Sunday, October 7, 2012

Do You "Better the Ball"?

I don't try to hide it, I am a huge sports fan.  I like to play, I love to go to sports events, and our PVR is glowing red hot with games that I still need to watch.  I like watching almost any sport, but really love watching golf, college basketball and football, and Big 10 volleyball.

Recently, I was watching Nebraska play Penn State in volleyball, and the commentator kept using a phrase that stuck with me.  She kept talking about how the setter for Nebraska would "better the ball" that was given to her: if the pass to her was bad, she would turn the pass into a good play with her set.  If the pass was good, she would turn the play into something great, even spectacular, with her set.  She consistently made every effort to 'better the ball'.

I love this phrase because I think it has all sorts of applicability in education.  In each of our schools, I would guess that there are things about our job that are not ideal.  Maybe we envision a newer school.  Perhaps it is more visionary leadership from a Principal.  Maybe it is more money for better technology, more spacious classrooms, and to provide more choices for kids.  It could be for more committed students, teachers, administrators, or district staff.  We might see a less bloated curriculum.  It could be a combination of a few of these, or perhaps we are hoping or waiting for all of them.

But back to the analogy, in each instance that the setter for Nebraska gets a pass from one of her teammates, they are giving her the best pass they could have given at the time. The moment that pass leaves the arms of her teammate on a less than desirable trajectory, she has a choice. She can kind of jog after it, slop it up somewhere high in the air and hope that one of her hitters does something with it:  the pass was junky anyhow, so who would fault her?  Let's just try to get the ball over and hope the other team makes a mistake.

Or she could do something special.  She could sprint to the ball, get her feet set underneath it, square up and snap a laser out to one of her hitters, who now can surprise the other team. The opponents were expecting something sloppy and out of system, but now must deal with something precise and very much 'in' system.  They likely were not expecting someone to "better the ball".

I think it is very important for us to take a step back and realize that our situation is very much what we make of it.  If we choose to get mired down in all the things that are wrong in what we do and turn those in to barriers for us moving forward, I think the days would get very long and unsatisfying for each of is.  But if we try to "better the ball" ourselves, and find ways to empower those around us to see each "pass" (challenge posed to us by our students, staffs, facilities, resources, district staff, etc) as an opportunity to "better the ball", we can make the experience for ourselves and our partners something special.

So, "bettering the ball" is something I must continue to work to do.  How do you "better the ball" and empower others to do so with you?


  1. This was a great post, Cale.

    I'm truly struggling with many things that I feel are out of my hands - report cards, required testing, budget issues... sometimes it can all be pretty overwhelming and make me feel pretty helpless. But, like the player you mentioned, I can only make do with the balls that are passed to me. It's up to me to better the ball. Not exactly sure how to do that with some of these things, but if I don't keep trying who will?

    Thanks for your wise words at the perfect time.

  2. Totally dug this, Pal -- and needed it.

    I oftentimes feel like I have no real control in schools simply because I have no organizational power. That means the level of impact that I can have on choices and direction is pretty darn small.

    But that doesn't mean that I can't "better the ball" in every circumstance.

    Hope you're well!

  3. hah! I was actually thinking about starting a blog about volleyball, life, and work, and thought of "bettering the ball" as the first topic. This can relate to ALL areas of our lives - sports, work, home/family, etc. It's my new mantra. I think you may have saved me from having to start a blog - thanks !


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