Sports Sports Feature

Sowing seeds for growth: How local youth programs are changing the ball game

Looking at sports as a social phenomenon rather than as a mere physical activity allows us to appreciate the impact sports have on individuals and on society. From a young age, engaging in sports allows one to form values which they carry for the rest of their lives. Teamwork, patience, respect, and developing a strong work ethic are only some of the things that people can develop through engaging in sports. Thus, sports have always been an essential part of society, bringing people together and fostering a sense of community.

As the sport of baseball is rapidly growing in the Philippines, The LaSallian caught up with coach Bocc Bernardo and DLSU Green Batter James San Juan Esparas to discuss the state of youth baseball programs in the country. Bernardo is currently handling the Southridge baseball program as its program director, the ADMU Blue Eagles baseball team as the head coach, and a few other initiatives at the grassroots level. 

Gaining exposure

With the popularity of baseball gradually gaining traction in the Philippines, the opportunities have been opening up for the students as well. Bernardo shares, “From the time I was playing, you can say that baseball was not [at the level] of basketball and football. For some time now, I’m actually surprised that there are provinces hosting baseball programs [such as] Davao [and] Koronadal.”

The competitive fervor has been raised a notch during the regional meets, with Bernardo commenting, “Nakikita mo na magaling na [rin] ‘yung provinces. They can play toe-to-toe with NCR already.” Even with limited budget and equipment, these athletes still prove that they could excel through passion and dedication. 

(You can see that the other provinces are highly competitive as well.)

This escalating success of provincial teams can be in part attributed to organizations like the Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA), the country’s governing body for amateur baseball. According to Bernardo, PABA has provided coaches and players with superb training, allocating a portion of their budget to really fund and support local baseball’s development. “The national team coaches go to the provinces for a month or two. They train the coaches there, they train the kids there,” he elaborates. “Dahil doon nagiging [well-known] na yung baseball.”

(It’s one of the reasons why baseball is well-known. The provinces are getting better in baseball.)

Managing through the monitor

Building a successful program takes a great amount of time and effort. In one of his current endeavors in youth development, Bernardo has been involved with the Muntinlupa Little League (MLL), the Little League charter of Muntinlupa City that competes in national and regional tournaments to represent the Asia-Pacific region in the Little League World Series. “We do a selection going to the national or international level. Siguro for now, the best thing we can do is to keep players safe by all means possible,” shares Bernardo.

Due to the pandemic, people around the world have been adjusting to distancing and remote setups, and for the baseball community much is the same. Bernardo and his colleagues have been hosting creative online sessions in order for his young players to stay fit and motivated until they can return to the field.

A testament to his resourcefulness, Bernardo also incites help from the parents of his young players, involving them in his online sessions to maximize the training that can be accomplished. “It’s the most crucial part since the coaches are not physically present. We try to get creative,” he explains. “Sometimes they’ll be the ones to throw a paper ball to the kid, then the kid hits it…At least they can still have a feel of the real thing kasi we can’t do anything.”

More than the game

As a former Little League player himself, Esparas can attest to the importance of youth programs for an athlete’s journey to success. “These programs brought out the competitive side [in] me. They taught me to never settle and [to] always work hard. From that, I was driven to always make the most out of every opportunity given to me,” he outlines.

Bernardo shares the belief that sports offer so much more than the physical attributes that come with physical activity. He sees the importance of getting the kids involved at a young age, affirming, “Makikita mo [rin] na matututo siya lumaban on his own, stand on his own feet.” Indeed, discouragement and failures will always be there, Bernardo acknowledges, but believes that these are what help the youth grow stronger.

(You will be able to see that the young players would learn to persevere.)

Giving the youth the opportunities to compete internationally only adds to their drive to excel in sports, fueling their determination to reach their goals. “For example, as young as 10 years old, you go to the United States to play World Series baseball [for] your age group. It’s something to dream about. These kids are playing [and] working hard to excel at the sport. ‘Yun ang masaya doon,” explains Bernardo.

(That’s what brings great joy.)

Another driving force for the Philippine baseball community is their vision to pave the way for the kids to reach their aspirations. “Current [baseball] programs now are much better than they were before. They’re more focused on making the kids go to college and prosper on their own field of academics while playing the sport they love,” Esparas discusses, adding that “those who are struggling financially are given the opportunity for a brighter future.”

Products like Esparas and his peers—dedicated and brimming with potential—are a fantastic example of what youth programs with strong mentorship and proper investment can help develop. Indeed, the prospect of achieving growth and building better futures motivates the local baseball community to continue nurturing young talents, imparting the knowledge of the game, and, through more subtle means, revealing the realities of life to the youth.

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