Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Was a Teen Volleyball Chaperone (volleyball)

Chaperoning Lesson #1 If Carrie Bradshaw Does not Play Middle For TCA18’s, I Don’t Want to Be Hearing about Her.

I’m in a rental house with my daughter’s 18’s team in Henderson, Nevada. The good news is that the house has a fifty- inch television. The bad news is that the speakers only seem to work at about 100 decibels, i.e. more than loud enough to be heard clearly in the chaperone’s bedroom that I share with my wife. More good news is that the girls are clearly enjoying a boxed set of DVD’s that one of them brought from home. Since their plane came in from the other coast at four in the morning, they need the down time. The bad news is that the characters in the DVD are named Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda, and Carrie.

It’s a brand new club for us. We don’t know the girls or their parents and the chaperoning guide they sent us by e-mail didn’t mention anything about appropriate videos.

So here’s one option. I can utterly embarrass my daughter by stepping in and demanding that they change from Sex and the City to the Family Guy, the other boxed set on the coffee table. Of course, even though it’s animated, the content of Family Guy isn’t any less adult than detailed discussions of Samantha Jones’s cross-dressing neighbors or Charlotte’s boyfriend’s choice of language mid-rally.

“Oh yeah, she’s the one whose mom and dad got all hung up about Sex and the City. Geez, we’ve been watching it on all our away trips and my parents were the one who gave me the DVD for Christmas. Is he saying my parents are bad parents?”

“Dad, you’ve watched Sex and the City and I’ve been in the room before. You even laughed.”

So, what did I do? I made eye contact with a couple of the girls in a way that asked the question “You sure this is all right with your parents?”

They shrugged back at me. I waited a day or so and then checked in with the coach to mention my dilemma so it could be addressed at some other time without it turning into “Mr. Boris” busted us.

I figure there are hundreds of parents who would flame me for not being vigilant enough. Yes, it did occur to me that my daughter’s new club is in a region of the country that’s a lot more religious than where we live. At the same time, Sex and the City passed the hotel test. That is, it’s on most hotels’ regular cable systems. It’s not one of those pay per view items that you have the option of telling the front desk to shut off. I reasoned that had we been in one of the hundreds of hotels on the strip, they might be in a room watching Sex and the City and I wouldn’t even know about it. In fact in the Bay Area, they show it on broadcast television in not very censored form. Is there stuff on the show you wouldn’t want your daughter seeing without your at least knowing about it? Absolutely. fwiw, I’m not sure what I would have done if the boxed set had been Deadwood, Queer as Folk, or The L Word instead.

First lesson of being a volleyball chaperone, it’s exhausting, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Driving nine girls across Clark County twice a day, packing lunches at six in the morning, making sure everyone has a bed, a time to shower, and doing laundry, certainly takes it out of you over the course of four days. At the same time, that’s not what’s really tiring. Chaperones make endless numbers of snap judgments in the course of a tournament. Most of them are about as easy to call as the question of would you like your daughter to grow up to be Samantha Jones?

So I chickened out. Rather than have nine girls hate me for three days. I figured I’d let someone else fight the battle after I was no longer directly responsible for them. It’s not perfect, but it’s what gets you through middle age without having to take high blood pressure medication on a regular basis.

Chaperoning Lesson # 1.5 SCVA Meets NBA

My daughter’s former club, Empire, actually doesn’t allow male chaperones on overnight trips. One of the things you find out when you change clubs is that no two clubs do any particular thing exactly the same way. For instance, there’s the whole matter of how you bill for the road trips when one of the players gets sick and doesn’t make the trip. I’ve even heard of one coach who confiscated all her players’ cell phones one time. I do figure, however, that no chaperones this weekend took their girls to see Thunder Down Under or the Chippendale’s review.

In the meantime, some of the more unusual issues on this particular weekend had to do with the NBA All Star game. When David Stern made the decision to give Las Vegas its chance to prove its worthiness for a major league franchise in what is likely the sport that has the longest history of point-fixing scandals, I think he might have overlooked the possibility that the city that wakes after dark would suddenly find itself host to both a United Street Gangs of America convention and an air traffic security nightmare. I suspect that if he didn’t plan for those two things, he probably had no idea there would be more than a thousand junior volleyball girls sharing the city that weekend.

Still, it’s not exactly a chaperone’s dream to hear the following from your daughter’s teammates, “We were listening to the radio last night and there were two shootings outside hotel X here. Oh by the way, when do we get to see the strip this weekend?”

I do want to make it clear that the vast majority of NBA All Star fans are perfectly respectable particularly this year since Ron Artest didn’t make the team. Still, we were more than a little grateful to have found ourselves in Henderson. Hopefully next year’s Las Vegas Invitational will be in conjunction with a biker’s gathering or rodeo convention instead.

