It was the 1990s, I was in my 30s, slender, svelte and super fit, an athlete in his prime. My team had just been knocked out of the Volleyball championships in Brugge and I was having an early shower. A little soap went in my eyes, so I closed them and rinsed. When I gingerly opened them, I realised I was standing next to this 6ft 6, broad, hairy, German ... girl!
She just stood there smiling and continued lathering up, as did the rest of her equally huge team mates. Apparently, the girls’ showers were busy and this busty young lady and her fellow feisty fräuleins were more than happy to share a shower.
I learned many lessons in volleyball which I carried through to life in general, which I know share with you. The first lesson is that when you are surrounded by giants you have to jump higher than them.
I played for St Albans and BRE where I worked. I played league volleyball across the South East and I played in the Civil Service league nationally. Every summer I would play in tournaments in Poole and Brugge.
You won't be surprised to hear that they called me the “wide boy”. That's because my initial position was number six wide. I would hang back just to the left of the court, then run in, jump and spank that ball. It would hit the deck leaving a dust cloud. “Eat dirt” I would shout as my taller tormentors dived for it. On some occasions I would get my team mates to join in and dance and sing "can't touch this".
On quite a few occasions I would completely miss, making a mid-air windmill action, or worse end up on the net like a spider trapped in a web.
But the second lesson I learned from volleyball is, what you lack in skill you can make up for in enthusiasm and intimidation. The BRE team, my works team, weren't that good - to be honest the volleyball was a front for going away drinking. However, we were particularly good at psyching out the other teams.
We used our chants to good effect. If they hit the ball out we would shout “zoom, you’re a rocket man”. If we blocked their spikes we would shout "take a seat in the bus shelter". We would win several points before the other team finally realised we just weren't that good and went on to beat us.
That leads me to my third lesson - cunning and deception. Believe it or not but at a certain level volleyball becomes quite a strategic game. In the works team I played the setter, number one. The setter calls the shots and dictates the moves. Like in baseball we use hand signals to call the play. In one game we were faced with another row of lofty behemoths.
I called for all my players to run in for a spike. They were confused, what's he doing, we will have no defence. The ball was served to us, number four made a nice dig and popped it over to me. I feigned making a high set and, as my team and opposing team all jumped, I just tipped it over the net.
The fourth and final lesson is don't be a smart Alec. Our opponents hated that move and consequently thrashed us with not one iota of mercy. Hence, we took a lot of early showers, mostly alone, but sometimes with big hairy German girls. I'm sure there is another life lesson in that, but I haven't quite worked it out yet.