“Playing volleyball teaches you a number of lessons that are applicable to life both on and off the court. Volleyball is an amazing game with lots of little subtleties to it that make it really enjoyable to watch, especially once you know what’s going on. I’ve played volleyball almost my whole life, and still play every week. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot from the game and my teammates.
Communicating in a helpful way
As in any team sport, communication is key. Because players on a volleyball court are relatively close together (and only with people from their team), they’re able to communicate with each other quickly and efficiently. This includes things like helping front-row hitters swing toward an empty spot, or alerting a blocker that there’s a tip coming over instead of a hard hit, or helping the setter know when you’re ready to hit (which can also distract the opposing team). Additionally, because you only get three attempts to get the ball over, it’s extremely important to communicate who is getting the ball. Some of the worst point losses are those where a ball drops and no one goes for it because everyone assumes “someone else is going to get it.” With good communication, you know where everyone on the court is and what they’re doing.
Making quick, strategic decisions
Volleyball is a really, really fast-paced game. When teaching, we always tell students to make sure they’re in a “ready position” (i.e., their knees are slightly bent, they’re on the balls of their feet, hands are out slightly in front of them ready to pass with forearms or fingertips). This is because, if you have to transition from standing up straight down to a good passing position, you’ve already delayed yourself by a split second, which can be the difference between making and missing a pass. The same applies to hitting: When you’re in the air, you only have a certain amount of time to swing, so you better either know where you’re swinging beforehand or decide when you’re in the air. As a setter, my job is to make sure that plays are made and our offense is running. It’s impossible for me to decide (before the play) every single set that I’m going to make. I usually try to call the first one or make eye contact with one of my players, but because the game varies so much, you have to be able to make a quick decision on where to put the ball. Front-row hitters have a lot of advantages because they can jump and maybe use the block, but maybe you set someone in the back row because the other team has a big blocker. Or, maybe you trick the other team and tip the ball. But, of course, the most crucial time that this is important is when you have a bad pass and need to turn it into something good.
Trust and highlighting strengths of your teammates
At a high level, volleyball is a game that involves recognizing and trusting your teammates’ abilities. You need to be able to trust that everyone else has good skills and, in an emergency, can step up to help out. But it’s in your best interest to not micromanage your teammates; instead, you need to find ways to build them up, encourage them to be confident, and set them up to succeed. I’ve seen some players get really frustrated with someone having a bad day or not playing up to standard. Instead of helping them or giving them encouragement, they’ll reach in front of them or try to “hide” them on the court. While overexerting yourself and trying to do everything can sometimes help, you risk annoying your teammates and causing confusion on the court. Instead, it’s important to find the balance between trusting them to take care of their portion of the court and helping them when they’re in a tough spot. You start to recognize how important everyone’s skills are and how the different parts fit together.
This translates into the workplace, too. I think being a setter on a bunch of different kinds of teams has helped me understand how to lead teams in student organizations and at work. Setters typically wait for someone to pass the ball to them so that they can set up a hitter. This means I have to trust the passer to get the ball and then turn it into something that highlights the hitter. While I can micromanage the passer, there’s no way for me to do it for them, and that means I have to delegate that responsibility to them. Relinquishing some of that control can be hard for leaders and managers, but it’s important to the team’s success and morale.
Playing when you’re down
Volleyball teaches determination and tenacity. I’ve been on teams that have sunk their own ship, even when they’re ahead. You start losing a couple of points and all of a sudden either you’re behind or the lead is lost. It can be completely demoralizing . . . or you can call a timeout, rally with your team and work things out. The difference between the most and least enjoyable teams I’ve played on has been how the team plays when it’s behind. Those who that give up and settle are the ones that are less fun. Win or lose, games are a lot of fun when everyone is working and going for the ball.
I’ve worked on a lot of teams across various activities, but I think I learned the most about “comebacks” from volleyball teams. The difference between giving up and fighting through adversity is very noticeable in volleyball. I’ve seen this from the lens of a team captain and as a player, too. Being the captain of a volleyball team teaches you about moments like these and how to rally the team, even if you’re worried or scared. I learned a lot about putting my team’s success before my own fear from being a volleyball captain.
Accepting and owning your mistakes
No one likes playing with someone who thinks they’re perfect. This is true in real life, too. Playing a team sport teaches you how to work with other people. When you make a mistake on the court, you’ve got to own up and say something like, “I’ll get it next time” instead of blaming the ball, the court, the lights, or whatever else. This carries over to situations off the court, too. If something I do doesn’t go perfectly at work, it’s not helpful for me to look for someone to blame or to blame the technology or my co-workers. Instead, I feel like I’ve gained more respect from my co-workers and teammates by being willing to acknowledge when something isn’t perfect and offering a solution to make things better.
Volleyball is an amazing sport. I highly recommend trying it out. You’ll learn a lot from it as a team sport, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve played on a number of volleyball teams in different settings such as club, high school, college intramurals, sand tournaments and recreational teams as an adult. Across these different leagues, I’ve played on coed and women’s teams as well as on teams where I knew every person and trained with them, to free agents that met on the day of the first game. Every team has been different and I’ve learned something new with every team I’ve played on. Though I’m still young and have many more games to play, I have learned a lot of great lessons from volleyball so far and can’t wait to learn more.” — Elynn Lee
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