Santos, Bianca Mari; Dabu, Jouanna Marie
The current state of Volleyball in the Philippines highest during the past few years thanks to media exposure and advertisements. Volleyball has been in the country since 1910, when it was first introduced by YMCA director, Elwood Brown. Since then, the sport has been known as a backyard sport in the country. It is not known to everyone, but Filipinos have also shaped the way it is played today. The three-hit limit currently implemented was inspired by early Filipinos who would let the ball touch every player before sending it back to their opponents. Filipinos are also credited for the invention of the offensive tactic of set and spike, which was initially known as the ‘Filipino Bomb.’ Due to the continuously growing fanbase of Volleyball in the country, the Philippine Volleyball Federation, previously Philippine Amateur Volleyball Association, was born in 1961.
Volleyball, in the Philippine context, was initially viewed more conservatively than countries like the United States, Brazil, or Italy. In the Philippines, if a guy played volleyball, he is then, somehow, immediately thought to be gay. The association of volleyball as a women’s sport then comes into play. This leads to gender stereotypes amongst athletes, which eventually makes it hard for a few of them to express their passion and discourages them to play the sport. However, due to the recent rise of volleyball, both men’s and women’s, in the Philippines, the view of volleyball as a purely feminine sport is now gradually changing.
Focusing on the view of Men’s Volleyball in the Philippines, the stereotypes against the players isn’t that prevalent in a collegiate sense, but rather, amongst younger children. From a young age, a child is taught by their parents that there are certain things that you can and can’t do based on your sex. This simply teaches the children that they must conform to what and how society groups people without questioning why it is like so because if they didn’t they might get punished. With this, children develop an urge to follow what is being presented to them, which makes it difficult for some kids to break from the mold. This is especially seen in conservative countries like the Philippines wherein society’s opinions about everything matter.
Volleyball is now one of the more popular sports in the country, next to basketball and football, especially in the collegiate level. In the UAAP, the sport has been popularized thanks to the impact of a few volleybelles including Alyssa Valdez, Mika Reyes and Jaja Santiago. Media has also played a part in the popularization of volleyball in the country, covering games and broadcasting it to the far-ends of the country, and may be even the world. The rise of the sport was initially focused on the women’s side, but eventually shared amongst the men with the help of athletes like Peter Torres, Mark Alfafara and Marck Espejo.
Valdez, Reyes, to lead national team in 2017 Sea Games
Volleyball tournaments like PSL and PVL (formerly known as the Shakey’s V-league) for women’s volleyball, and Spiker’s Turf for the men, have also been on the rise. Volleyball clubs recruit players from different platforms and capitalize from their talents, which is one of the disadvantages of media coverage. It can’t easily be seen that companies capitalize from volleyball games and the fame of the athletes, however once analyzed, certain teams overpay some athletes due to their fame.
What makes Volleyball appeal to the Filipino masses is that it can be played anywhere by anyone. It doesn’t need tons of equipment like other sports do. With just a regular sized ball in hand, volleyball can be played. It also doesn’t require too much space compared to other sports like football or baseball. Practically anyone can enjoy the sport, may it be through playing or simply watching.
Another reason is that it is somehow comparable to the national sport, sepak takraw or sipa. The rules and equipment of the two games are very similar to one another. Since Filipinos are already familiar with sepak takraw, learning and adapting to volleyball wasn’t that hard for the natives.
Lastly, the tempo of the game is upbeat. The entertainment value of the sport plays a key role on its recent rise to fame. Like basketball, points are immediately scored. And as Filipinos being themselves, majority of them hate to wait for long periods of time. The fast-paced nature of the sport adds to the excitement felt by the audience. Every gut-clenching spike and every sacrificial dive keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting for the ball to finally drop on the floor and watch which team scores the point.
Currently, the volleyball season in the UAAP is almost at its end with the defending champions, De La Salle Lady Spikers, battling their archrivals, the Ateneo Lady Eagles, in the women’s division, and the National University Bulldogs looking to get back their crown from the 2-time champions, Ateneo Blue Eagles, in the men’s division.
For the paper, the topic revolves on the Ateneo Men’s volleyball training.
Their trainings are held at the Blue Eagle Gym, starting from 6:30 to 9:00 in the morning and 5:00 to 8:00 in the evening. Their call time would be 30 minutes before the start, which are 6:00 am and 4:30 pm respectively. On average, the training would last for three hours, but according to our key informant, Jasper Tan, sometimes they exceed the time. For the project, the observations were based from April 26th afternoon training. This was done during their season time in preparation for their ongoing games but on that Wednesday, they started around 5:10 pm and ended around 7:50 pm.