The other one time only aspect of chaperoning this particular Vegas tournament was that our older daughter was there both to work (she’s a college assistant) and to hang out with friends with connections. Try having this conversation,
“What did you do last night?”

“Well I barbequed chicken and hot dogs for the team and twelve very nice girls from Colorado. I never knew a four bedroom house could ever get quite that loud with parents present. I also have never almost been blown up before while trying to cook for the first time on a propane grill. How was your night last night?”

“It was okay. We met Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett at Steve Nash’s party at Bellagio, you want to see some of the pictures we took? Boy, I’m tired.”

Fwiw, the pictures were perfectly respectable. None of our three kids appear to be Antonella Barba, whom I suspect is a far nicer young woman than most America thinks. Anyway, this is either the benefit or danger of letting your kids take volleyball scholarships to schools regularly visited by Dick Vitale and Billy Packer. It wasn’t what we had in mind when we encouraged her to go there because the place had a great academic reputation.

Chaperoning Lesson #2 The Water Cycle

Most chaperoning dilemmas are far less dramatic than either the decision to allow Candace Bushnell-based videos in the living room or avoid gang shootings. A lot of it is at the level of how many of the girls come along to Costco or Walmart when you shop for the groceries and who stays behind to watch those who don’t go. In the meantime, you get these little tips from other parents and the girls themselves like “You better know that XXXX has to eat every couple hours or so or she totally crashes and it affects the team…..Also don’t let yyyyyy forget her brace, she absolutely needs it and she’ll try to go on the court without it and last time….”

It’s considerations like this that make even easy matters amazingly stressful. Take the water bottle paradox, a problem supposedly left unsolved by Newton himself. It runs something like this. “Is there a finite amount of bottled water to buy for a given day of a tournament at a site that has water jugs available to refill empty bottles?”

I’m reasonably certain that the mountain of empty plastic bottles at volleyball tournaments is one of the major causes of global warming and the trade deficit. Whatever your beliefs, virtually everyone agrees that it’s both a huge waste and a custodial nightmare—Water bottles Water bottles everywhere but not a drop to drink.

My daughter’s current club has any number of thoughtful-responsible parents (something actually reflected in the girls). We came to Las Vegas with the clear prime directive “Just give each of them one bottle for the day and she can refill it from the jugs against the wall. Each girl needs to be responsible for her own bottle.”

Of course, this ran into the small matter of reality. As in, some six foot tall seventeen year old comes up to you and says, “Do you have another bottle of water, I lost mine, and I really need to drink something.”

As chaperone, you sit there and ask yourself “Okay if star outside dehydrates here with Russ Rose and Andy Banachowski watching from the folding seats, the team might lose and the recruiters might blame it on something my own daughter did or didn’t do.”

Naturally, we decided to pay ten bucks for four bottles of water at the Cashman Center. The next day, Mrs. Boris and I improvised and bought an extra case and a half of water that we kept in the van and doled out when necessary. It might have broken with the directions we got from a club named for a Hellenically ideal geometric structure, but it worked for us. (the geometric thing does likely explain why the coach makes them tuck in their jerseys at 45 degree angles even during practices though at least one person insists that he’s just OCD) Of course, at moments like this you don’t much stop tothink that Russ Rose likely isn’t on your sideline to watch your kid. Otherwise you might have gotten a letter or two or maybe an e-mail back on September 1.

In the meantime, nine young women’s futures may be riding on your having food available at just the right time or just the right amount of water.

Chaperoning Lesson #3 Pretending Not to Hear Things

Mrs. Badanov is much better at an interpersonal level than I. Historically, I’ve always been the one to hear kids talking about something and bring it up immediately. She was the one who taught me that there’s a most effective time and way to follow up. The single greatest reason to chaperone a multi-day tournament is that you get to know who your daughter is spending all this time with at an intimate level. Even if you have them in the back of your car on the way to practices or tournaments, you probably don’t get to see who the girls are, how they interrelate, and how they treat one another.

Our situation this year is unusual. Actually, it puts us in the trans-Plutoid realm of over the top crazy volleyball parents. Our daughters have always been exceptionally close despite the fact that they are eight years apart. The older one is now a college coach and the younger one hopes to have the chance to play in college. Mrs. Boris and I never played which often becomes apparent when we try to talk to them about happenings on the court. The older one lives on the east coast and they wanted time together, not just visit time but in some ways volleyball time as well. While we have had a long and positive relationship with our home club, we made the decision to give up some direct time as parents in exchange for giving them this chance to enjoy being sisters at a critical time.

