My parents encouraged team sports all childhood long, but like wearing my retainer and eating less butter, the pastime never really stuck.
Sure, I chased soccer balls in the fall and struck out looking each spring, but it became clear pretty early on that I wasn’t really of the team sport variety: I wasn’t a natural-born athlete, ducked when pop-flies came my way and happily spent most of my time warming the bench and/or eating orange slices at halftime without having even broken a sweat.
They say team sports have all sorts of benefits for youth — they teach collaboration, boost self-esteem, foster clear communication — but I never loved the pressure of performing athletic feats in front of my peers the way some of my friends did. I tended to think exercise was best completed in solitude — plugged into an elliptical with headphones, say, or running five miles to the sound of my own footsteps — and that’s the position I’ve largely maintained these past 31 years.
So it came as a surprise to everyone — primarily me — when I accepted a friend’s invitation to join her indoor volleyball team this winter. It helped her case that she classified it as “very casual” and “likely to involve a decent amount of post-game drinking,” but mostly I said yes because I’d resolved at New Years to be more active this year in non-traditional ways. I’d expected that would mean trying new gym routines (success!) or walking more dogs (success!), but when the opportunity presented itself in the form of organized team sports, it felt like a sign from the universe that it was time to expand my comfort zone.
So I signed up, and — in a semi state of panic — arrived at my first match last month ready to embarrass everyone.
And you know what? I wasn’t as god awful terrible as I expected! I may not have a lot of hand-eye coordination and my erratic bumps tend to send the ball flying in any number of directions, but at least my serves score points and my 70″ frame means I can block a hit as it’s coming over the (arguably extremely low) net. Better yet, I’m getting fit in a new kind of way AND being social doing it, a win-win for this solitary runner.
So is volleyball my new sport of choice, and will I be forgoing my weekend long runs for spiking practice and King of the Court? Heck no. But am I excited it looks like we might possibly eke out the final spot in the playoffs? You betcha. The funny thing about stepping out of your comfort zone is once you’re there, it’s tempting to stay.
Go Team Gary.