Upon entering the gym, we seated on higher bleachers far enough for them not to be distracted. Around 4:45pm, around three men went upstairs to get balls placed in baskets while some remained seated either in the floor or in the gray bleachers. Some players went on entering the gym and replacing their slippers with shoes. They were wearing their jerseys or basketball jerseys paired up with shorts. They were also getting ready by doing stretches and warming up. Some would play ball by treating it a basketball, shooting it in the ring. Afterwards, their coach entered and had a small talk within the players, then they started their training. They were about 18 players present, according to our informant, when training they were normally around 18 to 20 players.
The friction between the soles of their rubber shoes and the gym floor produced squeaking sounds. Sounds of balls being dribbled strongly that it reaches high above their heads can be heard. The sounds of both shoes and balls were continuous since each of them have a ball to practice with for about five minutes. Although some worked in pairs, practicing receiving. After around ten minutes, they were being called then quickly dispersed into the service line to practice their serving. According to our informant, they started with serving drill in order to practice ball control. Then afterwards they placed the balls into the baskets. They divide themselves and form lines on each side of the court, sandwiching the net. Then the first persons from each line started to jump from their left, then they’d do side step until they reached the middle while the next persons in line would follow them. They’d do it also until they reach the end of the net for a total of three jumps. This was their blocking drill so while jumping, they were in their blocking positions.
After service and blocking drills, they proceed to playing 6 vs 6. They divided themselves into two groups made up of six players. Since they were excessive of six players, some do the scoring, some picks up the balls flew during the practice. This was their ball drill and because it is the season time for volleyball, most of their recent trainings focus on ball drills. The drill was executed starting from their coach, getting a ball and with various strength and placement, spikes it first to his left side. The closest player then must receive the ball going to the setter, then from the setter to a player in his attack position and will continue until the rally ends. But there were no blocking actions and just let both sides to perform the three-touches setup. When the rally ends, the cycle will just repeat with the coach giving the ball alternately to sides to start a new rally. They have the scoring system up to 25 that enables others to play within the training time.
It was recognizable what are the players’ positions in the court. A setter always tosses up the ball with his fingers in both hands. A receiver would most likely save low ball and ball being spiked. Another would be the spikers who would either spike the ball strongly or strategize by intelligent placement and soft touches in the ball. One of the most noticeable was current UAAP MVP, Marck Espejo, whose spikes have both speed and weight. When asked, our informant admits that Marck really is a great player.
Espejo takes flight against Tamaraws
As the drill went on, it was noticeable that the group on the right side of the coach was stronger. Yet their scores were increasing slowly. It turns out that their first six were the group on the right side and that for them to earn a point, they have to have two consecutive scores in a rally. This means that the ratio of points was 2:1. When they reached 25 points, they went for a water break for about 5 minutes. They were having small chit-chats, letting laughters when they were at break. But during the rallies, they were focused on what they’re doing. When they resume, the left side group was composed of a new set of players. They started a new set and then the cycle continued.
At the time they were taking a break, we decided to go to the upper gray bleachers in order to have the chance to participate by getting the balls flew near us. Some of them noticed us but just had a glimpse of us didn’t really looked minded being watched since there were also some people in the bleachers watching. We watched from that location, we saw more of their expressions. They were sweating due to continuous actions. Their faces show both tiredness and happiness or sadness, depending if they lose a point or not. They express it within their teammates through hand gestures and faint screams but only on a limited time since the coach will already deliver another ball for a new rally. What heighten their emotions was whenever the left side team break the streak of their opponent, with the latter losing the opportunity to gain a point.
The sounds of the ball touching their palms whenever they were spiking also became louder and some of their spikes flew the ball in a great distance. Fast and strong balls were also seen flying in the air. Their rallies weren’t really long. At some time, some players roll over in order to save the ball but right after they roll, they’d quickly get up with their eyes maintaining contact with the ball. They were also concerned with each other in terms of safety and was evident when the free balls were around outside the court and they warn each other in case they might stepped up and landed on the ball which would cause accident. Every other set, they would take a break until it was 7:30. They started dragging big mats in the middle of the court then they cooled down for around 15 minutes. Then they were gathered by their coach to tell the reminders as what would a coach typically say, then prayed before ending the training.
