When you show up with heart and spirit, you will always win, no matter what the score. Words I shared with a tired, defeated and disappointed group of 11, 12 and 13 year old girls as they were convincingly beaten in their first of three back to back volleyball games yesterday. Using the example of never giving up that they displayed at their second game, I witnessed an energy and spirit return to their eyes.
As I watched, I was brought back to my high school years, captaining our volleyball team. I was the most experienced player on the team, and would get frustrated at the weaker players when they made a mistake or lost a point. I would feel frustrated and angry every time we lost. Our amazing coach, my grade seven english teacher Mr Greg Breen, could see my frustration, and said something to me along these lines – ”When you believe in all the players, they will feel supported and inspired. You have a gift to share, don’t ruin it by thinking anyone is less than or better than, and know that you too make mistakes. Lead the team with your experience, but more importantly with your heart.” I could see me at 13 years old, in one of my players. As she came off the court in tears I shared with her the valuable wisdom that my coach gifted me almost 30 years ago.
Our team has played four games and had three practices, prior to this, none of them had ever played volleyball before. In the tournament we just played they were up against teams who have obviously played many more games and had a great deal more practice. I could see the girls giving up, feeling like losers, as they lost yet another game.
“I need to give these girls hope.” I thought to myself.
“When someone makes a mistake, high five them, as you all make mistakes. When someone wins a point, high five them. Remember what we talked about at practice this week – how you do anything is how you do everything. Be the best you can be in this moment, and you are a winner.” I shared.
“Why do other coaches sub in their best servers?” asked one of the girls, a few others nodding and looking to me for the answer.
“Girls, the coaches are playing to win, and taking out their weaker servers and putting in their stronger ones. My focus as a coach is for you girls to all have equal playing time and have fun. If I keep subbing out Jill*, (looking at our youngest player who has yet to get a serve over the net), how is she going to learn?” They all nodded, Jill with a smile on her face as we all gave her a high five.
The next game was like night and day, the girls gave their all, with heart and spirit. They narrowly lost the first set, yet they won because they came off the court with smiles in their eyes and pride in themselves.
“Why don’t other teams high five each other?” one of the girls asked. I had observed this myself, in every team we played. There seemed to be a lack of team spirit and support.
“I don’t know (holding back sharing my assumptions on why.) What I do know for sure, is that I see all you girls meshing together, supporting one another and lifting each other up. I see all your parents sitting on the sidelines watching, cheering and smiling. In my mind that is what team sport and community is all about. That is something we need to be proud of.” I said, smiling with genuine love and pride.
After losing every match, the girls won their last set 27-25, their joy was contagious. We may have come in last at the tournament, and there were no medals for the girls to take home, but in my eyes they won something more important than any medal – they won with their heart and spirit.