Bullying is an epidemic that occurs across all boards of civilization. It rears it’s ugly face in the corporate world, politics, religion, classrooms and, on the playing field.
I chose to share a personal story about bullying and sports, cause if you are a victim of it, or you might suspect a loved one is at the mercy of teammates that bully, I’d like to share how just one moment can change your life when it comes to being presented with a bully.
When I was a freshman in high school I was one of two girls that made the Junior Varsity volleyball team. I was up against senior outside hitters who quickly formed a cabal to take me down. I had never been bullied on the court before and it was awful. For weeks I would fear going to practice. I would sit with anxiety all day in class knowing I had to go up against teammates that were bullies. When I found out I had to attend a retreat at one of the girls parents house for a weekend in Santa Barbara, I started to panic. For days I would cry, and pray I’d survive knowing that I had no friends on the team, and haters out to get me. When I got to the retreat some of the ring leaders decided to buy beer and go down to the beach to drink. I’ll never forget that pivotal moment in my life that could have changed my entire destiny. Did I want to fit in? Yes. Did I want to seem like a team player? Yes. But something deep inside me spoke to me and told me to stay back. I’ll never forget that voice that kept me out of trouble.
So as it turns out, one of the girls drank too much – she happened to be one of the queen bullies – and she got sick and threw up and everyone got busted. The entire team was dismantled, and my high school put together a whole new team. I ended up playing all four years and continued on to play Division I in college, and I know without a doubt if I didn’t listen to my heart and instinct in that crucial moment, who knows where I would have end up. I’d probably not make the team the next year, and lose out on getting on a good club team, and my life would have been an entirely different story.
I write this cautionary tale cause being bullied in sports happens a lot and it can be crippling. Trying to perform at your best knowing that teammates are jealous and out to bring you down can be the worse kind of bullying cause it can ruin your career. Sports ended up being my ticket to entrance into an Ivy League University. These days and even back then it was not enough to have a 4.0 GPA, be Student Body President, participate in clubs and have a dynamite application. You need a hook. My hook was volleyball, and when I look back to the horrible treatment I endured, I am grateful that I didn’t fold to pressure. I didn’t let the desire or need to be accepted get the best of me. I listened to that internal voice that can appear at any given time in your life if you are open to listening. I took that experience throughout my life and, even though, once again, I was bullied on the court in college, by then I knew I could rise above the pressure to fit in. Did it hurt my feelings for seniors to come for me cause I was a better player then them? Nope. Did I cry after practice after being targeted for hours? Nope.
I never spoke of the bullying to my parents. I kept it to myself, and I’m not sure why. I wasn’t ashamed but maybe afraid they’d try and intervene and make matters worse. Or maybe they’d tell me to buck up cause that’s just part of life. I don’t know, but, if you are a parent watch for signs of your loved ones being treated poorly. Especially if they are more talented than their senior peers. Yes, sports are competitive but that doesn’t make it okay to mentally and emotionally abuse someone. And if you are someone that is bullied cause you work harder, you happen to be more talented, and you make the first string team, and not be a bench warmer, hang in there. Don’t let some obnoxious bully ruin your career, and make any trajectory in your future.
So, interesting ending to the story. Several months ago I attended an October Fest at my old grammar school, and that queen bully that puked on the beach was there working at a booth cause her kids attend the school. She saw me and was all thrilled and was like, “Oh my God, Erica Loberg!” Like she was happy to see me or something. She was all friendly and asking what I was up to and I was like, “What? You don’t recall how you bullied me in high school?” Apparently she didn’t, but it felt good to call her out on it finally, decades later.