March 31 – It was the last elimination game for both Life Academy (LA) and Makati Hope Christian School (MHCS), where my eldest daughter Chelsea is an open spiker. Whoever won this game would earn top seed going into the semifinals of the 2019 Alliance Volleyball League.

It was an exciting matchup, with momentum shifting back and forth between the two teams. MHCS won the first and third sets. LA won the second and fourth sets. In the fifth and deciding set, I actually thought LA had the game in the bag when they went ahead 15-14. Then Chelsea scored on a crucial spike to tie it at 15-15. LA scored again to make it 16-15. Everything after that was a blur. MHCS prevailed by scoring 3 consecutive points with Chelsea in charge of the service.

Two years ago, MHCS won the championship. Last year, they were third. Since then, five key players have graduated, leaving a gaping hole in their offense. Morale was low at the start of the season with several players contemplating about quitting… including Chelsea whose shoulder problem comes and goes. To see them come this far this soon under a new head coach was nothing short of unexpected.

As a parent, the joy I felt was indescribable. I was proud of the fact that Chelsea played a vital role in the dying minutes of the game. But I was more proud (and amused) of her reaction when I asked what she felt about her spike that cost them the fourth set.

“I don’t even remember it,” she said.

Is there a part of me that wished she cared a little more? You bet there is. But over the years, I’ve learned that there is more to success than just “wanting it more than everybody else”. At the end of the day… it’s just another game. Win or lose… the game doesn’t define her. It’s just something she does.

Who knows what kind of player she would’ve become if I had made a big deal of every point that she should’ve scored? I can’t remember how many times I’ve consciously avoided discussing her performance in the car on the way home from a game, especially when she didn’t play very well. But when it couldn’t be avoided, the conversation usually revolved around this simple truth: “You gave it a chance. That’s all anyone can ask for. You win some. You lose some. You learn. You grow. You move on. That’s what sports is all about. That’s life.”

I often tell my students that how we frame or interpret an experience determines what and how much we learn from it. A wrong perspective can cause us to attach too much meaning to a so-called “failure”.

So the next time we face a similar situation, we are likely to fail again because succeeding has become too important for us. In sports parlance, we “choke”. The desire to succeed becomes a need to succeed.

If we refrain from passing judgements on ourselves for the mistakes we make, they cease to have power over us. And that gives us a better chance to freely execute the right shot without fear.

Which brings me to this Filipino word that for me is a like mental quicksand when used in the context of sports: bawi.

I don’t own a degree in psychology. But when you’ve coached hundreds of students for almost two decades like me, you begin to distinguish between thought patterns that work from those that don’t. In other words, I’ve learned the hard way.

Loosely translated, bawi means to recover, to redeem or to avenge. And I believe it’s one of the most debilitating mindsets that a young athlete can have. It’s like an old tradition handed down from another generation. We accept it without bothering to question the implications.

Bawi implies that you can change the past. It implies that we are not supposed to struggle, to make mistakes, and to fail. It implies that we can control the outcome. And we all know that none of them are possible.

Regardless of the sport you’re playing, your performance depends on your ability to focus on the task at hand… to stay in the present. But when you have unrealistic definitions of how you are supposed to play, all it takes is one mistake and your mind is stuck in the past trying to recover that mistake.

Because you can’t accept that your perfect plan was ruined, your ability to focus on the next shot is compromised. Which causes you to make more mistakes. With every mistake, the burden to recover gets heavier and heavier. Quicksand.

There’s a story of a farmer. One night he forgot to tie his horse before going to sleep. A big storm came causing the horse to run away. The neighbors said, “What bad luck!” The farmer replied, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” The next day, his horse came back, bringing several untamed horses. The neighbors said, “What good fortune!” The farmer replied, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” The farmer’s son decided to ride one of the untamed horses. He fell and broke his leg. The neighbors said, “What bad luck!” The farmer replied, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” The next day, the army came to recruit able-bodied young men. The farmer’s son was exempted due to his injury. The neighbors said, “What good fortune!” The farmer replied, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?”

If you’re an athlete, remember this. Whatever happened needed to happen. In the words of Dr. Strange, there’s no other way. Embrace the process. Don’t let the outcome dictate your worth or your happiness. Celebrate the journey. Because the journey IS the reward. Be thankful for every moment… good or bad.

Fellow parents and coaches…. consider this a plea. Let’s not be the “neighbors” who judge the careers and lives of our kids too soon. They already live in a world of impossible standards. They will struggle, and that’s OK. And they need to know that you’re OK with it. It is not our right to demand excellence. It is our responsibility to provide an environment that can cultivate it.

They will have their breakthroughs, when the time is right. And not a moment sooner. Even when they don’t, their self-worth should never be tied to their performance in sports or any endeavor for that matter.

Today is Easter Sunday. For Christians, it is a day to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He lived a life we should’ve lived. He died a death we should’ve died. In light of his suffering, our momentary struggles pale in comparison. In light of his victory, our achievements are inconsequential. He made the ultimate bawi. It is the only bawi that matters. Because of it, we don’t have to.

UPDATE – After winning in the semifinals, MHCS lost to St. Stephen High School in the finals… their only loss this season.


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