You are on page 1of 7

The Vance High School Volleyball Team: A Discourse Community The Vance High School volleyball team is a group

of female high school students who come together for the purpose of learning the game of volleyball and winning games. I chose to research this group because this particular volleyball team has not had a winning season in years. In fact, this team has only won one game in the past five years. What exactly are the issues in the Vance High School Volleyball team community keeping them from achieving their goal of winning games? Literacy and Contemporary Theory The obvious goal of the volleyball team, like any other sports team, is to win games. Other goals that are just as important as winning games are developing and perfecting volleyball skills as well as teamwork skills. Coach Troy Whitehurst adds that the team’s goals are centered on improving every practice and every game, seeing that it has been so difficult for the team to win games. Winning isn’t necessarily an unrealistic goal for this team, considering that they did win a game this year against West Charlotte High School. However, because victories such as that don’t come across often, the team had to create smaller goals to celebrate. Celebrating these smaller goals helps the team appreciate wins even more because they see how the small improvements contributed to their success. Highlighting small achievements also brought the team closer together and created more of a family atmosphere. In order to participate in this community, you must attend all practices and team meetings. In practice, new skills are learned and perfected. It is critical that players attend practice because you can’t be a part of a volleyball team if you don’t understand the game. Practices are meant to be a time where teammates learn how to play with each other and form a

sort of chemistry on the court. If there is a scrimmage in practice and there are two girls who play well next to each other, it would be best that they play next to each other in a game. Putting two girls next to each other on the court who have never played next to each other could be costly for the team, because they don’t know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, therefore making it hard to judge what exactly a player needs to do in order to play well and contribute to the team. The unspoken rules at practice are that you do not talk while the coach is talking and that seniors lead the warm up stretches and activities, unless directed by the coach to do otherwise. Team meetings are also important to attend. Meetings are used to discuss recent games and to give players constructive criticism about their performance so they know exactly what to improve on. The coach is a very direct person, so having face-to-face meetings with the team is the best way to communicate. Team meetings are also used to hash out any issues between players and to bond as a team. Coming together to talk about issues and creating resolutions can help bring a team together because it is a controlled environment where everyone has the chance to see things from another viewpoint. The unspoken rules in team meetings are that each person should have equal opportunities to speak, so be respectful of each other’s thoughts. As stated previously, the most effective way that information gets out is through team meetings. Everyone is required to attend, so there is no excuse for not knowing a critical piece of information. The team also uses cell phones as an effective mode of spreading information. However, it is still not as effective as the team meetings because of technology issues, such as failed text messages or missed calls.

Texting can be considered a specific genre the players use. It meets the rhetorical needs of the team, which is to share any changes in schedule for games or practices. The game schedule could also be considered a genre because it is the only piece of literature used by this volleyball team that communicates when and where each game is going to be. The Vance Volleyball team uses a lexis that is very specific to the sport of volleyball as well as phrases that they have made up on their own. Words such as roll, dig, dive, approach, hit, spike, pass, set, back court, serve, and jump serve are used on the court. Phrases that the team created in the past include “Turn up!”, “Ace in your face, say what?” , “Shake that ace!” , and the Cougar Chant. Sam Gilliard, a senior varsity player who has been on the team for four years, said that the team learned the majority of those chants from the seniors and juniors that were there before her. Gilliard tells me that the experts in this community would be the seniors, because “we’ve been here the longest and we know all the rules, plays, and routines. The coach is also an expert because he’s also played volleyball before and knows more about the game than most of us.” The players who are somewhat clueless are typically the freshman, or girls that have never played before, and they are easy to spot. Methodology The methods I used to obtain this information were observation and interviews. I attended two volleyball matches and interviewed a senior volleyball player and the head coach of the team. I chose to interview the senior volleyball player because she has been there each year, and there has been a different coach each season, which is almost like having a different team each season. I interviewed the coach to get his perspective on their community because he is new to it.

