What it’s like to love a sport so much it actually hurts

Volleyball has been my life since I made the JV team in 6th grade. I played every year through middle school and high school, and even played club for a few years. Throughout all of my teams over the years, I have never met anyone who held volleyball at a higher priority than I do. I was always the one who had volleyball as their main sport. I was always at practice no matter what. Missing a tournament was never an option. I planned my life around volleyball.

I’m in my third year of college, and I still play club volleyball every semester. My intramural team has been undefeated for two seasons. When I make my availability for work or schedule my classes, I plan in my volleyball practices and tournaments knowing I’ll have them.

When you care so deeply about a sport, it often leads to conflicting feelings. It was a hard lesson to learn that not everyone cared the same way I did. No matter how deep my love was, volleyball was also one of my biggest hates. Volleyball would make me so mad at times from losing or having a bad practice. I would lose a game from stupid mistakes and wouldn’t say a word the whole ride home. People with less dedication than me would send me home complaining to my mom.

The first time volleyball hurt me was my freshman year of high school. I was trying out for the hardest club team in my county. After making it through brutal tryouts, I was on the roster. Probably one of my biggest accomplishments thus far, I was so happy to say I was playing with the “big girls”. I was so excited to improve my game, learn new things, and finally win. I went to practice the next week and there were some new girls there. The end of practice came, and my coach approached me and said, “I think it would be in your best interest to go to the lower team. We brought on these new girls today who are a little bit taller with more potential. You’re more than welcome to stay, but if you want playing time, I would recommend you go to the lower team.” I don’t cry often or over many things, but volleyball is the one thing that will always get to me. I walked out of that practice and had tears streaming down my face the second I got to the door. I was replaced. I worked so  incredibly hard to make that team just to be replaced a week later because I was too short.

I did go to the lower team, had a fun season, and still improved my game. No matter how much it hurt me to not play with the big kids, I still stayed true to the game. Then it happened again.

I was trying out for a new local team that was just starting out. Tryouts went extremely well, I was on top of my game. I was making perfect passes, my sets were consistent, I was hitting over the net while keeping the balls in, and I only missed one serve the entire three hours I was there. Emails went out but mine was not like the others. Two girls were cut that day, my friend and I. We were good volleyball players (with skills that at least matched everyone else if not a little bit better), albeit a few inches shorter than everyone else. Coincidence? I think not. This was only the second team in my life that I didn’t make. First one being because of my height. This one probably the same reasoning, but I was going to ask the coaches. I always ask what I can improve on in order to get a different result for next time. Their response? “Be more consistent.” This would be reasonable if that was the case. But I was consistent, as I said before. Be consistent now translates to the nice way of saying “you’re too short, but I can’t exactly tell you that.” I can’t explain how it feels to be told you can’t play the one sport you love because of something you have absolutely no control over.

That year I ended up going to play for a club in Tampa. I had great coaches, teammates, and a decent season. What I didn’t know at the time, was that this would be my last club season. It hurt me to know that the following two years I wouldn’t be playing club ball. Expenses were too high, and I come from a family of six. I had to make a sacrifice even if it completely destroyed me. My only goal was to play volleyball in college. Even if it was Division III, it would be something. Those dreams went out the door when I stopped playing club. Getting recruited solely from high school season was nearly impossible. I went on to attend FGCU, and tried out for the newly started club team there.

We would be the first season of club volleyball at FGCU. Second semester we would have the chance to travel to other schools and play in tournaments. Tryouts came for second semester, everything went well, and emails went out. Once again, mine was unlike the others. I was on rec team which meant that I would still have practices twice a week, but I would not be traveling to other schools. I hoped for the day that I would finally be able to put on a  jersey. I asked my coach the dreaded “what should I work on” question. The response was the same… “be more consistent”. I call my mom crying, because this one uncontrollable thing about me continues to be the reason I can play the sport I love at the level I want to play it at.

Next season came around and my results were the same: rec team again. After spending a year with the coaches and players, I built a good bond with them. When I asked my coach what I could work on again, for the second time in a row, I wasn’t leaving with consistency as my answer. To my relief, he was extremely honest with me. He said, “You’re a good player with a lot of potential. You always try hard and you have a lot of passion. However, without knowing who will commit this season, we just had to go with more height. I really hope you stay with us and keep playing.” Finally. The words that I have been waiting to hear from a coaches mouth for years finally came to my ears. I always knew why I didn’t make those teams, but I never found a coach who was able to actually say it to me. While I was relieved to finally hear the truth behind it, those words destroyed me. How can you not have someone on your team simply because they’re too short? I have the skills and they match up to others, so how can that be an actual reason? I’m not sure, but it is. I would call my parents with such hurt and anger just telling them that I was going to quit. I wasn’t going to pay just to practice. I wasn’t going to stoop down to a lower level just to play volleyball. I wouldn’t settle. But I did, and I played on the rec team that semester. One of the hardest things to swallow, but I did it. Because even if I wasn’t at the level I wanted, I was still playing. And I would try my absolute hardest at tryouts the next semester.

