Nov 23, 2011

Volleyball is a real sport!

Yesterday I discovered a new sport - Volleyball. Of course, I’ve knocked a ball around on the beach and even played Birkdale School House Mixed Volleyball, but that game was about as similar to the one I played yesterday as primary school touch rugby is to the real thing.

At a time when I was blissfully unaware of this, and when my forearms weren’t bruised and my right thumb wasn't swollen like a chicken leg, I dared to suggest that a game of volleyball doesn’t constitute exercise. How wrong I was!

Even if I had arrived in sparkling volleyball kit, there was little chance of me looking like anything but a lost, clueless foreigner once I took to the court. As it was, I’d made a fool of myself before the game even began. I suppose I’m used to going to sports training wearing my trainers - however, when it’s -5 and there’s snow on the ground, winter boots are a better option - so I put on the boots, and left the trainers at home. Oops.

Naturally, I felt fairly stupid when I realised my mistake, but I thought nichevo strashnovo - no worries - I’ll play barefoot. After all - I was only going to play volleyball! How hard can it be?

The Russians wouldn’t let me play barefoot. Apparently it’s “too cold” and I’ll “get ill”. Not to be deterred I began to rummage through the lost property conveniently piled up in the corridor. Despite repeated assertions from the Russians that this was a school, that there were only children’s clothes, and the disappointment of finding shoes only to discover that they had 3 inch heels, I persisted and, to my delight, I found a pair which I could squeeze my size 6 ½ feet into.

After a quick lesson - hit the ball as high as you can, use your arms, don’t sleep - the game began. I must confess that I always associate volleyball in the UK with feelings of frustration at people who are determined to play, but don’t know what they are doing and therefore do more harm than good. Well, in Russia I am that person. Immediately identified as the weak link by the other team, the serves started flying at me. I never imagined that you could spin a volleyball, but as the ball swerved as it flew towards my stinging, pink forearms I realised that it must be possible. Unfortunately, knowing that the ball spins didn’t make it any easier to return it, and before long I had to endure the humiliating experience I’ve inflicted on plenty of others - my team mate came and stood right in front of me to ‘protect me’. I didn’t complain!

Once the rallies got going though I settled and started to get more confidence. In the UK a real 'spike' (smash) draws gasps of admiration from the other players. A block (when the defender jumps and blocks a spike back) happens once in a blue moon. Yesterday they happened every other point. It was the volleyball I'd always dreamed of (only in my dreams it didn't hurt so much). Even I managed a spike!

Unfortunately, my team didn’t do very well. Our numerical advantage was outweighed by the disadvantage of having a clueless foreigner on the team. We lost 3 sets  in quick succession before we got a foothold, taking a 20-19 lead in set 4 (first to 25, 2 clear). Both teams realised we had a game on our hands, and the score progressed to 26-25, our set point. It was my moment. The ball dropped down from high above the net…

I jumped…

For a magic moment I hung in the air and dreamed of glory…

 I struck the ball hard…

… And it hit the net. Gutted.

On the bright side, we won the set 30-28, and so avoided a whitewash. In the final set, normal service was resumed and we lost it 25 to not very many, but never mind. Afterwards, maybe hoping for some sympathy, I mentioned to one guy that I’d bent my thumb back and it was really painful. He cheerfully said - “ah, classic mistake. It’ll be fine in a week.” Which is just in time for the next game! Bring it on...

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