I spent my July 4th vacation in a convention center in Columbus, Ohio filled with whistles, the sound of volleyballs hitting skin and floor, and thousands of young girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Not exactly one’s idea of a peaceful and relaxing vacation let alone a place to reflect. But I found myself asking a lot of questions about what I really felt while I was there and as a result had a rather unexpected “vacation”.
First let me provide some background. My brother runs the Kaulukoa Volleyball Institute in Honolulu, HI. The Institute has 9 girls teams and 5 boys teams ranging in age from 12-17. My brother, Lee, coaches the girls 16 and under team. They earned the right to play in the USA Volleyball Junior Nationals. The Junior Nationals are essentially the Olympics or the NCAA championships for high school athletes. College coaches from around the country are there scouting and recruiting players. Each age group is broken into divisions depending upon the qualifying status of each team. There is an American, a National, and an Open Division each with 32 teams. The level of play increases as you move from American to Open. My brother’s team was playing in the Open Division against 31 of the best teams in the country and I had the opportunity to be on the bench as an assistant coach.
(Yes, if you are paying attention my brother lives in Hawaii and I went to Ohio to see him…I really need to plan better….)
As you can imagine the level of talent at this type of event is off the charts, the best of the best. Kids put in countless hours of training and travel to earn the right to play here. It is the fact that they are kids that really had me reflecting at the end of each day. First let me say that I am a fan of competition, I have never understood people who say “you are a very competitive person” with a tone that implies it is a negative personality trait! It has helped me accomplish many more good things in my life than bad. But man, the father in me struggled to watch girls on my team and other teams drown in the pressure of the moment and crack emotionally after losing. I wanted to hug them all, tell them in the big scheme of things it’s not that bad, but the competitor and the realist in me knows that in some ways this isn’t little in the scheme of things for these kids. Some of these kids may never have an opportunity to participate in something of this magnitude again. What college coaches see and hear during this tournament could impact the rest of their lives by directing them to one school or another or even whether they get any scholarship money at all.
So I get it. In the end this is a big moment, a necessary moment in the path these kids have chosen. If I had the chance to talk to all of them individually I think I would tell them the same thing I have been telling myself – focus on the good things that happened. So for my girls which, after five days I began to think of them as, I am proud of you and all you accomplished. I know a 14th place finish wasn’t what you hoped for and losing seven sets by a combined total of 23 points is a double heartbreaker, but find the positives. Each of you in my eyes had multiple moments of character and strength, places where you shined. Remember those, build on them, use them to be better going forward.
For me personally it was a privilege to see so much talent in one place and know the effort that was required to get there. It’s too early to be sure, but I think being a part of this will have changed my outlook on life slightly. Any time you are forced to examine your perspective and ask yourself tough questions about what you really believe is a tremendous opportunity to learn. This was a great trip for reasons I would have never guessed beforehand. I am glad to have been a part of it.