Our club volleyball daughter generally forbids me to mention her or her team, but she’s taken on an enormous challenge by moving across the country, taking on a new high school in a strange town, and playing for a new club and coach with virtually no social safety net for these six months. Whether or not things work on the volleyball end, we’ve learned that she just might manage without us. As for the older one, despite the fact that she didn’t let me meet Kevin Garnett, her taking on the role of surrogate mom, volleyball parent, etc. has been an act of pure devotion to family and love for her younger sister—it’s sort of like the Boxcar Children in spandex.

We feel very lucky in the whole volleyball playing siblings realm. What could have been a source of pressure, competition, etc. even despite the age difference, has become instead a bridge to express their bond as sisters. I was an only child, so it’s been an especially great lesson for me. On our end, it’s a leap for any parent to put this much trust this early in one’s kids. So far, it’s worked out okay. There are, however, no promises in life. Still, we feel blessed to see all three of our children’s love and commitment to one another (we have an older son who’s also devoted to his sisters).

I’m again reminded that the challenge of being a sports parent is that there are two dramas. At one level, the child is trying to prove that she’s special as an athlete. At another level the point of the whole thing is that she’s learning that it’s important to be special as a person and that the sport is just a medium for doing that. If you invest only in the one, it leads to pain and frustration in that for every team that wins, there is one that loses. If you prioritize the other, you have a chance to emerge from being a junior sports parent with your sanity intact. I would say the one blessing in this sport of not having a daughter with Alex Klineman’s size or talent is that you have to figure this out much earlier or stay out of the gym.

Of course, this comes from a parent who let his daughter play for a club in North Carolina one year.

So basically, the unspoken challenge of chaperoning is that you hear the girls talk about all sorts of things. I should say out front that the most shocking thing we heard over the weekend was the girls talking in the back of the van about reading the book Freedom Writers, currently a Hillary Swank movie, and threaten to start a book club to talk about whatever they happened to be reading.

It’s not good for a parent to faint while driving a van filled with volleyball players, but fortunately the traffic was light. Did someone kidnap our daughter and replace her with an android? We’re still wondering if the girls staged it to persuade us that everything was all right. This was, after all, our first chance to get to know who our daughter had been hanging out with over the last six weeks.

On the other end of the scale, I also had to hear girls talk about getting e-mail from boys three states away on Myspace. Btw, If you want to suddenly be popular as a chaperone, bring a laptop with a wireless connection. Of course, you’ll then see about 500 myspace and facebook pages, but it may have been the one time the girls noticed my presence much or even asked why I wear a black trenchcoat everywhere. One of the girls actually speaks French at home, so she rather cleverly spoke French whenever she happened to be on the cell phone around us. I never mentioned to her that I understand French from my training as an agent for Fearless Leader. Fortunately, all her conversation was perfectly parent-acceptable unless my French is a whole lot worse than I think.

At its very heart, Las Vegas is a recruiting tournament. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing scores of college coaches wandering the sidelines even your sideline, but it’s also easy to forget that the girls are under enormous pressure. Making matters worse, every single female teenager in America who was 6’3 or taller and even vaguely coordinated was somewhere in Cashman Center. If you’re under 5’8”, it must be like my showing up at a dance and discovering that all the other guys are there for the Brad Pitt and Tiki Barber family reunions. Anyway, there were any number of “Is anyone looking at my game? Am I doing okay?” mini-dramas happening all around us. They don’t necessarily need to hear more of it from you no matter how much you’re dying to talk about it.

By the way, Natasha and I have a plan for the next big recruiting tournament we attend. We’re going to show up in college jackets from our alma mater Whattsamatta U and pull out palm pilots, point at players, and chat animatedly (we know how to Animate part thanks to Jay Ward). We want to see how many parents slip behind us to see if they can hear what we’re saying.

In addition, there was one big drama. One of the better-known recruits committed to well known volleyball school on the second day of the tournament. This was great news for her, but was difficult news probably for at least three or four young women who could also jump touch ten feet six inches. Do you acknowledge stuff like this? Talk to the parents? Or do you simply let them work it through on their own unless you hear blood curdling screams from some back bedroom? The wise Mrs. Badonov advised, “Unless they make it your business, it’s not our business.”

That, of course, was the right call. She has this knack for being right about things like this. If only she could be this way when it comes to moose and squirrel. As it turns out, the volleyball recruiting process is endlessly mysterious. The saga wound up having an unexpectedly happy ending just two weeks later.

