The Hulk Thing

Yesterday, I watched my daughter’s high school volleyball team win round three of their Texas class 6A state tournament. They played as well as I’ve ever seen them play. One girl in particular, our 6’3″ middle blocker, had an especially good match.

There are lots of expressions for describing what I saw: she was playing out of her mind, dialed in, in the zone, flow state, hulked out. She was more aggressive than I’d ever seen her, and she just couldn’t miss. She scored fifteen kills and Lord knows how many blocks in just one 25-point set. She’s always good. Last night, she was devastating. But the whole team was. It was a sight to behold.

Thinking of the term “hulked out” made me remember something I learned in high school.

For three and a half years, I played just well enough to be a starter on our high school football team, but I don’t remember doing anything particularly noteworthy until my fourth year, as a senior. In one game late in the season, something happened that made me really angry—the out-of-control, enraged kind of angry.

I discovered that in a rage state I could move a lot faster than I had ever moved before, and I could just throw people around, which I had never done before.

It was some of that momma-lifts-a-car-off-her-baby strength that you hear about. I didn’t know I had it in me.

It’s clearly a power that could come in handy, but I’m hesitant to call it a tool because I don’t know how to control it.

Of course, that’s what makes the whole Hulk story interesting in the first place: It’s difficult to control the intense emotions that engage all that power, and so you risk accidentally hurting yourself or the people around you. Operating in a blind rage also causes you to miss opportunities, and it makes you easier to trick.

Watching my daughter’s teammate, though, I never got the sense that there was anything out of control going on down there. I think she was just having a particularly well-connected in-flow experience with her teammates. Probably the result of the tremendous amount of preparation and discipline that I know these young ladies have invested into their team.

This is way better than the crazy-mad Hulk thing. Hulk would never score half of his fifteen points on finesse kills.

It’s easy to associate Hulk strength only with negative emotions like anger and fear, but do you know how else you can access it?

Joy.

And that’s what I saw on the volleyball court. Players who weren’t just strong, but who were seeing everything, who were communicating and making great decisions. Players who were being extra aggressive because they felt self-confident. Of course, they felt self-confident because everything they did was working. Everything they did was working because they had invested so much into their preparation.

I couldn’t tell if the success was causing the giant smiles, or if the giant smiles were causing the success, but by the second set of our match, the whole team was infected with it. And as the joy of it consumed their whole team, their play elevated to a level that would have been hard for anybody to keep up with.

You may get strength from blind rage, but you don’t get what I saw last night. This was a team whose players who had accessed some of their Hulk strength without losing their minds, simply by un-limiting themselves, by allowing their joy to elevate them.


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