Facing the Firing Squad

For the relatively low cost of an admission wristband to your local convention center volleyball tournament, you can participate in the volleyball equivalent of natural selection: hitting lines.

Unlike high school and college volleyball where the back-and-forth exchange of the court for 46 combined warmup drills often takes longer than the actual match, in club volleyball you get a grand total of 4 minutes to fix every passing, setting, attacking and serving problem before playing.

In recent years it has become a requirement of good coaching etiquette to offer your team as child labor to retrieve the volleyballs for the opposing team, a task that they will approach with the same enthusiasm as if they were chosen as tribute for the Hunger Games.  You’ll notice that no coaches volunteer themselves for this risky endeavor.

And who are the unfortunate souls sitting in the seats, being protected by this uninspired Children’s Crusade?

Moms who are scrutinizing the chaperone’s performance in the vital areas of snack bag assembly, laundering jerseys constructed of magical space-age fibers, and relaying pool play information that we should have all found ourselves.  Dads discussing yesterday’s game and the length of today’s Starbucks line with another father whose daughter has been on our team for 7 years but we have absolutely no idea what his name is because we’ve been calling him buddy/pal/man/hey you for all these years.  Coaches who are discussing [insert unbelievably boring volleyball stuff here].  Officials waiting for the next match, wondering if it’s worth trying to get back to the hospitality room before they have to get up on the stand, and what did they did wrong in a previous life to make this match go to 3 games.  Younger siblings facing away from the court drinking a smoothie and watching Disney re-runs on the iPad for the 974th time.  And most horrifying of all: kindly grandmothers who have brought their reading glasses, their flip-phone and a coffee … the only breakable item Grams left at home was her collection of Hummel figurines.

You’ve seen this movie before: a gasoline tanker, a cement truck and a Prius are all approaching an intersection with a malfunctioning stoplight.

We already know that the “shaggers” won’t actually stop a single ball, and in this volleyball version of Angry Birds the hitting lines start picking off the unsuspecting spectators in increasing levels of creativity and mayhem.

Like the wide variety of “prevent defenses” employed in the NFL, volleyball players have come up with a beautiful array of creative ways to make sure that they… Prevent. Absolutely. Nothing.

Here are the 5 most popular shagging-but-not-really-shagging moves guaranteed to blow up your latte:

The “Woah, Didn’t See That Coming!”: Players are usually surprised when the opposing team starts hitting.  Even though the novice-shaggers lined up on the endline for no apparent reason, and the other team is stocked for 4 minutes of chaos with a setter, 6 volleyballs, and a line of wildly inaccurate hitters lined up and foaming at the mouth, it still comes as a surprise when that first hitter sends one your way.  Spoiler alert: hitting lines is more than a clever name.  Even more shocking: the player behind her might hit one too!

The “Soccer Wall”: Just like in soccer, athletes will only remember at the very last second that they’d rather get hit in the backside with a projectile, rather than risking their future modeling career with “Molten” tattooed on their forehead.  So, like a Brazilian superstar with beautiful hair and only one name, our pseudo-shaggers turn around as the ball bounces their way.  Unfortunately, us mere mortals in the seats don’t have goalie gloves and years of training to handle the incoming missiles.  So much for our modeling careers.

The “Hackey-Sack”: Unless you’re on tour with Phish or living in a Berkeley commune, you look silly standing around kicking your feet in the air, especially when you miss the ball as often as our faux-shaggers.  Hey volleyball player: there’s a reason you didn’t make the soccer team and it has less to do with your reluctance to run more than 30 feet and everything to do with the fact that your feet are so far away from your brain that they don’t actually do anything useful when you kick at the ball.  I’ve never met a volleyball player named Pelé … for good reason.

The “Hey, We’re Talking Here”: The pinnacle of rudeness, many attackers have broken up a serious conversation about a teammate’s gorgeous brother who has come to watch the tournament and even though he hasn’t stopped looking at his phone I just know that he came to watch me play and does my hair look good and … HEY!  An angry look toward the hitting lines tells the offending outside hitter that “this is an A-B conversation, and you need to C yourself hitting somewhere else.”

The “Walmart Greeter”: Other than a friendly smile and a wave, I’m not exactly sure if the non-shagger is considering doing anything with the volleyball other than just waving it through.  “Welcome to hitting lines!”

You’ve been warned.

-Jason Curtis

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2 thoughts on “Facing the Firing Squad

  1. Labeling this post Laugh Out Loud: just the historical, literary, and pop culture references alone would make this worth the read, but that’s only the beginning of the humor.