On Sundays, some people spend their time at home resting and catching up on sleep. Others are at malls, eating at restaurants or watching movies. For the Ateneo Tennis Team, otherwise known as the Blue Netters, however, Sundays are meant for tennis games.
Last Sunday, February 10, was no different. The Blue Netters were in Rizal Memorial Stadium for their game against University of Santo Tomas.
I arrived in the Stadium at around 8:50 that morning. Rizal Memorial is a large venue; big enough to be able to host up to nine games of tennis, as well as numerous other sports simultaneously. There are also bleachers, which make it convenient for those who watch the games. When I arrived, I immediately headed for them. There was already a game going on between University of the Philippines and National University, which I watched for a short while. This didn’t last long, though, because I was not familiar with the rules of the sport, making watching the match less entertaining. I diverted my attention to what was happening around. I noticed that there were so many people, and all from different strata as well. There were men selling refreshments, from whom the guests were buying. There were of course, players from different schools, both men and women. Perhaps, the most surprising sight for me, was that of seeing Hans Sy and several of his colleagues. I didn’t realize right away that he must’ve been there to support his boys from NU. Undeniably, these people are different. But, they were all the same in that they all came for the love of tennis.
At around 9:10, the Blue Netters arrived. There were seven of them, unless of the usual nine. I learned that one had to spend the Chinese New Year with his family, and another was attacked with asthma early on in the morning. Despite these holes in the lineup, the team looked more than ready to play the day away.
The boys took a few minutes to settle down and get into their zones. Jeff and Joaquin played a couple rounds of Monopoly Deal while the rest, Gio, Lui, Dubs, Lags and Andre watched the latest episode of Suits. Not long after, though, all the boys got into their jerseys and took to the empty court for a round of warm up games.
After the warm up, I asked one of the sophomores on the team, Gio, to explain to me the rules of the game. He even began to tell me about certain “tricks” that they do while playing, like tying their shoelaces or taking extra time in dribbling the ball to ruin their opponent’s momentum. He didn’t get to finish though, because it was almost time to start.
Before the games began, the boys joined in a huddle with their coach, Rollyto Litang. This continued for about three minutes or so. The boys stayed close together while Coach Rollyto did most of the talking. I was at the bleachers while this happened, and so I didn’t hear much from their conversations.
As if on cue, the boys dispersed and trotted on to their respective spots. The first four headed for the courts their matches while the rest moved back to the bleachers.
The games were happening simultaneously so it was difficult to watch, but I tried my best to keep tabs on all.
Jeff, a freshie, fell to his more experienced opponent, 0-6, 0-6. From where I watched, it was very obvious that his opponent was much older, not only because of his looks, but also because of how he played.
Dubs and Lui played the first doubles game. Out of all the games that day, I’d have to say this was the most enjoyable to watch. Their compatibility as a pair is undeniable. They are also both funny guys, laughing in between points at each others’ mistakes. However, they still fell short and lost the match, 2-6, 1-6.
Andre played next, and his match was quite an exciting one. It was basically neck and neck throughout the whole first set. The volleys were long with each one returning their opponent’s balls. The first set was even decided by a tie-breaker because both players reached 6 points. Andre lost the tiebreaker though, and somehow, also his momentum. His opponent got away with a 1-6 win for the second set.
After the first three games, it was time for the second doubles and third singles match.
Gio and Lags stepped up to play the second doubles match. They dominated the earlier parts of the game, thanks to Gio’s consistent returns and Lags’ killer smashes but their errors eventually helped their opponents take the game, 3-6, 1-6.
Joaquin, like some of his teammates, also played very well earlier on in the game. However, he failed to close out and lost the game to his opponent, 3-6, 2-6.
The boys all took several moments to cool down. After, they came together for another huddle. This time, they invited me to join. During the huddle, Coach Litang recapped the games one-by-one, pointing out strengths and also revealing what can be improved. There was a slight air of tension, given that the boys had lost. Despite this, though, everyone was very attentive. They would nod at Coach Litang’s musings and every now and then, they would give suggestions of their own.
After talking, the team tightened the circle and linked arms. Then, they asked me to lead the prayer. This came as a big surprise to me. All the while, I thought they didn’t give a care about me being there but when they asked me to lead a prayer, I felt that I somehow became a part of the team, even just for a little while. I said a short prayer and upon closing, hands started to pile up in the middle, one by one. Then, captain Andre screamed “Ateneo!” to which the rest exclaimed “One Big Fight!”
- What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
The most obvious insight I gained from participation was that tennis is more than what it looks like. While watching the games, I didn’t make much out of what the players were doing. What it looked like to me was a bunch of boys running around and hitting the ball with their rackets.
It was only when I joined the huddle that I realized that what the boys were doing was more than just returning the balls to their opponents. They had to internalize, had to talk to their partners if they had them, had to try to read their opponents’ minds.
- What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
The key informant helped me understand the rules of the game. This was very crucial because without understanding the basics, I consequently wouldn’t have understood why the players had to work so hard mentally.
- What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
There are many questions (in relation to a tennis game) that may not be answered in an interview and more so, in a generic questionnaire. One such question could be about the conditions in which the players are playing. For example, had I not joined the closing huddle, I wouldn’t have learned that Andre’s opponent was previously undefeated in the UAAP for about 3 years and that he was already lucky to win even one game. I also wouldn’t have learned how important it was the Gio & Lags and Lui & Dubs, as partners were talking the entire time.
- For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
A questionnaire would’ve worked best in this situation if the primary goal were to know the statistics of the game. Generally, it’s not easy for observers to remember the score after the final buzzer and also to remember important points in the game. In this case, it would be best to ask the players themselves.