How Foster Care is Like Volleyball

In my “spare time” [I really do not have any] I play or coach volleyball. For the last ten years I’ve played volleyball once a week for my “Me Time” in Parenthood. Then in the past year, I found myself with a child old enough to start playing the sport and I jumped into the coaching aspect of the game. I started off by helping coach my daughter’s 4th grade team and then enlisted as assistant coach with the high school varsity team this last fall. Currently I’m coaching high school club volleyball this winter. I’m having fun running my own team but I’ve realized I still have a huge learning curve.

But what does all this talk about volleyball have to do with foster care? Glad you asked! Stick with me, even if you’ve never played the sport of volleyball you will be able to follow me on this.


How foster care is like volleyball:

The general concept of playing volleyball is to keep the ball from hitting the ground on your side of the court. Teams volley the ball back and forth over the net that divides the two competing teams. Much of the time in foster care it feels like the children are getting volleyed back and forth between biological family and foster family. We juggle the kids around on our side for a time and then pass them back over to the biological family. They fumble around with them and send them back to the other side. Sometimes it feels like we play this “game” far too long and sometimes its Game, Set, Match rather quickly. If I am going to be real with you [really real] then I will admit that I loathe Visit Days. In the words of my middle-schooler: “They suck.” To avoid sounding super negative I’ll spare you all the reasons why Visit Days are hard. [But if you do foster care you know exactly what I mean.]

The three basic skills of running a volleyball offense is: Pass, Set, Attack. A different player touches the ball with each skill. It is impossible to run a solid offense and expect to win with one player.  In volleyball we assign roles to players; we have passing specialists, setters, and attackers. Typically a setter does not make a very good attacker and an attacker rarely has good setting hands. Each role is important to the whole team. Teamwork is the key here. Caring for a child in foster care is very much a team approach. To act in the best interest of the child, everyone needs to play their role to the best of their ability. The typical “team” for a foster child is made up of the following: foster parent(s), the biological family, social workers, guardian ad litem, judge, medical providers, therapists, teachers (this list is not exhaustive). Not everyone are active players all at once, just as only six players can be on the court during a volleyball game. Some are key players that play on the court the entire game and some only come in at key moments, like making the game-winning serve. In girls’ volleyball if the players are not meshing as a team, they will fall apart and lose the game.  If we do not act together as a team, then the good of the child suffers.

Practice and repetition make better. In volleyball (and any sport) repetition improves your skills, creates quicker reflexes, and develops instincts for the players. I have found that repetition and consistency is the key to being successful with a child in foster care. Reps make the volleyball player function better on the court. Consistency with the child helps them operate and cope better with all the crazy things going on in their little lives. Children coming from chaos thrive with structure. Structure feels safer and decreases the anxiety of the unknown.

Volleyball is a fluid game, meaning it constantly changes and although it follows some general assumptions– we assume the other team will likely bump, set, spike– the ball may come flying back over the net after one hit by the opponent. This can really throw a team for a loop. The same thing can happen in foster care. You are going along, volleying back and forth, getting into a good rhythm and then *BAM* something goes off kilter and sends everyone scrambling.

Blocking and digging are two defensive concepts in volleyball. A good block completely deflects the trajectory of the ball back down on the opponent’s side. It feels really awesome when that happens! On my team our girls lack height, so I am often encouraging them to just “get a touch” on the block which in turn slows the heat of the attack down and makes it easier to handle. As a foster parent I need to stand in the gap for our children and guard their hearts. I am thankful we can shelter them from the storm that rages around them and they can just be kids, for this moment, because they only get one childhood. Sometimes we can completely deflect the pain from hitting them and other times we may only be able to take the heat off and make it easier to cope. Digging up a hard hit can be an impressive acrobatic feat and get the crowd to their feet. But sometimes it can hurt. I’ve played defensive specialist and had the bruises on my hips, knees, and arms to show for it. However hard it may hurt you are still committed to diving for that ball and get the save. “Digging deep” in foster care means doing whatever you can to defend your child and keep them from hitting the ground. Sometimes it can be painful and leave bruises on your heart but you get back up and do it again.

My current team! (I’m on the left looking like one of the kids.)

To all who are out there “playing the game” of foster care I will end my volleyball analogy with the 10 Commandments of Volleyball that I gave to my team. They can easily be applied to what you are doing:

10 commandments of volleyball

  • 1.    Play with intensity.
  • 2.    Don’t ever give up.
  • 3.    Shake off every mistake and move on.
  • 4.    Have a positive attitude.
  • 5.    Always encourage your teammates.
  • 6.    Have good sportsmanship.
  • 7.    Aim to be an all-around good player.
  • 8.    Try your hardest no matter what.
  • 9.    Always have a goal in mind and strive to obtain it.
  • 10.    Be the best you can be on and off the court.

–Coach Leah

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