Halftime Thoughts: When will sporting federations and associations straighten up?

There are several factors that cause our national teams in volleyball and basketball to fail to succeed despite their talents.

Filipinos can have the reputation of being one of the most rabid fans in the world. They show no fear in clashing with other fans on social media due to having different teams, opinions, and hot takes in sports. However, there is always one team where Filipino sports fans come together: the Philippine National Team.

Recently, volleyball fans across the nation expressed their disappointment about the Philippine National Volleyball Federation’s (PNVF) disagreements on participating players for the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC), which will be held on August 21 to 29. With the team composed mostly of the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs, they were invited to participate in the semifinals of the Premiere Volleyball League—an invite they declined. Coach Jorge Edson Souza de Brito suggested the squad join the PVL semifinals and gain exposure for the AVC. However, a factor for the rejection was due to the would-be lack of rest before the AVC itself, which the NU coaches also took into consideration. But the players, led by players including Mhicaela Belen and Jennifer Nierva, received the unfortunate news last August 7 that they were dropped from the team.

This incident, among many others, is an example of how not to treat national team members—or any athlete for that matter. Apart from the time and effort they put into training, they are not treated as professionals by the supposed adults.

Discombobulated plans

The PNVF was constructed in February 2021 to prioritize the development of volleyball in the Philippines. There were previous federations, such as the dispute between the Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF) and Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI). The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) stepped in with the issue, which led to the formation of the PNVF. But the national team they asked to compete in the 2021 Asian Women’s Club Volleyball Champion and the 2021 Southeast Asian Games struggled as they failed to garner podium finishes in both tournaments. However, the participating teams barely got enough time to build their chemistry. As it stands, there is no continuity in the lineups—making it difficult for newly acquainted players to gel on the court, much more garner medals.

With the upcoming AVC tournament right around the corner, disruptions and rifts between the national team and the NU management led the PNVF to instead send the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) champion—the Creamline Cool Smashers—to represent the country in the Asian tournament.

Even the most talented athletes would be frustrated with the current situation in the volleyball community. Players like Jaja Santiago, Alyssa Valdez, and Mylene Paat have been recruited to play abroad in their respective club teams, so the existence of volleyball talent is unquestioned in the Philippines. Thus, the PNVF must not waste the potential of these women and start forming a pool with a better system and right intentions.

On a different court, Gilas Pilipinas had a shameful finish in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup. It was the worst run of the Men’s National Basketball Team since the 2007 tilt where they finished ninth place. While the losses to Lebanon, New Zealand, and Japan were unbecoming for an incredibly talented roster, the athletes’ management is what needs to be brought into the light.

Although the SBP tapped talented coaches and players for the event, the team was left to face insurmountable odds with their lack of sufficient preparation and again, gelling ahead of a tournament full of heavily prepared teams across Asia.

The Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) failure to adjust to the schedule of FIBA tournaments played a role in the team’s downfall. This is unacceptable because FIBA shares their calendar ahead of time, giving the professional leagues time to alter their schedules and to prioritize their respective national teams’ preparations. Over the past few years, the PBA has played three conferences that would span almost a year with a short offseason. This problem also plagues the volleyball community as the PVL is often ill-timed in relation to international tournaments.

To address this issue, returning to a flexible two-conference format is ideal because it gives more training time for the national team for all FIBA windows and tournaments. Having a better plan on scheduling is crucial, but another vital factor is the search for the national team’s head coach. Hiring a reputable head coach gives the players and the rest of the coaching staff more opportunities to develop their craft. Being a star in their role is critical for the development of the program. The vast international experiences of a talented coach will also aid in constructing a system and an environment that would inspire the players to don the national colors.

Following a powerful example

Despite all of the ups and downs that many other teams face, the recent success of the Philippine Women’s National Football Team exemplifies how our flag-bearing squads should be developed.

The hiring of Filipinas head coach Alen Stajcic in 2021 was the springboard that began the immense success of the Filipinas, highlighted by the 2022 ASEAN Football Federation Women’s Championship and the eventual 2023 World Cup berth. Although football isn’t as popular as basketball and volleyball in the Philippines, this team managed to qualify for the biggest stage in their sport. An achievement with this magnitude proves that despite lacking attention or support, teams can succeed given the right tools, preparation, and dedication from the players, as well as the sufficient support and responsible management from the coaches and sporting associations.

Those in charge of teams should take note of the example of Filipinas assistant coach Nahuel Arrarte and video analyst Stevan Antonic who have assisted their head coach. Team managers should invest in creating a committed group from top to bottom—from the players, coaches, managers, to the staff. That is a must even for federations. The lasting commitment would also include crucial collaboration among all the parties involved. After all, coaches cannot act on his terms without communicating with the higher management of the sport’s association—and aligning with the players.

Amid the struggles of our national teams, persons in charge should remember that they are trained to bring glory to the nation and to up the competitive level of their sports in the country, hopefully inspiring upcoming generations of aspiring athletes.

Athletes will never lose passion and support for the flag and their sport—but hopefully these sporting federations and associations don’t push it further.

Diego Vergel de Dios

By Diego Vergel de Dios

Leave a Reply