I have images of college teams, high school teams, women’s teams, men’s teams, junior teams, and international teams. I collect them because these are the pictures that say ‘the thousand words’ which describes our sport.
The essence of volleyball is six people huddling together after every point, whether successful or not, whether winning or losing, whether elated or angry. The behavior is metaphorically similar to the love of one’s family in the culture that dictates we fake it when we don’t feel it.
Likewise, participation in the between-points cluster is not really voluntary; it’s the esprit de corps of volleyball. Regardless if you were responsible for winning the point, losing the point, or not handling the ball during the point. When you are on a volleyball court, you gather and you touch before you go on.
A good friend of mine came to Kansas City for the NCAA DI Women’s National Championship and watched volleyball for the first time. Although he understood little about the strategy of our game, as a veteran sports watcher he immediately noted the uniqueness of this reinforcement pattern.
“All the teams touched each other between points,” he remarked to me on the way home. “Amazingly, it didn’t matter if they won or lost the point. That’s powerful stuff!”
You could argue that teams playing in the national championship are, by definition, the most functional, and therefore highly likely to appear as if they inhale and exhale as a unit. But you miss my friend’s point if you believe that. The most important ‘coming together’ is not in celebration, but after a point lost, an opportunity squandered, a season of underachievement.
You see, learning the rhythm of volleyball is really just practice.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen said it best when commenting on a video created by his team on their last road trip:
“We were not feeling too good as a team heading into the NCAA’s with the way we had been playing and then the loss of Alex Hunt [a star player]. One of our juniors, Courtney Fletcher, is a film/TV major and . . . she sensed we needed something . . . It was fun to see them all working together and enjoying each other’s company at the end of a long [and somewhat disappointing] season. . .”
If that is the lesson our sport teaches, that’s powerful stuff!