What happened when our sports columnist tried to learn to play volleyball?

Volleyball is the best sport to lead off my participatory journalism project for multiple reasons.

First and foremost: I’ve tried a lot of different sports in my 30-some years, and I don’t think I’ve ever been worse at anything else.

With the exception of kicking a football, I think I could at least fake it with almost anything — except volleyball.

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I mean, I am reliably able to keep the ball from hitting me in the face but never able to actually make it go up high enough to go back over the net — or, you know, even in the direction fo the net or a teammate.

As a teenager in the prime of my athletic years, my lack of volleyball ability was such that even taking the high school coach’s daughter to prom didn’t help (she said it was OK if I posted that).

By adulthood, I was so spooked I refused to even jump into sand volleyball games with my friends (despite prodding from my future wife), so I guess it was just karma that led Craig Erford to be the first person to reach out to me when I announced I wanted to get back in the game (any game).

Erford is the boys’ volleyball coach at Alter, and he opened up his practice to me in May.

How did it go?

Well, it could have gone a lot worse…

I learned to set, dig, pass and serve.

The Knights seemed surprised when I actually was able to direct a few serves into their practice basket, so maybe I’m a natural?

The digging and passing, well that was another story, as you can see in the video at the top of this story.

(I was hoping maybe if I had a future as a setter I wouldn’t have to do those things as much, but a friend of mine who was a college setter assured me that is not the case. Dang.) 

My serve got off to a slow start, but I started to get the hang of it as we went.

It was great just to learn the real techniques for all of these essential parts of the game, but of course it will take a lot more practice to become proficient – let alone be able to hang with a team like Alter, which advanced to the state tournament as usual but came up short in the Division II championship game.

FLASHBACK: Knights pull off four-peat at state in 2017

They didn’t let me scrimmage, and that’s probably for the best, but overall I would give the experience an A.

I came away soaked in sweat and feeling pretty content that I had at least not embarrassed myself too badly.

Coach Erford and the players could not have been more gracious of hosts.

(I thought there might be at least one hotshot looking to take me out, but that was not the case, haha.) 

I had some general soreness the next day but no notable injuries other than a few red badges of courage on my forearms.

I also got a better idea of just how players who know what they’re doing generate so much force with seemingly so little action.

Sure, the hitters swing big on those high-profile spikes, but what about the serves that just explode off a player’s hand? The digs that look like a superball coming off a cement wall?

Hey, it’s all in the technique (and probably more than two hours of practice)!

That wraps up the first edition of this little project. If you would like to take part, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at marcus.hartman@coxinc.com. You name the sport, and I’ll give it a try! 

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