It’s been a fair while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? Okay, fine, a little more than a fair while. It’s been a very long while. I don’t know exactly when my last post was, but I’m sure something in my life must have changed since then. But one thing that hasn’t changed is volleyball.

I’ve been playing volleyball for years now, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m one of the best intermediate players I know (and I know a lot of volleyball players). Do you have a sport or activity that it seems like everyone does in your area? Well, volleyball is that for me. It seems like everyone I know plays or has played at some point. I have been playing for probably six or seven years, and fortunately, I’ve learned a few things besides just good technique. Since volleyball was, is, and probably will be a part of my life for a long time, I thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learned from it.

1. You can’t do everything on your own.

This first lesson is a pretty obvious find when you think about volleyball. You can’t play volleyball very well on your own, and you can be dead sure that I’ve tried! You need a team in order to do well and win. And while you can win a few volleys and score a few points by yourself if the ball keeps coming to you, ultimately you need teammates in order to win the game.

It’s the same with life, and that’s another thing I’ve been learning lately. Sure, you can get through life by yourself, not connecting with other people or going out of your way for anyone but yourself. But it’s a pretty dull life. (Trust me on this.) As frustrating as they are, human beings do make life interesting, and you will have a lot more fun if you have them around. Plus, you kinda need them. God made us to be social creatures, to have a need to be around others of our own species (though, granted, some a bit less than others). Criminals are put into solitary confinement as a form of torture, and it’s because we truly, biologically, psychologically need other people. Depriving yourself of meaningful connections may seem like the safe route, but it takes a major toll on you in the long run.

2. Know your teammates’ skills so you can work together in the best way for the team.

If you want to win a volleyball game, you need to be on a team that works well together. Part of this is knowing the abilities and skills of yourself and those on your team. That way, you know that if you mess up, so-and-so will cover you; you know which person to hit it to for a bone-shattering spike; and you know who the weakest link is so you can back them up.

It’s helpful also to know the talents and abilities of your friends and family so they can help you when you need it and so you can help them when they need it. You know who to go to when you need advice, comfort, or a jolly good time. (Or help hiding the body.) It’s also a great help for a leader, especially, to know what his people can do so he can get things done quickly and efficiently.

3. If you’re going to teach something, teach it according to how the student learns, not how you like to teach.

When I first started going to volleyball, I was not good. I was still growing, for one thing, and I had very little muscle tone and zero precision. I was obviously unskilled, as I am with all sports when I first start, and everyone took it upon themselves to teach me how properly to do it. At first, it was fine, because I didn’t actually know how to hold my hands or where to stand or how to keep score. But four years in, it got a little old.

Yes, that’s right: four years. They kept trying to tell me how to play the game even though I’d been playing for that long. I don’t know if they thought I was really that slow of a learner, or what. But they continued to tell me the same things over and over again because I just couldn’t get it right. But the issue wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew very well how to play (I was, in fact, the only one who seemed capable of remembering the score); I just couldn’t seem to make my body do it correctly.

This carried on until one day I was practicing setting and spiking on the floor in my room a couple of hours before volleyball was going to start. I had taken some kenpo classes at my college and had decided to continue studying it privately after I quit. I had been experimenting with a few hand positions, whether I wanted to keep my hands in fists like most people do or whether I’d choose a different, more original positioning. I had decided upon a half-fist, half-open position, where my pinky and ring fingers touched my palm and my three remaining fingers were open in a talon-like pose. While I was practicing setting with my volleyball, I curled my hands into this position and set with only three fingers, and my setting almost immediately improved. When I tried spiking, I made the connection that the desired arm movement for a good spike was very much like throwing a baseball, which is my favorite sport. Instantly, my game improved, and that night I played better than I ever had.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everyone had been trying to teach me exactly the right way to do things according to how they played. But when I implemented bits of muscle techniques that I was already familiar with, I learned and improved much faster. So that’s what I mean by teaching people according to things that they know, and not just the ways that work for you.

4. Be ready for anything.

Sometimes the ball gets to moving so fast, you can’t react quick enough, and you get hit in the face or the stomach or wherever else. Most of the time you get hit because you weren’t paying close enough attention, or you didn’t expect it. This is where you learn to always be ready. You may think you know where the ball is going to come from, but sometimes it can take an unexpected trajectory and you miss.

I’ve learned that you have to be ready for anything in life too. You never know when the economy will do something funky and you end up rich or bankrupt. You never know when the weather’s going to whip up a nasty storm that cuts your power or takes your roof off. (Less likely nowadays, I suppose.) You never know when you’re driving and a deer appears out of nowhere and you swerve and end up hitting a mailbox or a ditch. And maybe some other examples that are a bit less life-threatening. Just…be ready, okay? Be ready.

5. Have your teammates’ backs.

I mentioned this earlier a little bit in knowing your teammates’ skills. If you know who the weakest link on your team is (though most people would be nice enough not to call them the weakest link), you know to cover them. But the weakest link isn’t the only person on the team who makes mistakes. Like I also said before, sometimes the ball takes a crazy trajectory. You expected it to be going forward, so you went forward, but in fact it ends up flying back behind you and you have to pivot and run and pretty much always miss it. That’s where your team is supposed to cover your back, and you them.

In life, you’ve got to do the same for your friends and family. You’ve got to be there when they need you, and pick up the slack when they’re not able to do something they usually take care of. Because life is all about surviving until you die, right? And we’re all in it together.

6. The team is only as strong as the weakest link, so build each other up.

I know what you’re thinking. Again with the weakest link. Look, I’ve never been a nice person, okay? But there’s nice underneath the mean if you calm down enough to see it. So quit getting offended and pay attention.

It’s true that the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and it’s also true that the team is only as good as the worst player. Everyone will make mistakes, but the worst player will make the most, and you know it. So if you want a strong team, help them get better. And if you want a strong posse or a strong family, build each other up.

7. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it helps.

You can’t be perfect. Nobody’s perfect. Hannah Montana taught us that in 2006. But the more you practice, the better you’ll be, and that will make you less likely to make mistakes and more likely to fix them if you do. The more experience you have, in volleyball and in life, the more able you will be to handle whatever comes your way.

8. Have fun–you’re not in it to win it.

This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from volleyball, which is why it’s last, because people are scientifically proven most likely to remember the last point that is mentioned. Depending on what kind of volleyball you’re playing, it might be important to win. But the most important thing is to have fun, make jokes, smile, and laugh – because the bond you’re creating with the people you’re playing with is more important than the game you’re playing. People are the only investment worth making in this world, so make the most of every moment you have with the ones you love. You can’t win at life, so just enjoy the ride.