use both verbal and non-verbal communication. "I GOT IT!" with a wide sweeping gesture with my arms says to my big teammates "please don't over power me so you can crush this ball, I will get it, thank you very much."
  • Chapter 4 - A little voice speaks volumes to the teammates who are listening. From the setting position, it feels like magic when my hitters very quietly say "I'm here." It tells me where they are at on the court (even if I can't see them) and that they are ready. Some of them have figured it out...if they say that, they are more likely to be the one who gets the set.
  • Chapter 5 -  Speak their name. There is something powerful about using someone's name. 
  • Chapter 6 - Non-verbal communication looks different for everyone - Learn your teammates language. Steve loves to use hand signals to try and communicate with me. He has signals to tell me he wants his sets closer to the net, that he is blocking line or cross court, that he has the first set on the next play, that he wants a back row set, that the ref made a bad call. Once in a great while he will use hand signals to tell me how he thinks I should set one of our teammates. Bless his heart. My favorite non-verbal cue to him is when I take a deep breath and he stops micro managing me and tells me "good set, thanks" on the next play. :)  But in all seriousness, those non-verbal cues are critical to our game. Steve and I have played together long enough for me to recognize his obvious ones. All of my teammates have their own cues that I pay attention to. Or I should say I try to pay attention to. I wonder which ones I am missing?
  • Chapter 7 - Communicate with the opponents too. We congratulate them on exceptional plays. We tell them "good game" and high-5 as we switch courts. We make sure they are OK if we hit them with a hard swing OR if they look like they get hurt in any way. 
  • Chapter 8 - Respect the Ref. with your words and your actions. They are in charge and it is a tough job. They are going to make mistakes, we just need to try and keep it in perspective. Sometimes those bad calls are good for us and sometimes they are good for the opponents. 
  • Chapter 9 - Encouragement is the best form of communication. Sincere encouragement is critical to good communication. If you don't verbalize that you recognize that I did well then your criticism or critic has nothing "soft to land on" and it hurts. 
  • Chapter 10 - Fake praise is better left unsaid. Telling me I did a great job tying my shoe, when I just got done making an amazing play seems ridiculous, but sadly similar situations happen all of the time. We don't do that on Hit That Ball, so this would be a short chapter.

Share the Leadership
Over the years I have played with 4 different (core) teams. There have been lots of various teammates come and go, but for the most part there are 4 individual teams that each had their own personality. 

My current team stands out with this shared leadership trait. There was never any formal meeting to draw up job descriptions, but there are four of us who I feel like are sharing the major leadership roles of the team. 
Steve is in charge of the line up. 
Brock handles the game reminders and manages the group text.
Christy is our new coach.
I take care of the registration and payment.

Even in our team huddle we split the leadership. Typically I call the team cheer: "Team on 3" or "Win on 3" or "Sideout" or "Let's go on 3". Then either Brock or Jon immediately counts us off....1, 2, 3, Team.

It makes me smile just thinking about it.

Back up Your Teammates
On the first team Steve and I played on together we had a team weakness of some teammates ducking when the serve was coming at them too high or too hard. So our whole team made the adjustment that the two outside back row players backed up the middle back. When we were playing well, that middle back player could duck at the last second and one of the other back row players was right there ready to receive. 

That same concept applies when a teammate is chasing down a wild ball, someone else should be following them. The first one just needs to get the ball up in the air. The second one coming in just needs to be close by and set up to take the ball over the net. 

In most wild ball plays, Steve is chasing it down and I am following. Quickness and agility are not the strengths of our big hitters, so for the most part they leave it up to Steve and I.

It take the whole team to make the play.
It is not much of a volleyball game if we just send the ball back and forth over the net with one hit. Actually, I think they call that tennis. 

To get a good set, it helps to have a good pass. If you want to hit the ball, I need to give you a good set. If you block, then I'll cover you. None of those things can happen without teammates. 

In the real, non-volleyball world, how do these concepts apply to you? 

How are you encouraging your teammates?
Are you paying attention to their non-verbal cues?
Do you back them up? take the blame for your mistakes? 
Are you focusing on communication with your "team?"
Is your "team" even playing the same game, on the same court, at the same time?

It is easy for me to ask all of these questions and answer them about my volleyball team, but I must confess the other "teams' in my life could use some attention in these concepts. 

I'll get right on that. You can keep me accountable.


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