Sunday, November 3, 2013

Praise the Lord, she likes it!

Volleyball, that is.

You wouldn't believe the drama Dan and I have gone through with Lily about sports over the last year.

Lily's first experience with sports was the summer after 2nd grade when she went to a short volleyball camp at the high school. She liked it well enough.

Then came Jr. Jazz in 3rd grade. Lily had never played basketball before and she thought this was pretty fun. One practice and one game a week. 

She and the other kids were all gangly and uncoordinated, but it didn't seem to bother Lily at all. Games were pretty comical.

Mack liked basketball, too.

{Sniff. Can someone give me a tissue?}

In fourth grade, Lily started to develop a bad attitude about sports. She didn't like going to practice or playing in front of people.

There was starting to be a distinction between the kids who played well and practiced a lot versus those who only touched a basketball twice a week at practice and games. We knew Lily was going to be tall and we wanted her to get a head start and solid foundation for playing basketball in high school. We had her do Jr. Jazz and a girls league that played in Afton (1 hour north) once a week. She wasn't thrilled about it and got frustrated a lot, but of course I'm only showing you the pictures where she looks like she likes it.

A little extra coaching from Dad.

Part of what was important to us was that Lily got to experience being part of a team. Basketball aside, she had fun with the girls and we always stopped at Burger King for ice cream after the games, so there was always that to look forward to.

By 5th grade, Lily was trying to make a serious case against basketball. She had performance anxiety and she didn't feel like she was any good because there are a few girls in her class who have developed a lot of skill. We kept telling Lily that she had every bit as much potential to be that good if she would just practice. She did Jr. Jazz and the girls league again, and she showed quite a bit of improvement.  Plus she looked super cool in her blue basketball shoes.

We were encouraged and started having her go a few times a week to an early morning practice put on by the high school girls basketball coach for 3rd-8th grade girls. Lily fought this one tooth and nail. But how was she going to get better if she didn't do any extra practice?

Now, if your kid was this tall, wouldn't you make her play basketball?

The summer after 5th grade was really hard. Dan had just started working again after 4 1/2 months of unemployment and his new job had no set schedule. We wanted to be able to spend as much time together as a family and that meant eliminating outside commitments. We needed to be able to take off at any time because Dan might only have two or three days off, then be gone for who knows how many days after that. We were realizing that we didn't have much time left together as a family before Lily was in jr. high and off with her friends all the time. Lily was really struggling with a lot of insecurities about friends, puberty, the academic expectations of 6th grade, and was just generally kind of depressed. Dan and I were starting to worry that we were pushing her too hard with the sports thing.

Let me explain why we feel sports are so important. First, the obvious, is that it sets a pattern for physical health throughout your life. Second, it builds character. There are so many core values you learn while participating in a team sport: discipline, hard work, dedication, the ability to do hard things even when they cause discomfort, the ability to work with other people towards a common goal, how to build confidence in others and receive boosts in your own confidence, what it feels like to have success follow hard work, etc. Third, sports generally keep you out of trouble and give you a productive and healthy way to spend your time outside of school. Fourth, we feel like it would be a waste for Lily, who is healthy and strong, not to develop a talent that seems well suited to her.

But those aren't the only reasons. The community we live in is unique. The current population listed on the town sign is 535. There are only 16 kids in Lily's class. 16 6th graders in the whole town. The closest town is 30 minutes away and it only has about 2500 people. To say we are lacking in extracurricular activities is an understatement. Without a movie theater or rec center or local teenage hangout, there isn't a whole lot to do outside of sports. Sports is what you DO around here. That is not to say there aren't other programs in the school. We have a wonderful choir and band. Every year there is a musical that virtually the entire high school participates in. We have an art program; the great-grandson of Mormon artist Minerva Teichert just got a full-ride sculpting scholarship to BYU when he returns from his mission.

But without participating in sports, kids find themselves on the outside of the social scene. Virtually every kid participates in sports whether they're good or not. Which means that on any given weekend (or Wednesday/Thursday for jr. high games) most, if not all, of your friends will be busy either playing a home game or gone on an all-day road trip. There's no one to hang out with. My friend's husband has coached several sports over the last 20 years. As a coach, you want the kids who are hard workers and care about doing their best. But that is not always who you get. Does that mean that only the "athletes" should participate in sports? What he tells parents is either your kid is going to be at practice whining about hating (insert sport) or they'll be at home whining about how they're not included in things. Which would you rather have?

Because Cokeville is so small, there are no try-outs. If you want to be on the team, you're on the team. You're not guaranteed to play in every game, but you are on the team; you practice with the team, you go to all the games, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. It's one of the advantages of living here. There are not a lot of sports to choose from; football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, cheer, and track. If baseball or soccer is your sport, this is not the place to be. But when you live here, you are ON THE TEAM. Period. And if you cannot play sports because of physical limitations, you can be a manager and participate in all the camaraderie and commitment that you experience as a member of a team.

So back to Lily. Dan and I were worried that we'd put too much emphasis on sports and that we were causing Lily a lot of anxiety. We had planned for her to go to both basketball and volleyball camp here in Cokeville right after school got out. We decided not to make her go, because of the anxiety issues and the scheduling issues. But Dan told her that if we let her skip camp, she had to choose one thing, art or archery or piano, anything of her choosing, to dedicate herself to and work at daily to improve. She agreed to that condition.

