It was grade eight, tryouts for a SaskFirst volleyball team. My memory is notoriously fickle with what it files away, but the stories it decides to keep, I’ll remember vividly. This is one. A warm fuzzy story of overcoming obstacles and making the team? Nope.
Because I didn’t.
I was a decent volleyball player, considering I was 5’3” then, and haven’t grown since lol. Gary and Lois Dodds were our teachers and coaches all the way through junior and senior. A lot of you will know who they are, so really, with instructors like that, how could I not have learned some solid skills? Like I said, I wasn’t terrible.
No, the reason these tryouts are stuck in my brain is because of something they told us just before announcing the cuts: “We can make taller players better, but we can’t make better players taller.”
I had two thoughts. The first wasn’t very nice. The second? I knew I didn’t have a chance.
I get that I probably sucked more than I’d like to think, but they told the truth, and it hurt when the tallest girl in our school, but not the strongest player by a mile, made it through that round. It’s not that I was defeated and never played the sport again. Not at all. But it was an awakening for me, an epiphany in how the world worked. Coming from a family where working hard always translated into results, whether in grades or music or sports, this just didn’t correlate for me. In hindsight, had they just made the cuts without the disclaimer, I probably would have struggled with my classmate making it, but knowing there was a hidden criteria made it worse somehow.
Weston Dressler, I feel ya.
Dressler’s one of those success stories that you want kids to learn about: to not let someone else determine how far your dream goes. This past week we watched the new Nike ad, featuring Colin Kaepernick. There’s so many great lines in those two minutes and twenty seconds, but we chose this one: don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask it they are crazy enough. Then a student volunteered to share his quickwrite, about how every single person has laughed at his dream to become (coincidentally) an Olympic volleyball player. And no one laughed. Sometimes I love kids so much.
As a teacher, I don’t ever want to be someone, even inadvertently, who limits what a kid thinks that they can do. What they will become. What they dream.
But it happens, and as an educational collective, there are still prevailing philosophies that are dream-squashers (especially in sports but that’s another rant for another time.) That was the only part in the Nike ad that I struggled a bit with: being the best. “Don’t try to be the fastest runner in your school or in the world. Be the fastest ever.” The flip side is that it’s important for kids to be okay with who they are too…and for almost every one of them, it’s not going to be a world champion. In fact, most kids will never be “the best” at anything. Not at a national level, or provincial level, or division level. Maybe not at a school level. Maybe not even at a classroom level. (That’s a paralyzing thought for a teacher, and one that reaffirms to me the importance of creating an environment with learning for learning’s sake, not for a number.)
You don’t need to be the best to try. Or to have fun. Or to learn skills that will stay with you for a lifetime. (Or love to play volleyball even if you are short enough to walk under the net without ducking!) I think it’s important for us to model that lifelong learning too - for kids to realize that we dream throughout our lives, even as grownups. I still have dreams. Lots of them. Some get said out loud, some shared with only a few trusted people, some whispered quietly to myself, and some just reside in my head until I’m brave enough to give them breath.
I had a mom moment this week that made me think about all of this. It’s not something I’ll share, but I can tell you that I felt like I was back in grade eight myself. And I had two thoughts. The first wasn’t very nice. The second? I want him to follow his dreams and on his terms. Period. The third? We can all be better, and be 'our best' even if we will never be ‘the best.’
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is definitely welcome.
p.s. “The woods would be silent if no birds sang except the best.” And that would suck.
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