Here we are spring semester of my sophomore year. Tryouts came, I gave it my all, and the emails went out. I MADE THE TEAM. We went with two travel teams that semester, A and B. I made the B team and was ecstatic. As the tournaments came closer, we were getting ready to go to a Stetson tournament. The day came, and I was on my way with my friend to the gym. My phone is ringing off the hook of people calling and texting me. After getting back to everyone I was informed that we would only be playing with four people at this tournament. Four people when we need six on the court. I wasn’t about to leave after driving and paying for this, so I approached the girl who ran the tournament and asked if we could play with only four. She gave us the go ahead and we played. All the other teams would come into our game with a two player advantage, expecting to kill us. The outcome of this tournament blew my mind. We played better/won more games with four than we ever did with six. We were killing ourselves to get balls, playing with our hearts, and having a great time. When you have that few players, you become so mad that you’re only playing with four due to lack of dedication, that you become more focused so you don’t become a joke. We had so many parents, players, and teams cheering us on simply because we were playing four on six, we were the underdogs. Everyone had our back, everyone was rooting for us, and everyone was on our side. I was still infuriated that we had such a lack of dedication to even be put in that situation, but we made the best of it.

Fall tryouts came and roughly 30 girls were there. At the end of tryouts, we were informed that we would only be playing with one travel team. Everyone else would be on a rec team essentially. I approached our coach and tried to convince him to add another travel team. No way we could only have one team with that many girls. I promised him it would be worth it, we would have the dedication, and it wouldn’t be like previous semesters. He went with my idea, and we had two teams again. I was so blessed knowing that I’d be able to put on a jersey and travel again. Slowly but surely, our numbers started decreasing. People were quitting left and right. They were upset that they were on B team instead of A team, they didn’t like certain people they were playing with, they just didn’t care to play under the circumstances we were given.

These things just don’t make any sense to me. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that so many people can talk about how volleyball is their life and they would do anything for it, but they quit over something so miniscule. If volleyball really was your life and you would do anything to play, people wouldn’t be quitting over the things they’re quitting for. I have sacrificed so much to play volleyball because my dedication and love runs so deep. I literally do everything I can to keep volleyball in my life. I even have a tattoo of a volleyball under my left calf. So how people can just up and leave is so beyond me. I’ve been cut from teams because I’m too short, I’ve dealt with teammates that I didn’t really like, I’ve put up with people who aren’t nearly as dedicated as I am, I’ve been put on lower level teams because I wasn’t tall enough to play where my skills were, and I’ve never quit. I’ve tried so hard to quit. Swore up and down I wouldn’t put up with these things. I wanted to quit so many times. But I never did… I couldn’t. I’ve wished and wished that I would get hurt and break something, just so I could have an actual reason to stop playing.

Getting to that point, wishing yourself an injury, is ludicrous. Caring about a sport so much that you can’t quit regardless of how much you want to, hurts. It physically hurts me that I care so much about this sport that I can’t give it up. People tell me I’m crazy for sticking around. I’m the only person who’s stayed through everything I’ve been put through. Everyone else has stopped playing. But I just can’t give it up. Volleyball is such a huge part of my life that I would rather put myself through absolute ridiculousness instead of quitting. I would wish myself injured instead of just quitting. Loving a sport that much takes a toll on yourself.

I hope that everyone finds something in life that they care for as much as I do volleyball. That kind of love and dedication doesn’t come to just anything. I hope that everyone gets that opportunity in life. No matter how much it hurts you, no matter how many times you want to quit but just can’t bring yourself to do it, no matter what circumstances come your way, no matter what you never leave. You stay through the thick and thin. You handle the cards you were dealt no matter how bad they might be. You don’t quit no matter how much it physically pains you, because that is your life and you aren’t a quitter. People are always going to tell you you’re crazy, they’re always going to wonder why you put yourself through these things, they’re going to wish you would just quit so they can stop hearing you complain about it, they’re never going to understand.

But you do. You know and that’s all that matters. So stick to your guns and keep pushing through. You deal with the pain of staying, because it’s nothing compared to the pain you would experience if you stopped.


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