Even though he has played the sport before, he has never experienced this group of girls or this environment, so in a way he is a newbie. My main source to base my research off of was John Swales’ six qualifications for a discourse community. These guidelines helped me to identify whether or not the Vance High School volleyball team was a discourse community or not. Vance High School Volleyball Team I chose to research the Vance High School volleyball team because I was once a part of a high school volleyball team. I wanted to see how the rules of what makes a community a discourse community applied to a high school volleyball team, especially a team such as this one, who has changes in authority every year. The Vance volleyball team has been in existence since 1996. They were a winning team until the early 2000s, but ever since then the team rarely wins. They have won sets in matches, but not an entire match. Their first and only win in recent years was won this season against West Charlotte High School. The participants in this community are young girls between the ages of 14 and 18 that attend Vance High School. These girls are primarily African American and/or Latina. Observations I went to a volleyball match between Vance High School and A.L Brown High School. Before the game, there was lots of laughter and a little joking. It was clear that the girls were trying to relax and prepare their minds for the game. Everyone has on the same attire. The uniform consists of an orange jersey, navy blue spandex shorts, black and orange socks, volleyball shoes, and kneepads. Each player participates in the warm up activities, which includes stretching and basic drills. During these drills, the girls give each other words of encouragement to help lighten the tension.

When the game starts, the girls’ facial expressions become more serious and they are clearly focused. The mood is still fairly light, until a mistake is made. At that point, you can see the tension increase between the players, especially as more and more mistakes are made. Still, they come together after every play in a huddle and give each other high fives and encouragement. The upperclassmen have authority on the court. You can see the seniors directing their teammates when it comes to positioning and what to do on the court. The coach is clearly the expert during the game. He sets the girls up so that the best group of girls is on the court at all times. He understands the chemistry between the players and knows who plays well in what position and next to what player. He can also tell when something is going on with one of his players and knows when she needs to come out of the game. As Sean Branick stated, “Coaches need to be able to do so much more than read. They need to know how to read people. They need to know how to read their players so that they can find out how to get the most out of them”. Conclusion Based on my research, I have concluded that the following issues contribute to the Vance volleyball team’s chronic losing: inconsistent coaches, lack of skill set, and no real bond between the players. The inconsistent coaching is a major problem for this volleyball team. As stated before, there has been a different coach each year for the past four years. This has caused there to be a shift in authority each season. Some of the coaches had no real knowledge of the sport, and were clearly put in that position so that the school could have a volleyball team. Because of the unskilled coaches, players took it upon themselves to be the leaders of the team, which caused

friction between seasoned players and new players. Some of the younger players would not conform to what the older players wanted them to do. As Elizabeth Wardle put it, “Identity formation in any new community then, is a negotiation in which newcomers have some measure of “control over the meanings in which [they] are invested” and can “assert [their] identities as productive of meaning” (Wenger quoted in Wardle 188,208)-even if they do so by refusing to participate in some workplace activities”. It also made it harder for new coaches to be respected by the team when they already had their own hierarchy. Nothing the new coach said or tried to teach was ever really practiced by the team because of the lack of respect from the players. The imbalance between experts and novices prevented the team from ever getting better. As Swales put it, “…survival of the community depends on a reasonable ratio between novices and experts”. Another issue that prevents the team from winning is a lack of skill set. It is clear from the way they play and communicate on the court that some of the girls have little to no experience playing volleyball or even being on a team. The number of mistakes made on the court makes it all the more obvious. This lack of skill can be attributed to the change in coaches each year. The girls aren’t taught the same things by each coach because every coach has their own style and not every coach has the best knowledge of the game. This lack of knowledge and skill set is then transferred to the girls, which causes them to lose games. My last finding from my research was that the reason for the chronic losing by the Vance volleyball team is because they have no real bond. In my interview with Coach Whitehurst, he informed me that in the beginning, the girls were not very close and would not even come together in a huddle after plays. As Tony Mirabelli said, “There is sometimes miscommunication

or resistance when a customer may or may not want to be treated like family, or the waitress or waiter may not want to treat a customer like family”. The girls felt that they were being forced to like each other, which is exactly what Whitehurst was trying to do. He had to show them that they had to come together in order to be successful. The girls only realized that after their first win, and after that game they became much closer because they realized that the only way they were going to win games was if they played together and not as individuals.