Once there was a girl who tried volleyball. She didn’t really know anything about volleyball. But there were no cuts, and she thought it might be fun, and her friends were joining the team so she did too.
She attended every practice. She did every drill. She was easily distracted and she talked too much, but she had a lot of heart. What she lacked in skill, she made up for in passion and volume. For small private-school junior-high athletics, that was enough. She loved being part of the team.
There was only one problem: she could not serve the ball. Without fail, at every single practice, she would lob into the net. She moved forward. She angled her body. She tried a little hop first. She tried overhand. One hundred percent of the time, she failed.
The coach made accommodations. In every game, the coach would let the girl rotate around the court until right before the serve, and then substitute. And it worked…. Until one day when the coach just didn’t send in a substitute. And suddenly the girl found herself with the scuffed leather ball in her hands, standing behind the line. So she served it.
Right over the net.
The other team missed it, so she served again. And again. Three beautiful serves soared right over. The coach left her in. She rotated around the court, and when it was her turn, she served again.
At the next practice, she was back to her old net-lobbing. And at the next game, her serves were perfect. That’s how the rest of the season went. The girl wasn’t even that bothered about the net-lobbing, though, because she knew that when she needed to, she could serve.
The same girl hated gym class. Her teacher was a bit of a misogynist, and even though she hadn’t learned the term yet she knew the definition. He was also someone whose pet peeves included sulky attitudes. She carried in her head a bowl full to the brim with the many small ways he had maligned her over the year, and when her mind moved too quickly some sloshed over the sides and she oozed little rivulets of sulkiness.
The gym teacher loved basketball. He loved basketball drills. He divided the class into four relay teams and gave them the instructions to dribble the basketball to the far basket, make a layup, and then pass the ball on. If a student missed the layup, they would shoot the ball until they made a basket before passing the ball on.
The girl was second in her relay line, with four more students behind her. Her classmate passed her the ball. She missed her layup. She missed the next shot, and the next and the next. In fact, she was still shooting when every other relay team was finished and had sat down criss-cross in their short little lines. Only her four teammates were still standing, waiting for their turn. Everyone was chuckling a little by this point. And she shot, and she shot, and she shot.
Finally, the gym teacher told her that she could just pass the ball on. It felt a little like putting a bullet in a horse with a broken leg (and truthfully, a horse with a broken leg would’ve been equally successful with a basketball by that point). She laughed, and her friends laughed, and her teammates laughed and were a little relieved, and in her heart she sent little sparks of forgiveness to the gym teacher who, for that day at least, was spared her sulk.
Of course – those were both about me in middle school. I’m grateful that both adults gave me a chance to fail. The coach thought I would – even I thought I would fail. What an awesome thing to prove both of us wrong. If the gym teacher had known ahead of time that there was no chance of me making the basket, he probably would’ve modified the task. I’d rather fail at a bar set high than succeed at a bar that was lowered because no one thought enough of me to give me the chance.
A blog I love frequently reminds its readers that we can do hard things. I believe that. Also I believe that sometimes we cannot do hard things, and it is OK to pass the ball on and shrug it off when that happens. The only way we’ll know for certain, though, is if we step up to the line and take the chance. And keep taking them. Sometimes, we lob them into the net. And sometimes, we soar.