It’s been over eight years since I last played the game, but if I were to pick one outdoor game in which I’m best at (relative to other games I’ve played) it’s volleyball. And when I say I’m best at that, it’s on a strict relative basis – in undergrad, I struggled to get into my hostel team (let alone college team). It just goes to show how bad I’ve been in other outdoor games! I’m a successful cricket and football-watcher, though!

The thing with volleyball is that my game runs counter to how i play other games, and my life in general. In general, I’m an extremely high-risk person – I’m not into adventure sports, though, but have a Royal Enfield motorcycle – I take chances where possible and go for the spectacular. It is hard for me to be “accurate” and “correct”, and given that I know that I’m prone to making mistakes I try to maximize the outputs from the times when I don’t make mistakes, and thus go on a high risk path.

So I’ve quit my job without something else in hand four times, now freelance as a management consultant, blog about every damn thing – things that have promises of big upsides, but also risks of downsides. It also reflects in how I sometimes talk to people – I sometimes try too hard to make an impression – which can potentially get me big returns, but end up saying something stupid at times, and end up sounding arrogant at other times. Those are risks I willingly take.

And this risky nature has reflected in most games I’ve played, also – again nothing in the recent past. In chess, I get bored of slow technical Carlsen-esque positions, and am prone to go on Morphy-esque attacks that can backfire spectacularly. Playing bridge, I finesse way more than I’m supposed to – making some otherwise unmakeable contracts, but going down in contracts I should have otherwise made.

Back in school, when we played cricket with rubber and tennis balls, I would bowl leg spin, and using a light bat, would try to hit every ball for four or six, rather than trying to bat steadily. And while playing basketball (my “second best” outdoor game, after volleyball) I have a propensity to go for long shots.

What sets volleyball apart is that my game completely runs counter to who I am. In volleyball I’m a solid player – don’t spike too much (can’t jump!!), but can set spikes well, block well and can lead a team well from the back line. In fact, my best volleyball games have been those when the team has had to carry some weak links, and I’ve led from the centre of the back line, lending solidity and helping build up attacks. It definitely doesn’t reflect what I’m like otherwise.

But volleyball has also been the game where I’ve had a large number of spectacular failures. At every level I’ve played, I’ve had some responsibility thrust upon me, and I’ve buckled under the pressure. It’s volleyball that comes to mind every time I let down people’s trust because I do badly a something I’m supposed to be good at.

1. Voyagers versus pioneers, 1999: This was the school inter-house tournament. We go two sets up. They win the next two. Down to the decider. We lead 14-13, and its our turn to serve. Our captain purposely messes up our rotation such that I can serve (I had a big serve – one attacking aspect of my volleyball). The serve clips the net on its way across (back then, a let was a foul serve in volleyball). We lose.

2. NPS Indiranagar versus NPS Rajajinagar, 1999: Then I get selected to represent my school. I’m on the bench, and am subbed in right on time to serve. I decide to warm up with an underarm serve (before I start unleashing my overarm thunders). Hit it into the net. Opponent’s serve comes to me and I receive it badly. Get subbed out.

3. G block versus F block, 2004-05: Semi finals of the IIMB inter-hostel championship. We have two big spikers, two decent lifters and defenders (including me) and two who had never played volleyball in their lives, but were chosen on the basis of their physical fitness alone. Down to third set (best of three). We lead 25-24 (new scoring system). I’m playing right forward. Ball comes across the net. All I need to do is to set it up for a big spike, but I decide to spike it directly myself. And miss. Then I serve on the next match point. Decide to go for a safe serve, gets returned. We lose.

4. Section C versus Section A, 2004-05: Again similar story. I don’t remember the specifics of this, but again it was heartbreak, and I think I missed my serve on match point.

I guess you get the drift..

On Schooling

Usually I’m quick to defend the school where I studied between 1986 and 1998. I made lots of good friends there and generally had a good time. Of late, however, in discussions on schooling, I find myself mention teachers from that school who I considered particularly horrible, mostly for their method of teaching.

Yesterday I was chatting with a classmate from this school who now works in the education sector, and she happened to mention that she considered her schooling to be mostly “a waste” and that she didn’t learn too much there. And I quickly concurred with her, saying all that I had learnt was at home, and school didn’t teach me much. So what explains my love for the school even though they might not have done a great teaching job?

