BROCKTON — Ah, team sports — not really my thing, you might say.
I’m not usually the best or the worst athlete in the room, but I witnessed enough poor sportsmanship in my youth to leave me wary of team sports, such as volleyball, as an adult. When a weaker player’s mistake cues a bad reaction from teammates, or when super-competitive players encroach on the positions of those they think will choke, the fun gets lost.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find, over the last 10 or 12 years that I’ve been more physically active, that most adults have matured to the point where they can play recreational sports without behaving badly. They go to local gyms and community centers to have a good time and get some exercise.
A good experience with this laid-back brand of sports can be therapeutic for people who don’t consider themselves great athletes.
Finding the right level of play is a challenge, though, because leagues and pick-up games come in all shapes and sizes. Some cater to former college-level athletes, while others welcome people with little or no background in the sport. Your search for a team may yield some that are highly competitive and involve traveling to distant tournaments, or it may yield teams that use no referees and care more about postgame pizza than the game.
When I look for a team, I look for one where someone of average athletic ability but little practice in the sport can do reasonably well and have a good time. I found exactly that when I checked out Wednesday night volleyball at the Central Branch of the Old Colony YMCA in Brockton.
Play started at 6:30 p.m. and ran until closing time, at 9. The group was small, with just three players on each side at first. A few of the regulars couldn’t make it because they play volleyball for Brockton High School and had a game that night.
Coach Maria Serrano and I talked for a while before we joined the game. Volleyball has been part of her life for a long time. She started playing school-sponsored volleyball in fourth grade in Senegal, where she was born to Cape Verdean parents who moved from the islands to the West African mainland.
The youngsters in Senegal played by the same rules Americans know, but on an outdoor tar surface, not in a gym. Serrano loved the game, excelled at spiking and serving, and continued playing after she came to the United States at 15.
Today she lives in Bridgewater, and all six of her children play volleyball. In addition to coaching for the YMCA, Serrano coaches volleyball at New England Baptist Academy in West Bridgewater, where she teaches kindergarten. Her 16-year-old daughter Bethanney attends the school and plays volleyball on the school team.
Bethanney and a teammate from school, 16-year-old Rachael Julian, also play at the Brockton YMCA. The night I visited, they had a great time joking with one another from opposite sides of the net.
At the Y games, the girls get to see new faces. Julian, who lives in Brockton, said she appreciates the welcoming, judgment-free atmosphere, and I agree — the game got an A+ rating for good sportsmanship.
“This is where I let all my stress out,” she said.
The average age on the court seemed to be near 20, but older players fit right in. The coach had knee injuries, but held her own and showed us her winning serve.
One of the more successful spikers on my team was Shayne DeSatnick, 19, of Brockton. A former home-schooler who started taking college courses early, he recently graduated from Curry College in Milton. He didn’t play at school because Curry didn’t have a men’s team, he said, but he enjoys playing at the Y, where he learned the game about five years ago.
“I just think it’s fun,” he said. “It’s good exercise, too, for us lazy people that want to do something to exercise.”
DeSatnick plays at the East Bridgewater YMCA as well. Games take place at various Y locations south of Boston several nights a week, allowing players to squeeze in plenty of activity if they are willing to drive. Among the Old Colony Ys, Brockton hosts games Mondays and Wednesdays, East Bridgewater Thursdays and Sundays, and Stoughton on Tuesdays. The Stoughton game will switch to Wednesdays as of June 27.
Volleyball is also listed in program guides for the Old Colony YMCA in Middleborough and the Gleason Family YMCA in Wareham, which is part of YMCA Southcoast.
Farther north, the Quincy branch of the South Shore YMCA hosts recreational volleyball on Wednesdays and Sundays and plans to begin a competitive men’s league in June. Most pick-up games are co-ed.
Nonmembers are welcome at the Y games for a fee, generally $5 to $10 per day depending on your age and location. Members play free at the Old Colony Ys and pay a small fee in Quincy.
The YMCA has a long history with volleyball — longer than anyone else. William G. Morgan invented the game at the Holyoke Y in 1895. According to USA Volleyball, Morgan created the game, briefly called mintonette, as a sport for businessmen that would require less physical contact than basketball. An observer saw the teams volleying the ball back and forth and suggested the new name.
The game caught on quickly. By 1922, the first national YMCA championship featured 27 teams from 11 states. Six years later, the United States Volleyball Association, now USA Volleyball, was formed, and the first US open tournament broadened the field to non-YMCA teams. Volleyball debuted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games in Tokyo.
South of Boston, the volleyball scene got a boost about six weeks ago when a new facility, MGA Sports, opened on Canton Street in Norwood. MGA has 12 courts, and owner Fabian Ardila said a May 6 tournament brought 500 players and spectators. Volleyball clubs rent the courts and the facility offers instruction to new players.
This year, New England’s only professional volleyball team, a women’s team, practiced at MGA. Dave Peixoto, commissioner of the New England Region Volleyball Association, part of USA Volleyball, said the professional team draws women from all over New England. Although only one team is professional, the association sends numerous teams to national competitions. It has 2,000 adult members and 5,000 youth members who belong to affiliated clubs, he said.
The competitive clubs sound great. Recreational, however, is more my speed.
Toward the end of the night in Brockton, Bethanney Serrano plugged her Latin and Cape Verdean dance music into the stereo system. People couldn’t help but move to the rhythm while they waited for a serve, and I was smiling. It felt like a party. This I could definitely get used to.