Back in 2017, I was given the opportunity to coach my alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University. It was an unexpected break, a chance to engage in the game I love in a very new way.
To be blunt, I still have a lifetime to learn about coaching
Most of you already know that I have been formally covering basketball both local and international since 2011, starting with my sports blog (HoopNut.net) until I found my way writing for the likes of Rappler, Fox Sports, Slam Philippines, ABS-CBN Sports, and more.
That also opened the door for my sportscasting career, where I’ve had the privilege to cover the national team, International Basketball Federation events and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
You may think that my more than a handful years of experience covering the game has prepared me well enough for a stint in coaching. Boy, you’re wrong.
Coaching, especially helping handle a team with the history, tradition, and stature of Ateneo, is a whole different animal.
It wasn’t my first time coaching, of course. Like many of you, I’ve had the chance to coach at different levels, albeit (for the lack of a better term) quite informal. I coached at intramurals, sports festivals and alumni leagues, but handling a varsity team was very unique.
Right off the bat, there was pressure from all angles — from the school, from the parents, from the alumni — to perform and meet lofty expectations.
There were issues of student-athletes trying to balance playing for the varsity and performing well in their academics.
There were issues of players feeling that they weren’t being given enough playing time or possessions.
There were issues of “homegrown” players feeling slighted because “recruits” came in and, at times, took their spots.
There were issues of alumni and parents chiming in, almost to the point of telling the coaches what the gameplan should be, what plays should be run, who to start, etc.
There were issues connected to whether our main goal was to win every single tournament or develop our players’ skills so they constantly improve their performances and eventually get ready for the next level. Those two objectives, I found out, are often exclusive of each other.
It was challenging to console players who gave their all in a tournament game only to absorb a bitter loss or those who laid everything out in tryouts only to face the painful truth that there were more talented players out there.
Despite all these, however, coaching has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever experienced. The fulfillment isn’t in the wins, though. The fulfillment is seeing a student-athlete’s transformation and growth — from being “pasang-awa” to being an honor student, from warming the bench to playing big minutes in the finals, from being the star scorer in his old school and finding his “fit” and role in a more complex “team system.”
To be blunt, I still have a lifetime to learn about coaching. All the technical things fans and observers think they know about the game pale in comparison to the technical knowledge bona fide coaches use and impart on a daily basis.
It’s one thing to learn about basketball tactics, plays, and strategies from a book or a YouTube clip. It’s completely different when one actually tries to drill, train, ingrain, or implement those same elements in a varsity context.
In all, I’m jus thankful that I’m able to continue learning so much about this game and about the people whose lives, hopes, and dreams have revolved around it.
So cheers to all the amazing coaches around the Philippines!