Volleyball is the fifth most popular sport in the world. Playing the game is exhilarating and watching it thrilling. Players strive for best, pushing to excel, feeling the rush. The crowd goes wild as we watch, mesmerized most often by the spike – the mighty slam both powerful and perfect, fearsome for the competition, energizing for the fans. Out there, on the court, it seems as if everything rests solely on the one who powers the ball meteorically toward cowering opponents.
But in truth, there are five other players on the court.
Micah Christenson is a member of the US National Volleyball Team. He is considered the best setter in the world, a designation first achieved at age 16 in his high school years in Kamehameha (Hawaii), retained in his college years at the University of Southern California, and maintained as a US Olympic medalist and member of the Italian club, Cucine Lube. This young man is an elite volleyball player, but he never spikes the ball.
A setter’s eyes are always on his teammates. His play is crucial to the team’s offensive success. The setter is much like a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball. The setter is the one who takes a position to make the perfect pass. The perfect pass is what’s behind the perfect spike.
Micah’s middle name is Makanamaikalani, Hawaiian for “gift from heaven.” His parents gave him the name because complications existed that made his birth tenuous. When he arrived, safe and healthy, the parents knew Who to praise. Micah, too, is an outspoken believer in the Lord Jesus. He testifies that his faith is the foundation of all he does, and he credits his belief in God for all his successes: "I'm so grateful that I chose God, because that choice has really sparked something inside of me, and I feel the Holy Spirit working inside of me all of the time." He is a big proponent of the team mentality, too. In his posts on social media, he invariably gives kudos to those on his team; his pronoun of choice is “we.” His photo posts are usually of his team – and he smiles in every one of the pictures. While he garners accolades as a volleyball athlete, he continually affirms the necessity of those who undergird all he does.
The individual athlete is important. But what if the pressure to take charge of our own destiny, to succeed, comes up short? The burden is great. It’s at these times that we need to look around and see the team who are with us. We are not alone.
There are lessons here that transcend the volleyball court. To go for the spike, one works alone in the moment. To be the best setter, one must have others in the game. To accomplish both feats, the person gives all on the court and always remembers the many others who are giving their all on the court. There is a rhythm needed, a tandem at play, being one athlete but playing and accepting the efforts of the team.
Micah Christenson’s go-to book is the Bible. His go-to verse is James 1:3: "Consider it pure joy when you face trials of any kind." He claims that because of his belief in this fact – he is never alone. In life, he rests in the knowledge a loving God Who is always with him; in volleyball, he knows he is a member of the team. Alone? Never!
Volleyball athletes (and athletes in general), go for the spike. Pursue personal best with all the talent and determination within you. But realize that to be a world-class setter, you must believe in the power of the team to fulfill the win. Together.
Believers, live your dream. Strive for life’s very best with every ounce of your ability. But acknowledge the crowd of support there is right around you: your family, friends, mission leaders, youth group, church ministers, and a loving Savior Who desires that personal relationship with you. Together.
Remember, you are not alone. The weight of your world is not yours alone to carry.