It’s strange how easily it is to conjure up memories of a high school gym in the weeks before the start of school in late August. The slightly dank smell that accompanies overwhelming stickiness, the rest of the school barely lit and the odd showing of shadows on the floor, and the promise of popsicles at the end.
As a nervous incoming freshman (apparently called “rising freshmen” according to the college students I work with), I found myself with stark white knee pads and slightly too-short-shorts summoning the courage to be on the receiving end of senior spikes. I attended a small high school (50 students total) and thus, even as freshmen we were practicing with athletes four years our senior. Unfortunately for me, the seniors of 1994 were phenomenal athletes. And strong. And slightly scary.
Volleyball was never my strong suite as I preferred throwing some elbows in basketball rather than standing around with the occasional dive for a volleyball. Plus, I was weak. I was one of the only members in junior high that couldn’t quite master the overhand serve. Mind you, I had a wicked underhand serve that I managed to curve to just the right spot.
Going to those practices every afternoon before even starting my high school career became a mental practice. I had a pit in my stomach each day and even though my friends seemed to be getting along well enough in practice, I decided to turn in a premature resignation. But in my perfectionist mind, I couldn’t just quit for nothing. I had to have a reason. Luckily my knees provided my out. Yes, they were truly swollen, but the fact was that the reason I was quitting was that I couldn’t be best at volleyball. That I had things to improve on. That I was struggling. That I was embarrassed by my serve. And I couldn’t jump as high as others. And rather than stick it out and try to improve, I chose my path. Which is how I found myself filling waterbottles for the team throughout the season since I still wanted to hang out with my friends.
The sad part is that I still play the “knee” card, the “I’m tired” card, the “I don’t like this” card. Not in sports (as I rarely allow myself to take part in team sports), but in casual games with friends, in work activities that I may not excel in, etc. I can push myself hard when it’s just an individual activity, but get others involved and unless I know I can be #1, I’m out.
On a slightly related physical note, I’m currently pushing myself in the gym and I am seeking balance between chickening out of activities in the weight area v. really listening to my body when it is aching. Yesterday I woke up feeling weak and knowing that I was either on the verge of an injury or going to have a terrible workout that would be mentally upsetting. In the back of my mind, though, it was upsetting to know that I was breaking this elaborate workout schedule I’ve set up for myself and am giving myself mental gold stars for completing. I didn’t go to the gym yesterday and fought the perfectionist self. Instead I got up this morning at the crack of dawn, felt rested, and did an excellent job.
Balance. That’s where it’s at.