The first scheduled day for try-outs was a particularly humid Monday morning. Melissa awoke at the crack of dawn, changed her clothes, and stuffed half a banana into her mouth. She had proudly donned her new sneakers, spotless white knee pads, and loose-fitting, comfortable mesh shorts. I drove her to the high school, and noticed her trembling slightly as she walked into her new school. Watching the door to the gymnasium close behind her, I said a silent prayer and drove back home.
Four hours later, I picked her up at the back of the school. What Melissa didn't realize was that unlike her, the majority of the other girls at try-outs had played volleyball competitively in past years. Along with their ultra-competitive style, the first thing that she noticed was their perfect attire, which also screamed of confidence. Melissa conveyed to me that all the other girls wore matching flat shoes designed specifically for volleyball and knee pads that had obviously been worn for several seasons and were now gray and tattered. The general look was completed by each girl sporting the same type of small, tightly fitting lycra shorts, that according to Melissa, "showed everything!" She said that she was "terrible" and stood out like a sore thumb. Every serve, according to Melissa, fell short of the net.
Disappointed, she had relayed to me that she just didn't fit in. Sobbing, she had told me that some of the other girls were mean to her, often yelling at her when she hadn't mastered the detailed "patterns" that came so easily to them. Her confidence waning with each sentence, I listened and put my hand on hers to try to comfort her trembling body as I drove. I wasn't sure if her red face was a result of the heat, or of the humiliation she was trying so desperately to hide behind.
My heart broke for he as she spoke. I told her that she didn't have to go back to the second and final day of try-outs. I also said that I would leave the decision totally up to her, but that she would most likely run into those girls in the halls at school. If that happened, how would she feel? We talked about her going to the final day of try-outs. If she dropped out now, did she want the others to remember her as the "new" girl, who couldn't do the drills, and who dressed in long baggy shorts when every volleyball player knows that those are no longer in style?
The next morning, I heard Melissa's alarm go off, just as it had the day before. And she came downstairs for breakfast, dressed for try-outs.
I drove her to the school for the second day, told her I was proud of her, and watched her walk into the building. Just as before, the door to the gym closed behind her. This time, however, my prayer was followed by a lone tear.
That afternoon, she informed me that she didn't make the team. But she said something that surprised me. She looked at me in the eye and said, "You know, Mom, I'm glad that I went back. Now I know what to expect for next year."
Melissa may never try out for volleyball again, or perhaps, with a little practice, one day she'll surprise herself and make the team. But in my book, she's not only a courageous player in this game called life, she's mastered one of the toughest drills of all: perseverance.