“…so when we run the 6-2, I shift to the front after serve receive, but for the 5-1 it’s different, like what we ran last year,” my daughter finished, looking at me expectantly.
“Um, right. Makes sense,” I lied with what I hoped was a confident nod.
The truth is I know next to nothing about volleyball plays and formations. Back in my day we just tried to bump-set-spike and get a side out (which apparently does not exist anymore, who knew?!).
Now these girls are running various numbered plays with shifting positions and some enigma in a mismatched jersey called a libero (which indeed, I had to Google to spell).
There are rules about who can jump and how high and behind what line.
There are substitutions that sometimes happen willy-nilly without fanfare, and other times require a judge (referee? Umpire?) to jot down secret notes in a tiny handheld notebook.
There are middles and outsides and back row specialists and blockers.
But most of all, there are girls who are athletic and smart and something truly incredible to watch out there on the court.
Because there’s just something special about volleyball girls.
They dive onto unforgiving gym floors with reckless abandon. They set balls high into the air with pinpoint precision. They jump and swing and hit corners and lines like it’s second nature, all somehow without ending up a tangled mess in the net.
They develop court awareness and oscillate around one another like a tiny, ordered solar system. The pace of the game is quick and the mental and physical adjustments required at every moment are even quicker.
They learn one another’s quirks and preferences (this one likes a set slightly to the right, that one prefers a short wind-up) and have each other’s backs, sometimes quite literally.
Teammates gel into a cohesive unit, their tight huddles after service aces and quick mid-court conferences between points turning six people into one intensely powerful focal point.
Volleyball girls are some of the strongest female athletes you’ll ever meet, both physically and mentally. They jump and dive and sprint. They handle high-pressure moments and gather themselves with impressive calm. They support one another whether it’s from the middle of the action or from the bench.
Of course, they don’t start out that way. Parents sit through (sometimes painful) elementary and middle school matches where girls underhand serve and don’t yet grasp where to be and when. But they stick with it—we parents do too.
And when time has a chance to do its refining work, when bodies start to grow taller and stronger and awareness blossoms alongside, those girls morph into something magical.
And even if you struggle to understand the ins and outs of the game (it’s me, hi, I’m the problem), it doesn’t matter. Anyone in the stands of a match can plainly see the truth: There’s just something special about volleyball girls.