However, by the end of the summer she had done nothing but mope. She complained about piano and chores, she hardly played with friends, she didn't shoot her bow more than a few times, she didn't even read books, something she usually enjoys. Dan told her to make a list of what she wanted to do over the summer and she wouldn't even do that. Not expecting her to do sports had done nothing to improve her attitude. So by the end of the summer, Dan and I decided that she had burned her bridge.

I didn't break the news to her until the weekend before volleyball practice started that she WOULD BE PLAYING. Over the summer we had talked about sports and her negative feelings. It boiled down to lack of confidence. She was worried that she would mess up and all the other girls would be mad at her. I explained to her that being on a team where you practice for two hours a day instead of two hours a week would be a totally different experience. She would be part of a team where everyone wants to help you succeed. And she wouldn't be the only inexperienced one. She begged us to only make her do basketball but we made no promises. I almost caved, but Dan pointed out that if she did nothing to learn about volleyball, then all of a sudden decided to try it out as a freshman, she would be so far behind in skill level that she would almost certainly hate it.

When I told Lily that volleyball practice started on Monday and that she would be going, she cried for two days. I told her that she would never know if she liked it if she didn't try. Finally I just told her I wasn't listening to any more drama. With a heavy heart and a pouty face, Lily headed to her first practice. She asked me to come with her since she was nervous.

As I sat in the bleachers while they began some basic passing, I watched Lily concentrate and do well, much to her surprise. She could hit that ball correctly. She was not awkward. She was not unhappy. She worked hard. She had a good attitude. I sat in the bleachers with tears in my eyes and offered up a silent prayer of gratitude that my daughter was having a positive experience. Then I slipped out of the gym and went home.

Lily came home from practice and when we asked her how it went, she said, "OK" but with a cheerful tone of voice. She was enthusiastic talking about the things she learned and how it was hard, but she didn't complain a bit. And from that day on, she went to practice without any negativity or whining. She would come home from school, get a snack and do a little homework, then she would head out 20 minutes before practice started, eager to not be late and get a good warm up in. She was burned out by the weekend, not because of the exercise, but because she had no free time during the week. But every Monday she went back, ready to work.

Here she is at her first game. Isn't she so cute in her uniform?

Somehow I had missed the memo about the start date of practice so I wasn't prepared with new shoes. I called around to see if older girls had outgrown shoes we could use until I made it down to Logan to the sporting goods store. Then my friend Karla said that she'd just bought a pair of sneakers and we could try them. The moment Lily saw the color, she was in love. And glory be, they fit! (The girl is in a size 8 shoe!) The 6th graders generally wear regular sneakers, but now that we know Lily likes volleyball, we'll buy her true volleyball shoes next year if it looks like her feet are done growing.

Look how long and lean she is:

At least as tall as her coach.

Have I mentioned that she is 5'4" at the ripe old age of 11? I only have 1 inch until she begins to pass me.

It was fun seeing all the colorful sneakers.

The first couple of games were a little rough with all the girls on the B team being volleyball novices. I giggle every time I see this picture. I don't know, it reminds me of some cartoon with the characters running low and goofy.

There was a serious lack of communication about who was going to get the ball, resulting in several collisions.

But things improved each week and we were happy to watch Lily getting better and displaying some talent. We went to an away game in Farson (just over 2 hours, which in Wyoming terms is pretty short). It's the best road trip because the girls get to stop at the famous-to-us ice cream shop. They aren't kidding when they say "Home of the Big Cone". Lily's is a small and her friend's is a baby size. Exqueeze me, I believe I ordered the LARGE ice cream cone. HE-llo!

Soon I was getting some pretty good shots of Lily connecting with the ball and having fun.

One of the games was with Jackson and Lily played against my friends' daughter Jane, who is a year older than Lily. Her parents were the managers of the apartments where we lived in Salt Lake when Lily was born, and I have know Jane since she was a newborn baby at the hospital.

The one thing that Lily has struggled with and that we have worked with her on is the timing of her serve. The girls mostly do underhand serves in the 6th grade until they build their strength. If you are right handed, you're supposed to start with your left foot and as you swing your arm forward, your right foot is supposed to be behind you when you connect with the ball. Lily swung her arm too slow so by the time she hit the ball her right foot had already stepped forward. Serving that way took away her strength and momentum.

But by the last game she had it figured out.

Lily missed two games and several practices right in the middle of the season because she got Hand-Foot-Mouth disease. Sounds super disgusting, but it's like chicken pox, only localized to certain areas of the body. She was miserable but also highly contagious so we had to keep her quarantined. She was discouraged her first game back because she had regressed a little bit. But the last game of the season had her looking pretty good.

I'm so proud of my girl. She has shown herself that she can do hard things and she has been a great example to her siblings. Amelia is already talking about when she gets to play volleyball and basketball (Jr. Jazz will start for Amelia after Christmas. That should be amusing.)

See, sometimes parents really DO know best! It's worth the fight to get your children to do things that they think they will hate, but that you know will make them a better person. Score one for mom and dad!


The Dragonfly said...

Please tell Lily from me (a seasoned vball player and now parent of a vball player) that she has PERFECT passing form! She is also built body wise to,rock this sport! Hannah loves vball so much! I saw thantyour Cokeville high school team is really good ... She should make that her goal ... She will love it!

Sue said...

Yes, Dragonfly, Cokeville just won the 1A state title this past weekend. It's their 3rd in a row and I think they have won 20 since 1977.

Becky in Wyo said...

She is going to be so beautiful, tall and willowy like Gram. And yes, five gold stars for you for parenting.