Thursday, February 18, 2016

Last Year's President's Day Volleyball Tournament - The Beginning of the End

This past weekend, while I was watching Britt have fun at his basketball tournament, my mind went back to last year and Brailey's experience at The President's Day Volleyball Tournament. Night and day experiences, that's for sure. And I realized, for us, that was the beginning of the end of her volleyball career. I've never really shared all that went down with her volleyball experience last year, but enough time has passed, I feel like I can revisit it. Frankly, it was a traumatic experience, and Brady and I wish we had handled things differently, but we didn't. What can I say except that we live and learn?

Going back a year ago to that tournament... Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. The pain is still that fresh.

We should have reported it to the director of the club, but we didn't want to cause waves. We didn't want to make trouble. We didn't know if it would be helpful to report it, or make things worse. The last thing we wanted to do was make things worse. We wanted to help Brailey deal with "it" in the most mature way possible, hoping the experience would help her down the road of Life. She had some real meanies on her team, that is for sure. Two in particular that were quite hateful to her. Some that were just mean by exclusion. And some who were just immature and clueless. The President's Day Tournament last year fell on Valentine's Day, and so we brought Valentine cookies for everyone. Of course, we weren't smart enough to smuggle them in to the dressing area. Rule Followers that we are, after all the games on Valentine's Day, Brailey told her team she had cookies for them in the lobby. She then went to the lobby, where we waited to hand out the (very yummy and cute, I might add!) Valentine cookies. After fifteen minutes of waiting, only one girl showed up. I said, "Where is everyone? What is everybody doing?" She said, "Oh, we were taking pictures." I could not believe it. I gave the girl a cookie, and we left.

They were "taking pictures." Team pictures and selfies. With the coach. And not one single person, coach included, thought to say, "Where is Brailey?" Later on, one mom told me she thought she heard her daughter say, "Weren't we supposed to be getting cookies?" So they took their pictures without Brailey, the entire team, and then posted them all over social media. This picture was used in social media several times over the season, and Brailey was, of course, not in it. It was devastating to Brady and I and to Brailey, too. We couldn't believe the coach could be that thoughtless and it is hard to imagine that out of all the girls, at least one of them didn't think of Brailey.

In retrospect, Brailey was probably hurrying to get out of there. Maybe she was too quiet. We asked her if they heard her. She felt like they did. This is when we realized things were not going as well as we had hoped for Brailey with regards to volleyball.

As the season progressed, Brailey experienced more shunning by her teammates. Even by parents. That was the real eye opener for Brady and I - the parents who saw their daughters disincluding Brailey and not saying something to discourage it. If Brady and I see someone being excluded, we try to include them - I have done this many times. It is our job as parents. But on this team, parents saw their daughters excluding Brailey, and never said a single word to discourage their behavior. And Brailey tried to engage with them several times. We told her to keep trying, and time and again we would find her sitting by herself. After several attempts at the first few tournaments, she started hanging out with us.

I did mention it to her coach, but she didn't do a single thing about it and in fact was part of the problem. The coach knew Brailey was feeling left out, and she took no action at all to encourage team bonding or proper socializing at tournaments. At one tournament, where Brady and I had to work and couldn't be there in the morning, her coach said to her, "How are you doing? I know you don't fit in with the other girls." Of course she would choose to say this to Brailey when we weren't there, and of course she would make it sound like it was Brailey's fault, the one player who was serious, kind, respectful and gave 110% all season long. Brailey didn't share with us her coach had said this to her until the end of the season. I wish she would have told us that day, but I think she was wondering what was wrong with her, why didn't she fit in, why didn't her teammates like her? I can't imagine a much more hurtful thing for a coach to say to a kid.

Eventually, we figured out what the problem was. It all came down to one thing - JEALOUSY. Jealousy over her position on the team, because she was one of two setters who got to play the entire game. The other setter, they didn't treat this way, because they don't see her the same as Brailey, as she lost her mother when she was young. But Brailey, who seems to have everything and they know nothing about, got the full brunt of their jealousy. And it wasn't just the girls - it was parents, too. And the worst ones of all? A pair of grandparents, who incidentally had the absolute meanest girl on the team for their granddaughter. That was a shocker, let me tell you. Who has ever heard of grandparents being jealous and mean? They would shoot daggers at Brailey and criticize her every mistake. Never once did they say, "Good set, Brailey!" Not a single encouragement ever came from them to Brailey.

Despite it all, some good things happened. One, Brailey somehow got through it. Even though she hated every second of it. I don't know where she found the strength, but she did. Two, we did make two friends on the team, parents included, and one those girls is now one of Brailey's dearest friends. In a moment of weakness, I confessed to this girl's sweet mother what was happening to Brailey, and the next thing I knew, she was confessing to me that her daughter was feeling much the same, and she talked to her daughter, who took Brailey under her wing, and they were inseparable for the remainder of the season. Her daughter was better at coping with it, because she wasn't as shy. The only problem was, this girl didn't go to all the tournaments, so Brailey was still on her own. At the end of the season, another girl realized how kind Brailey was, and she started hanging out with her, as well. At the very end, it was the three of them hanging out. So she ended with that, at least. These girls have good parents, too, and we were all able to bond.

Looking at pictures from this year's President's Day Tournament, I felt the sadness all over again for what Brailey went through last year. Being excluded is not fun. Jealousy is not fun. But it is a part of life, and it did make her stronger. And it taught Brady and I that it is okay to stick up for your kid. Sometimes, the high road isn't the right road. We should have told the director what was going on. Her coach should have been talked to, because how else is she going to improve? And unfortunately, because we decided to handle it ourselves, this coach is probably doing the same thing to another team.

At one of the last tournaments of the season, this coach was so mean and hateful to the girls, they were all beat down and sad and losing all their games. Brailey finally lost her composure and started crying, and it was interesting to see the surprise in the other girls' eyes. Up to this point, they didn't think of Brailey as having feelings. Her two friends were so supportive to her, and a few of the other girls tried, but they were so wrapped in their own worlds, they either didn't know how to show support or didn't care. I think this comes from parents. We have to teach our kids how to be empathetic and compassionate, even when they are teenagers. Ironically, Brailey was the youngest player on her team, and played with 13 and 14 year olds all season long, even though she was only 12, and guess what? She was the most mature of all, even more so than her coach.

I feel a lot of sadness and guilt over last year. In many ways, I wish we hadn't wasted so much time with volleyball. But if we hadn't, she wouldn't have one of her best friends in the world. We love this family dearly! And maybe we wouldn't have looked for something else for her to do, like dance, which turned out being her passion in life. And because of last year, we appreciate her love for dance this year. Brailey appreciates going to practices. She is so grateful for dance, and that might not have happened if it weren't for last year's trauma. Without a little sadness, we wouldn't know what the sunshine looked like, right? And when you really appreciate the sun, it is brighter than the imagination can fathom.

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