In the Shipley Gym on a Wednesday afternoon in the late fall, I sat in the stands with my family to watch the Dana Hall Varsity volleyball team compete in the first round of the prep school playoffs. I was there as a fan, not as a coach. We cheered for the Dana team as they hustled to keep points alive, they executed blocks and kills, and they dug attacks from the opposing team. The Dragons won their match. They outplayed their opponents by working together and maintaining their poise when the pressure was greatest. One of the things I loved most about watching the game was seeing how the girls on the team showed support for each other after their successes and after their mistakes.
As I watched the match unfold, I could not help picturing many of these kids when they played on my Middle School volleyball team just a few years earlier. Most of them could not reach above the net back in Middle School, and their skills were not as well-developed as they are now. But these girls loved to play together and they loved to compete. Of course, the stakes were different in Middle School – there were no league standings or postseason playoffs, and no one was thinking about the possibility of playing volleyball in college. The biggest games of our season were our homecoming game, when we played in front of a big, noisy crowd before grabbing lunch from food trucks, and our game against a team with 9th graders! The stakes were lower, but the games were meaningful to the players involved.
Our Middle School teams offer girls a place to build their skills in a variety of sports. Beyond the sport-specific skills they learn, the Middle School teams are places where our youngest students lay the groundwork for future success. They learn lessons about teamwork and what it means to be a good teammate. They gain comfort and confidence in their ability to compete. They learn that it is fun to work hard with your friends and see improvement over time. They also get used to playing side-by-side with the girls who may someday be their Varsity teammates, and they start to picture themselves as athletes at the next level.
As I watched the Varsity volleyball team fight to move on to the next round of the playoffs, I looked around the packed gym. I was happy to see most of the players from this year’s Middle School volleyball team in the crowd. The Middle School players have many reasons to look up to the girls on the court, and I know it won’t be long before I see my current players on a stage like this one.