I flirted with many sports before I found my true love. As a young girl, I itched to play catch or shoot hoops outside whenever possible. But once I picked up a volleyball, I didn’t look back. I set every ball-shaped object in my house. I had “vbgrl23” as my Myspace password. I too often wore volleyball themed sweatshirts, ribbons, and slippers.
I was all in.
Throughout high school I aspired to play at the highest level possible. I made the varsity team as a freshman and played competitively year-round, attending five Junior Olympic Tournaments.
When it came to college, my parents did not even ask if I wanted to compete at the next level. They knew. One recruiting trip led to the next and I quickly realized that playing time was my priority. Multiple coaches told me that Whitworth would give me this opportunity. I looked forward to a starting position all four years of college.
My freshman year was a major adjustment. Despite my hours of effort, I hardly saw the court. Fortunately, I was the back-up to one of our starting defenders, so the coaching staff brought me to every game for those rare emergency subs.
Sophomore year brought even more adversity. Whitworth hired a brand new coach. Another coach meant another shot at getting on the court come game day. This was my chance to prove myself.
At the end of pre-season that year, we were about to embark on our first tournament. That first tournament kicks off our season—line-ups are solidified, chemistry is made, and our training is tested as we compete for the first time together. This trip brings extra excitement because we always travel outside of the region. It feels like a mini vacation on top of the great competition. My sophomore year, the sunny Thousand Oaks, California was our destination–our last glimpse of summer before classes kicked into full gear would include volleyball, palm trees, and beaches. Unfortunately, out of the sixteen of us, only twelve players can go. That year, I was sure that I would make the roster.
At the end of the last practice before the tournament, coach asked six of us to meet her in her office. Three including myself played defense, while the other three played offense.
My heart dropped. In my head I quickly calculated my chances. Four of us were not going. I thought she would only take one of us defenders. My face flushed.
The walk over to coach’s office felt longer and sweatier than ever. Coach first called four of us in, three on offense and myself on defense. My stomach churned. Before we even sat down, I knew I wasn’t going.
Coach said we had potential, but we didn’t make the cut. She also said something about how sorry she was that the budget was too scant to allow us to go.
My legs burned for another chance. Just one more drill, one more scrimmage to prove that I made a difference, but there was nothing I could do. My heart broke. My identity was shattered. I had failed. I was not good enough.
After reflecting while my team was gone, I gained a new perspective. Although I was devastated, my drive to play was renewed, but for different reasons. I decided to play for the people standing next to me, not for myself. Their success became my success; their failure, mine.
I learned what it takes to be a part of team: the only way to succeed after failure is to put others first and give it everything, every day. Instead of seeing my teammates as benchmarks for my own success, I worked to build us as a team by encouraging and supporting them.
This experience changed the path of my volleyball career: I played a supporting role in games my sophomore year, and my junior year I started in every single one. But, more importantly, my failure transformed my approach to teamwork in all aspects of my life. In the classroom, as I tutor, and in my relationships, I strive to put the people I work for and with before everything else.
During my time at Whitworth, I learned how to lose, which taught me how to be a part of a team that wins. Failing taught me how to lead, and showed me that leading can only come from giving. This, for me, defines what it means to be a Buc.
My name is Elizabeth Ginley, but most people call me “Izze.” I am a junior English Major, completing both the Literature and Writing tracks. I also play for Whitworth’s Women’s Volleyball team. And, I serve as a writing consultant and technical manager at our university’s writing center: The Whitworth Composition Commons. I continually see the lessons that I have learned in athletics as analogies to the rest of my life. This piece attempts to capture the lessons of failure, humility, and teamwork that I have learned during my time at Whitworth, thus far.