From 1998 to 2000, I went to another school, where again they didn’t teach much, and instead assumed all of us went to JEE factories which would teach us anyway. What made things bad there, though, was that they didn’t treat us well. That school had a strict disciplinary code which was enforced more in letter than in spirit. Teachers there had a habit of loading us with homework, calling us for Saturday classes and having surprise tests. The problem with School 2 was that not only did they not teach well, but they also made life miserable in several other ways. The only redeeming factor for that school was the truckload of interesting people I got to meet during my two years there.

So what explains my love for School 1 despite the fact that they didn’t do a great job of teaching? The fact that they treated us well, and left us alone. The uniform wasn’t very strictly enforced, as long as you wore blue and grey. The school had an explicit “no homework” policy. Exams happened only according to schedule and there were few assignments. Even in class 10, we had three “periods” a week dedicated to “games” where we played volleyball or basketball rather than wasting our time in “PT”. Teachers were mostly very friendly and the atmosphere on the whole was collaborative and not so competitive.

My friend might think she “wasted” her 10 years in the school because she didn’t learn much there, but I argue that it was better than her going to another school where she wouldn’t be treated as well and where her life wouldn’t have been as peaceful.

Volleyball and basketball

Im by nature very aggressive and risk-taking. I dont mind picking fights with people, am never afraid to banter or be sarcastic, and sometimes without really calculating it, end up taking much bigger risks than I can handle, though I never really ask for a bailout in case my bets go bad. And Im extremely impatient.

Its been a while since I played any kind of sport, but Ill go dig back into the past in order to make this argument. In most sports that I play or have played, Ive been by nature the way I am in real life. Take chess for example, the only sport Ive played at a level that can be called competitive (I participated in state-level age-group tournaments in 1994-95, before I retired at the ripe age or thirteen). Im this extremely tactical and risky player, and dont really have the patience to play correctly in slow boring positions. While this nature helped me do well in the odd game here and there, my lack of patience meant that I was never winning tournaments, and that led me to call time on my career.

In contract bridge, another indoor sport which Ive played at a reasonable level (Madras city tournaments), again Ive been very adventurous and risk-taking, often bidding for contracts over what could have logically been made (we used to play pairs, so making a better contract sometimes helped), playing sometimes for impossible card distributions based only on a whim. Again, a few spectacular hands here and there, but mostly indifferent performance. I havent played much cricket, but in all the tennis-ball cricket Ive played Ive been an across-the-line slogger. In my childhood I bowled superfast and erratic, and then suddenly lost my pace and started bowling loopy off-breaks. So you see that in general, for me, sport has reflected life.

The exception is in perhaps the only two outdoor games where Ive been anything better than downright ordinary volleyball and basketball both games I started playing back in high school, and in which I couldve done much better than I did (at least represented my college in both) if Id bothered to put in rigorous practice.

And the exception is that in these two games, I play extremely defensively. Most of my moments of success” (uncopyrighted) in volleyball have come when Ive blocked or lifted smashes, and though I did have a booming serve Id get into the team due to my defensive abilities, and serviceable boosting. In basketball, despite having the ability to shoot from random angles and distances, Ive mostly made it to teams based on my ability to block and tackle; my inclination to be the first to track back when we lose the ball (though not being very quick); of basically being this old-fashioned disciplined guy in the team, which Im not in real life.

Unfortunately, my biggest moments of sporting disappointment have come on the volleyball court (Im definitely better at volleyball than basketball, if you could compare). And have been the guilty party on many an occasion.

Exhibit A: August 1999. Voyagers versus Pioneers. We go 2 sets up, opposition gets 2 sets back. 15-14 in final set, Im serving on match point, decide to play safe (remember I had a booming serve). Serve into the net.

Exhibit B: February 2005. G Block versus F Block. Same story. We go 2 sets up, they get back 2 sets. Were leading 20-16 in final set (new scoring system). I decide to spike rather than boosting for the in-position Pedro. And spike weakly. And then later on match point, remembering the 1999 fiasco, go for an even more safer serve. Serve gets returned and we lose our advantage. And lose the game.

Exhibit C: February 2005 again. Section C vs Section A. Story way too similar to Exhibit B, so I make a conscious effort to not remember the details. But it was as painful.

I wonder if the fact that my most painful moments on the sporting field have come when Ive shed my usual risky-and-aggressive behaviour and put on a disciplined avatar, have led me to become even more risky and aggressive in real life.