When a ball went near to us, one of us picked up and gave to a player who was roaming around the court to collect the balls not being used. When the ball was given, he said ‘thank you’ with a smile. This instance was repeated but with a different player but also said ‘thank you’. In the span of that little participation, it felt a bit awkward since we are not really part of the training and our help was not really needed but it just that since the ball was right in front of us, there was a ‘kusa’ or voluntary action for us even not for participation. Doing that voluntary action brought us the feeling of happiness that we were able to help and them acknowledging it. But in observing, it was not obvious that we were because other people watching them. Our informant said that it was normal if there were audiences watching them during their trainings.
The second player who collected the ball showed a hint of having a gender expression different from others or in a broad term, gay but throughout the training they didn’t treat him differently. Our informant confirmed that few members were not ‘straight’ but throughout the training, there were no discrimination towards them.
We conducted participant-observation in the scope of the players’ training with audiences inside the gym and not narrowed down to training with them. A close encounter was experienced by the researchers by reaching out for the ball that was previously used and is being collected by a player which is part of their training routine. Although both activities can obtain important information on the event, participating on it even on a small period provided things that cannot be evident when observing. If we didn’t have that opportunity to relay the ball to one of the players, their welcoming side wouldn’t be felt by mere observing. That despite the tiredness they’re feeling, they didn’t let that affect how they would communicate to other people. It would be better if we were allowed to train with them but because they have final games for the UAAP, they need to focus on their trainings. It was also difficult for us to participate in the actual drills since they can be viewed as an exclusive group of people who knows each other already and being part of that group isn’t just merely going there and joining them but needs abilities for being a volleyball athlete. In participating, there was an interaction between the subjects and the observers that an observation cannot create. In participation, we knew how heavy the ball is, its texture, its softness, and it being slightly wet because of the sweat in players’ palms.
The key informant helped us understand the initial notes we have taken during participant-observation. He was a third year student, trains with them since the start of his college, and plays as a blocker that’s why he knows the routines in training. We wouldn’t know the scoring system during the ball drill if not for him. He told us their schedule so we were aware beforehand but we didn’t mention the day we were planning to go. We confirmed what we saw and provided additional information on how would other trainings differ to that particular training.
Seeing the players in their actual training provides a definite proof of their activities. For this event, since it is normal for them to have some audiences, they didn’t noticed us researching about them. They were doing their routines without being distracted and acted normally and comfortably. This was validated by our key informant who shared some of his experiences without knowing what we have noted. From there, we interconnected what we saw and what he shared. We saw the circumstances they were into such as the ball going outside of the line, and the temperature inside the gym and their reactions in those instances. With our little participation and interaction, the two players’ characters can be seen. We also saw authenticity their expressions, either happy or disappointed, for every end of an intense, long rally. Their behavior inside the court was seen which cannot be captured through questionnaires and interviews. In interviews, they can choose from their memory what they would want to answer and a possibility of not saying the truth.
Although it was advantageous for this event to perform participant-observation, questionnaires and interviews could provide substantial information that cannot be obtained through the former. One of which was brief background information about the athletes like their names, degree programs, gender orientation, and how long they’ve played volleyball in their life. Interviews are advantageous in a sense that there would be more interaction between the observers and the interviewees which cannot be attained by mere observation but participant-observation would score higher in terms of interactions compared to interviews.
All the information gathered in a session of Ateneo men’s volleyball team can provide a window to the Philippine society and culture. Particularly the concepts of perseverance, optimism, and bayanihan. Filipinos are known all over the world for these traits. Perseverance and optimism in the form of continuously striving for a point though the team’s down five. The simple exchange of smiles and inspiring the team to bounce back. This reflects how, even though a calamity has struck the country, Filipinos will always find something to be optimistic about. They look forward to tomorrow instead of dwelling in the past. Despite being exhausted from their training, they don’t forget to be grateful and flashing welcoming smiles. Also, in spite being the leading team in the season, they strive more for greatness which shows how passionate they are, attending twice a day trainings with academics in between their day.
Another would be how Filipinos, despite misunderstandings and feuds with one another, will almost always find a way to help out one another. The concept of bayanihan was prevalent during the volleyball training, as volleyball was a team sport. But aside from that, it was seen that the guys have developed a sense of camaraderie with one another, making difficult tasks for them easier.
Within the culture wherein gender variations aren’t dominantly accepted, there in their group they created their own culture that accepts their teammates whoever they are and not treating them differently just because of their gender. Probably because there’s a deeper interaction between these players, a group of passionate and dreaming individuals that share common aspirations that is being expressed in their team plays. As the sport’s popularity rise, hopefully acceptance and gender equality may also rise to a larger scope. To break these preconceived notions about volleyball being a feminine sport and being played by gays and show how could it showcase the men’s abilities in this sport.
Joji Lapuz of Fablioh
Benggadora of Fox Sports PH