“Pull your heads out of your asses and play some volleyball!”
Those words have been ringing in my ears since 2017.
At 15-years-old, my body flinched every time The Coach bellowed at the team.
Every player and coach in the league knew he was a bully, and I’d signed on to play.
It couldn’t be that bad, right? Oh, it was.
“Hey, we got this, let’s go,” I said with a clap.
I didn’t just say this for my six teammates. I needed to hear it, too.
I didn’t know it then, but the only way I would make it through that mentally challenging volleyball season was my secret sauce: my strong sense of self.
Growing up with a supportive foundation has grounded me. I may get beat up by the world, but because I know who I am, I can keep getting up.
The other team served and the rally started back and forth.
Don’t mess up, don’t mess up.
The ball dropped a few feet in front of me and the referee blew the whistle to mark the end of the rally.
“Sub!” The Coach shouted.
That was his rule: three mistakes and you’re out.
I was in my head, scared of what he might do or say as I substituted off the court and back to the bench.
The worst punishment wasn’t running sprints or adding extra practices if the team performed poorly. No, that would be the personal digs.
He stood with his arms folded waiting for me on the sidelines.
“What was that?” he asked with his eyebrows raised, staring directly into my eyes.
He didn’t sound angry. I was shocked.
“I thought she was hitting down the line, so I pulled back,” I replied.
He leaned forward, his face inches away from mine.
Sweat dripped down his face past the vein popping out of his forehead. His face turned from confused to angry.
“You thought? You thought?” he mocked.
“You have to know!” The Coach yelled.
I nodded and my face flushed. Was I about to cry or throw up? The chances were 50/50.
The harsh comments continued all weekend. By the end, I didn’t know if I could take it an entire season.
On the way home in the car with my Mom, I had to choose:
Was it so bad that I was ready to quit?
I attended private grade school, middle school and a high school with just 80-something students in my graduating class.
All those years, I was timid and reserved. I liked to know exactly how everything was going to go and left no wiggle room for surprises.
No adult had ever yelled at me the way The Coach had.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that taught me that I have value beyond my accomplishments.
Even waking up to take on the day was a reason to celebrate. I remember the mornings Pa would bring me hot chocolate in bed. I’d hear him coming down the hallway, singing a song from the musical “Oklahoma!” to wake me up.
Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day. I’ve got a wonderful feeling! Everything’s going my way.
These loving memories built my sense of self and made the hard-knock experiences a little softer.
I took them with me onto the volleyball court. In some ways it was a horrible season, but something about the shared trauma made our team close. We trusted each other and it showed on the court. The Coach brought us down, but we were there to pick each other up.
He said he wanted us to develop mental toughness. The way he did this was questionable. Telling a group of girls barely old enough to drive that they suck so badly they should all just quit was a rough mental hurdle to overcome. In fact, some girls did quit after that.
I almost quit, but I saw the season through.
It would bother me today if I had quit. I still don’t know if it was the shittiest or best season of volleyball I’ve played. What I do know is that I have brought that mental toughness into what I face today.
When I have something big to prepare for, my Mom sometimes sends me a picture of The Coach as a joke. It’s surprisingly encouraging.
Looking back, whatever The Coach said was not a reflection of who I was. I knew I was bigger than that moment, and he respected me for that.
I learned to be my biggest advocate, and I don’t resent him for what he did.
My sense of self that I feel deep in my core tells me there’s something bigger in store for my life.
It hasn’t always been that way.
In high school I felt stagnant. I tried everything to find a passion: painting, pottery, photography, graphic design, cooking, writing, podcasting and more.
I’d push myself in small ways; but as I’ve grown up some, those pushes have turned into shoves.
My first real shove was the day I jumped from sheltered, comfortable private school to Chapman University.
Growing up, I’d always planned on going to the University of Washington. From school field trips to thrift shopping in downtown Seattle, I’ve been around that campus more times than I could count. I was put on the waitlist, which forced me to consider other options.
On “decision day” in May, I picked Chapman. I toured campus and it felt right.
I was confused how I could be comfortable so many miles away from home.
A few days after decision day, I was taken off of the waitlist at the University of Washington.
Staring at that acceptance letter, I was ready for my overthinking to kick in.
I felt a little torn, but settled in my Chapman decision.
I needed someone else to tell me I wasn’t as crazy as I thought I was for leaving home, so I confided in my English teacher, Mrs. Roddy.
How does the girl who couldn’t spend more than a weekend away from home go to out-of-state college?
“When will you ever get the chance to have this experience again?” Mrs. Roddy said earnestly.
I felt ready for something a little uncomfortable that just might push me in the right direction. I knew I could handle it.
If I had changed my decision to the University of Washington, my world would have stayed pretty small. I know I would’ve been driving home every weekend.
Now that I’ve spent a few years in college, life looks different.
I count my blessings every day that I was able to come to Chapman and open this new chapter of my life. One weekend I’m home in Washington visiting family farms and the next I’m in Southern California heading to Newport Beach with three friends I’ve known since I was 11 years old.
That “whatever life throws at me” mentality is pushing me forward and preparing me for a future that I may not be ready for now, but will be ready for one day.
I can always come home and bake chocolate chip cookies with Nana and Auntie Anne while dancing around the kitchen to Johnny Cash’s greatest hits.
I hear the train a coming, it’s rolling ‘round the bend.
I see my future coming, even though I’m not exactly sure what it looks like.
I look forward to seeing what might happen next.
Whether it’s challenging or wonderful, I’m ready for it.
Now I’ve let go of “don’t mess up,” and instead lean into, “don’t miss out.”
Alexandra Davenport is a junior majoring in journalism. Her appreciation for storytelling began early in her life and she has developed her passion for journalism in college.