Tuesday, August 6, 2013

If You're Loud Enough, They Won't See You: How to suck at volleyball (and not get caught).

If You're Loud Enough, They Won't See You: How to suck at volleyball (and not get caught).
Read it again. You didn't read it wrong. There is at least one place on this earth where the louder you are, the more invisible you are. At least, that's the only explanation I can find. If you have another, please let me know.

I play volleyball in an adult rec league. This makes people around me blink, because here in the South, volleyball is mostly a girls' high school/college sport. Several of my coworkers had never even heard of men's volleyball outside of the Olympics, or maybe the scene in Top Gun, or an accidental stop on ESPN___. I was raised in Southern California in the 80's, when volleyball was fairly popular and a lot of high schools fielded girl's (fall) and boy's (spring) teams (and still do). I've played on and off for roughly 25 years. I'm not a great player-I'm pretty ok to pretty good, but not great. I'm only 5'4" and can't jump very high, injuries have made me unable to set with my hands, and I'm not much of a hitter. I'm also not a noisy or flashy player. I don't yell, grunt, holler, trash-talk, dive, pancake, fling myself around the court, squeak my shoes, or order people around. I'm fairly invisible....unless I make a mistake.

And here is the strange paradox. Our rec league is probably 50% men. I' m singling my gender out because this paradox does not seem to apply to the women. In every game, people make mistakes. I've played plenty of times where I've counted points lost by myself and by other guys on the court. In a lot of cases, I lose fewer points and make fewer errors. Even looking at percentages of attempts and completions, regardless of whether these are sets, hits, digs, serves, my percentages are better than some of the other guys (Guy1 fails 3/6 of his attempts, I fail 2/5 of mine; Guy2 fails 4 of 7 attempts, I fail 2 of 7 of mine, each of us is responsible for 1 point). But Guy1 and Guy2 are sought-after players, and I am complained about...I am the bad player.

Here is my theory. Guy1 and Guy2 FAIL LOUDLY. They FAIL BIG. They fail in loud, flashy ways. They yell, they grunt, they jump up and come down hard. When they dive for the ball, they take their time getting up or throw in a shoulder roll. They move away from their errors-quickly. They take up space on the court. They leap - sometimes into the net. They serve and hit far out-of-bounds, proof of their strength. They are no better or worse than 80% of the other players, but they are perceived to be amazing.
Guys like me, we fail quietly. And everybody notices. And remembers. Our out-of-bounds are not from massive overpower-maybe just a little too much. When we hit the ball in the net, in softly bounces out, rather than leaving the net shaking for 30 seconds. If we land on the ground, we are up fast, or we are likely to get stepped on. If we biff a serve or misplace a set, there are subtle (or not) headshakes, a little bit of movement to crowd us out of position, someone ready to take our ball, even if we had a clean shot. This is what people remember. Not the hard hit we picked up. Not the two aces. Not that nice little shot into the back corner. Not the play out of the net or the hustle to save the ball you shanked. Not the tip into the only hole on the other side. Not the 5 serve returns in a row we popped up into the air. It doesn't matter if we are more consistent or have better skills with better percentages. Because for some reason, people don't see that. They only see our mistakes.

The one conclusion I can draw is that some people are drawn to the loud, the bright, the visible, the obvious, and that's what they see and remember, the big yell or the big splat. They don't remember that that was a lost point. They remember the flash and the dash. They don't remember that someone got run over so that he could get that ball, which was way out of his range. They remember that he sprinted across the court to save the day (I am not kidding - I see guys get congratulated all the time for saves that were not even close to saves),

So I finish with a question and two takeaways:
1. If you can think of any other reason for why this Inability-to-See-Noisy-Failure paradox exists, or any other situation in which it exists, please tell me.
2. If you are going to fail, fail epically, in the loudest and brightest manner possible.
3. Real men do play volleyball.

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