A new season of Haikyuu!! started this weekend. This volleyball anime hails from Production I.G, the same studio that brought us Kuroko’s Basketball, and it’s equally pleasing to watch. Hinata Shoyo never fails to put a smile on my face—even comedy anime rarely lighten my heart the way this kid does. But this week, his teammate Kageyama Tobio draws my attention. Kageyama is the highly-driven character I instinctively avoid in real life… and also the lonely, socially clumsy character I deeply relate to.
Kageyama is a gifted setter, but teamwork doesn’t come so easily for him. In middle school, his fast tosses and competitive nature made him difficult to work with. His teammates started calling him “King of the Court”—not, as you might assume, because his gift dominated the other team, but because he was a tyrant. He expected his teammates to adapt their spikes to his tosses, instead of the other way around. Eventually, they quit spiking his tosses at all.
When Kageyama enters Karasuno High, he is still arrogant, perfectionistic, judgmental, and fiercely competitive… and still hurt by his former teammates’ rejection. Honestly, he’s the type of person that scares me in real life. Whenever I meet a highly-driven individual, my instinct is to avoid them, lest they demand too much of me, or judge me for not coming close to their standards of successful life. I respond to their suggestions with poorly-masked defensiveness. I interact with them cautiously, watching them from the sidelines, and occasionally fleeing the area when I hear them approach. Basically, I’m a skittish cat until they’ve proven I can trust them with my weakness. My instinct is defense, not love. And that’s how I would have responded to Kageyama.
Thankfully, his new senpai know just how to deal with this troubled genius. They instruct him—both directly and by example—to listen, to lead with humility, to respect and accept teammates wherever they’re at, and to have fun with the group.
Sugawara Koushi, a third-year setter, does not view Kageyama as a threat to his position, even though the younger athlete has more raw talent. He does not focus on what makes him good for the position, except to teach Kageyama and support the rest of the team. Sugawara is peaceful, humble, always aware of others—in many ways, he is the opposite of Kageyama. Yet he is able to put himself aside to respect and encourage the first year’s talent—and to teach him about being a perceptive setter. It takes confidence and humility to reach out like that: confidence that you have something to offer, and humility enough to believe the other person is worth your effort, and to put their needs before your own—including their need for a wake up call, if appropriate.
Kageyama’s fellow first-years have weaker responses. Tsukishima Kei, especially, struggles. He hates to be controlled so he is openly hostile about Kageyama’s setting style. He knows he hits best when given room for his own decisions, and he wants the setter to understand that. Tsukishima prefers to be cool-headed, too, so he’s put off by Kageyama’s passionate, overbearing approach to the game. It takes a while before they start to work well as a team.
If I feel cornered, I’m tempted to respond more like Tsukishima. For example, I helped found a pro-life club on campus almost three years ago. During the club’s second year, a transfer student joined us. She was president of a similar club at her former college. She was driven, experienced, energetic… and downright intimidating. Sure, I was a founding member of our club, but she knew far more than I did. I felt defensive of myself and of our then-president, whom I feared would be overrun by the newcomer. It took a while before I believed that she would not judge me for being low-energy, or for pulling back from club activities (and that she wouldn’t think I needed to be fixed). I think, at first, it was hard for her to understand my limits. But she tried, and as a result, I grew to trust her. As a leader, she recognized the validity of other personalities’ perspectives, so she listened to my opinions. She knew how to use what little I could offer to its greatest potential. When I had to quit club activities altogether, she still sought me out for quick conversation. And as I lowered my defenses, she started to inspire me, and I think I was able to encourage her in turn. I would have run away from this girl if club activities hadn’t thrown us together. As a club member, I could have responded similarly to Tsukishima—become aloof, look down on her exuberance, and refuse to acknowledge her leadership ability. By God’s grace, my defensiveness didn’t get that bad, and I never spoke poorly of her (only slightly fearfully, and that to my parents). Are we best friends now? No. But we are friends, and I’m thankful to know her and learn from her.
I still have a long way to go. In the above situation, my friend reached out to me first, not vice-versa. It’s too easy for me to assume someone who appears extremely capable doesn’t need anything from me, or at least doesn’t want anything from me. It’s easy to assume that someone won’t understand my weaknesses. But that’s not a good enough excuse. I should love people so much, I’m willing to risk rejection and judgment, if that’s what it takes to reach out to them. Those of us with vastly different temperaments can benefit a lot from humbly reaching out to and working alongside each other.
There’s another side to Kageyama’s experience that I relate to: his social clumsiness. I act confident and independent a lot of the time, but when I want to engage in society, I’m pretty insecure about it. It’s only thanks to my friends at school that I’ve gained some confidence in the past couple years. They continue to reach out to me, although my responses are clumsy at best. I rarely return their encouraging notes. I can’t match their exuberance as we joke around and encourage each other, because it’s hard to let myself be silly when people are around. But I try to participate, and they patiently encourage me. They’re teaching me to love and accept in small, significant ways. It’s incredible.
When others reach out to us, it should begin a cycle. We learn firsthand how to reach out to others. Even Kageyama is learning to be more gentle with Hinata. In the Bible, Jesus emphasizes that we should respond to God’s love and forgiveness by extending the same to others (see the parable about debt). One of the most famous statements in John’s letters is that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We’ve been given grace and mercy. Because I’ve experienced God’s love, including as demonstrated through his followers, I am more capable to love others… even intimidating people like Kageyama Tobio.