Much of chaperoning is a matter of keeping your ears and eyes open, but not necessarily reacting, at least not immediately. We had the happy experience of discovering that my daughter’s teammates are exactly the sorts of kids you enjoy chaperoning. The biggest issue beyond Carrie Bradshaw was that they sometimes got a little noisy from having too much fun together. Otherwise, they seem very much the product of families and a club that stress that winning is the product of personal development.

The funny thing is that this was not a good weekend from a competitive standpoint. By the way, if anyone is looking for an 0’7 setter, they should check out Club Pacific 18’s if she’s still available. The truth of Vegas is that the point of the tournament is not who’s winning, but who’s watching. Still, it’s hard to write about a tournament where I don’t have lots to brag about. Then again, actually I do. This is the weird thing, had we not chaperoned, it would have been a disappointing tournament in some sense. Because we did chaperone, it’s a great memory.

Yes I saw the 6’5” Amanda Gil play backrow and get five digs in four different ways on the same point. Yes, I watched Alexandra Jupiter swing from the right service line and have it land with pace on the left back corner on a big point and could she still be a sophomore? Yes, I saw Kanani Herring who may or may not be 5’9 prove that zero gravity singularities exist in Las Vegas. Yes, it was sort of bittersweet to see the Empire 17’s break through to the final eight with the coaching of Jeff Nielson and Lindsay Smith (my daughter’s high school coach). It’s not that easy when you’ve let your kid go cross-country to play for another club and her 18’s team happened to have struggled that day to go “Hey, great to see you, I’m so proud of how you guys did.” But, I was and we were.

What I want to remember is that I got to chaperone for the first time and saw that my kid had learned to flourish in a completely new place and with new people without us. I think too, in a gym you get to know how the team plays. In a house for three days, you get to know their hearts. I wouldn’t trade that for any number of wins on the court. Wandering the shopping mall inside the Aladdin, making an impromptu decision to go to IHOP between matches on the last day, hosting another team from Colorado aren’t the sort of things that seem to matter in these tournaments, but in certain ways these are even more important memories than “Should I have set the 4 on match point?”.

Some groups are special because they win. Some are special whether or not they do. How many teams out there are like the latter?
Link to my other volleyball articles

USAV chaperone information



At 3/28/2007 08:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be sure and tell us when you get more feedback on the DVDs protocol of chaperoning.

I'm glad Mrs. Boris has so many wisdoms. I would have been a basketcase of ricocheting indecisions in an hour and ten minutes.

I recommend taking a couple of Sharpies so people can put their initials on the cap of the water bottle they're supposed to refill. You'll see that they can keep track of their bottle more easily that way -- putting a dent in the global warming waste of plastic bottles.

What to do about MySpace and BOYS must be a nightmare. But then my parents didn't have to even worry about 'drugs.' Drugs were something only jazz musicians did in NewYorkCity. (Now, drinking -- that was a frequently deadly problem.)

Loved the whole piece.

At 3/28/2007 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
I don't know that the club had a policy. I generally have a very loose sense of what's acceptable, but when you're in a room filled with 16-17 year old girls listening to conversations about the virtues of wheatgrass.....well, it does make you think about what the limits should be for things broadcast on television.

They do use the sharpies or a lot of teams do. Tournaments are a little more chaotic than people think, so it helps but it doesn't solve the problem at all. The girls move around a fair amount during a match.

I think one of the signs that America has weird values is that some people got upset that Bill Clinton had inhaled (not necessarily that he may have done more than inhale) yet the same folk then elected an admitted former alcoholic. I'm not sure about the former part fwiw.

At 3/29/2007 10:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Being a chaperone has its share of issues that most people wouldn't think of, ones you described very well. Sounds worse than being a parent. I do want to become a soccer coach when I retire from playing. I just won't take them on any tournaments out of town.

At 3/30/2007 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Didn't know you play soccer. Okay, got to ask. What did you think of Bend it Like Beckham? First movie I remember seeing Keira Knightley in.

At 3/30/2007 04:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've been playing soccer since I was 8. I had knee surgery last fall, but I intend to start playing again at the end of April. (I also play volleyball, only started playing in college).

I liked Bend it Like Beckham because I could relate to their Indianness. My parents supported me in my soccer pursuits though. Keira sure was looking good, but I noticed a few occasions where they listed her first as the actress of note when Parminder Nagra was really the star of the movie. I can understand to a point because you have to get people to buy tickets.

So I just thought of something. Where does Chancelucky come from? Is it some kind of literal translation of some part of your given name? (Just a hunch).

At 3/30/2007 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Chance and Lucky are the two dogs in the picture. Chance is on the right.

I think your guess might be based on the fact that it my fiction, there's a character named "Lucky" who often tells the story. The dog having the same name is strictly a coincidence.


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