Humility is tough on the ego and good for the soul. Volleyball isn’t as easy as it looks.
These are the lessons I gleaned from my experience learning the game under the able tutelage of legendary Davis County volleyball coach Marty Barnett and her team Wednesday afternoon.
It had already been one of those “one-step behind days” when I made the drive to Bloomfield. Armed with a Google map, I headed down Highway 63 hoping against hope that I would find the gymnasium without any hiccups. This didn’t come to fruition and I wound up wandering aimlessly before I found a sympathetic person willing to point me in the right direction.
I arrived at the gym about 10 minutes late where, after inquiring about whether or not I was the guy from the Courier, Barnett told me I was a little late. Not knowing whether to respond seriously or humorously, I ended up mumbling something about getting lost with a cautious laugh that indicated that I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate time for jokes or not. You are the king of first impressions, I thought to myself.
After my identity and lateness had been established, Barnett informed me no cell phones were allowed in the gym. I laughed and gave her a big smile in an attempt to communicate that I could appreciate a good-natured joke as much as the next guy. After realizing she was serious — I was off to a great start on the communications front — I awkwardly left the gymnasium and placed my cell phone at a spot in the hallway that wasn’t exactly hidden from the public.
In hindsight, I probably should have taken the phone back to my car, but it was a ways away — and I was already late — so I made a decision to put my trust in people’s capacity for honesty. And, I’m happy to report, my phone was left untouched.
Anyway, after I returned to the gym and chatted to Barnett for a few minutes, I realized I might be in trouble. I had casually informed the coach that I did have some prior experience serving underhand style — my memory’s a little fuzzy, but I think I acted out a underhand serving motion to make sure the 30-plus year veteran coached fully absorbed the gravity of what I was saying.
You see, I agreed to do this while operating under the illusion that my past experience in high school gym class would keep me from making a complete fool of myself. She gave me an amused smile, laughed, and said I wasn’t going to serve underhand. This wasn’t going to be like P.E. class, she said. Yep, it was official: I was in trouble.
Barnett ordered Caden Dixon to help me get warmed up. We did an array of drills that involved bouncing the ball — sometimes with one hand, other times with two — that was aimed at something my mind never fully grasped. Dixon would come over and give me tips from time to time that helped me look a little less clumsy.
When it was time to do passes, Dixon showed me the ways your hands and arms are supposed to be shaped when you prepare for a pass. This was foreign to me. I had always just clasped my hands together and tried hit everything in my viccinity. Since I usually hit the ball over the net — keep in mind that I had only played against people whose limited skills mirrored my own — I never much worried about minor issues like form.
So Dixon and I tried to get some rallies going back and forth. Unfortunately, I rarely got in more than two passes in a row before I botched a shot. Barnett eventually decided to have me watch the Mustang girls serve for a while. At first, following an old habit from my misspent youth, I would follow where the ball went instead of watching the form of the server. Barnett nicely advised me to watch the server instead of the ball.
“OK,” I said as I fought the urge to watch the ball again.
Finally, it was my turn to serve. After Barnett made sure my feet were pointed in the right direction, a tossed the ball in the air and gave it a whack. The ball went over the net and the Mustang girls, bless their hearts, cheered.
I won’t get the too specific because I’m afraid I wouldn’t explain something correctly, but I hit several more overhand serves while Barnett made sure my footwork and form were not too hideous. Eventually, she had her team stand on the other side of the net and try to return my serves ... well, at least the serves that stayed in bounds. I wasn’t what you would call a natural, but it was pretty fun. The girls were supportive and Barnett would make sure to tell me when I would show improvement.
After my serving lesson was through, Barnett directed me to the other side of the net where I would try to receive a serve and set it to a teammate. Most of the time I couldn’t control where my passes were going, but I did manage to set it to one of the girls on a couple of occasions.
Then it was time to spike the ball. First, Rylee Eakins did some model serves while Barnett emphasized the footwork required for kills: Left, right, left, right.
I’m similar to a dog when it comes to directions that involve three or four steps and a ball. Once I see the ball go up in the air, steps two, three and four go out the window. So when the ball went up I would say in my head “left, ri, ‘oooh, look there’s the ball’ I better go hit it.”
The first two passes Shelby Graves tossed me I successfully hit over the net. The only problem was I also struck the net with my hand, which is illegal. Eakins advised me to jump straight up instead of into the net. So I gave that a whirl, but my erratic footwork prevented me from doing a quality kill.
Though I clearly have a lot of work to do before anyone would mistake me for a volleyball player, it was an enjoyable experience. Barnett was a wonderful coach and the girls made me feel welcome at their practice.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking to do something outside my comfort zone and volleyball was no different. But without new experiences, life would get pretty boring, so I’m glad I got to learn the nuances of volleyball under the watchful eye of a legendary coach and her team.
Any views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views of the Ottumwa Courier. Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Humility is tough on the ego and good for the soul. Volleyball isn’t as easy as it looks.
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