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The Finals

01 May

by Carlos Jorvina, Marc Salandanan, and Migi Santico

SA 21 – X

It was a humid afternoon in the Ateneo de Manila University, with plenty of cars already leaving the campus and finding parking slots was not such a struggle. The sun was close to setting, which reflected a warm orange colour across the sky.  Walking towards the Blue Eagle Gym, we noticed varsity players going to the gym as well. As we entered, we felt the humidity and heat on our skin. It was around 5pm, and the training of the Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team was about to begin.

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As we sat down on the far bleachers, we observed from afar the women who represent our school on the volleyball court. We were not exactly sweating, but we felt as though the heat would make sweat feel very sticky against skin. The atmosphere was quiet as the players, coaches, and staff huddled up to discuss their game plan and what they wanted to focus on for the practice ahead. We assumed that they were talking about what the coaches have been planning and are thinking about for the game plan against the rival team La Salle in the finals. It was the most crucial point of the season, and every person on the court was focused and determined to make every practice count as they headed into the finals.

After that, it became even more silent as they had the high school team, who had been practicing before them, leave. They asked them to exit the gym because they were going to meditate. At first, we found this unusual because meditation is usually a practice that is associated to spirituality, not physical training or sports. While sitting down and thinking about it, however, we realized that it was a way for them to get prepared and focused for training, and to calm the mind and body. They did this to get themselves composed and ready for the practice with the proper focus and calmness.

While the players were calmly meditating on the bleachers, the coaches were at the scorer’s table quietly setting up stations for the drills to come in the practice. They were also silently talking. We assume it would be about the practice plan and or the plan for the game. They also could have been talking or chatting about things other than volleyball practice like daily life, family, etc., while waiting for the players to finish meditating.

The players meditated for a good five to ten minutes. After that, they looked calm and ready for the practice ahead. We could see that after meditating, they had their minds set and focused on the task at hand. They all huddled together and made a circle then shouted, “one big fight,” and went off to the stations prepared for them. Everyone suddenly got pumped; that’s when everything got loud and looked more like a sports training session.

They went straight to their stations and they were shouting out grunts when hitting the ball. The loud noises also came from the constant and necessary communication between player to player, player to coach, and coach to coach. What added to the loud noises were the numerous balls being spiked hard to the floor or hit to another player. It was alarming, and honestly quite scary how loud the sound of the ball being spiked was.

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On the next day, we participated. We arrived at their morning practice wherein they run and do strength and conditioning exercises. Here we were able to play a more significant role in the practice where we were able to help keep the time. We were basically “time keepers” wherein the players had to run a certain distance in a certain amount of time. All the players were able to make the time but they were really tired right after. Most, if not all, were panting and trying to catch their breath after running the distance in the required time limit. For a couple of minutes it was all grunting and gasping for air, then it became making fun of each other and just having fun. We noticed how the players shared a close bond and treated each other like more than just teammates. The players had a short water break afterwards before going on to the next part of their morning training.

Moving onto their strength practice, which we did not participate in, but rather just watched them lift weights and do their circuit weights training. Here they had different stations wherein they had different exercises to do. It was around 30 seconds for each exercise which they went for 3 sets each. They were sweating a lot due to the intensity of this training session which entailed a lot of lifting in quick successions.

They were blasting music in the weights room which varied from R&B to hip hop and rap, to just classic 90’s teen music like high school musical and all the other disney movies and shows that gave off a nostalgic vibe.

In their second part of practice, we continued to help with the time in certain drills. Here we didn’t necessarily do anything but help the time keeper stop and start the time.

We also helped the physical therapist do his work during the practice. Here we were just aids or assistants. Our task was just to look out for players who looked like they were practicing in pain. Examples would be if they were holding any part of their body or their facial expressions showed that they were playing through the pain and our job was to just let Sir Geriko Kamus, one of our two informants, know that. Also, if a player was being treated, we would just hand over the medical equipment needed for Sir Geriko to treat his players to get them back to practice 100 percent ready. We saw here the toll of training or just playing the sport itself on the body, like sore muscles, and sometimes even injuries that might occur during one of the training sessions or games.

While watching the practice we didn’t really know what to expect. Us three weren’t really familiar with volleyball at all, other than knowing it’s a sport. We were more familiar with basketball but the practice was almost similar to it and at the same time, very different also.

At the beginning of the practice, it was pretty calm and quiet. We managed to observe them pretty quietly since nothing really was happening other than them meditating before the practice itself. When the actual training began, so much stuff was happening at the same time, which made us feel a bit overwhelmed at the sudden change of pace. The girls quickly separated into their respective groupings for the drills they had to do.

That’s when everything was at a high intensity level. No one was going at a slow pace, it was as if they were training for their lives. You could really tell from their efforts at practice just how much the whole team wanted to win the finals. From where we were watching, it felt so exhilarating to watch. Everyone was moving quickly and swiftly diving for those balls and running after them just to make sure the ball wouldnt hit the floor.

Our first time participating was merely observing, then we were given a more significant role in their practice. It kind of left us in awe watching these girls go at it and do what they do for many reasons. We could feel the amount of heart and effort they were putting into the training. Their minds were completely focused on the present moment, and not a single player looked like she didn’t want it as much as the other players. It was kind of inspiring and beautiful to watch because of how passionately they went about their business. We realized that although volleyball is not a sport that is important to us observers, it was what these women and coaches woke up in the morning and stayed extra hours in school for. It made us feel even more proud of our school.

Even from afar, we felt that the training they were going through was really intense. Now especially that they were going to the finals, our informant said that their training was even harder and required everyone on the team to double their efforts. One example would be that they were training twice a day now. They’re training twice a day because they want to be extra prepared for La Salle, a team that is exceptionally good as well, in the finals.

We also felt tired because one their practices was at 6 in the morning which was when they were running and lifting of weights. Their time of practices were 6 in the morning which finished around 7:45 am and then their next practice would be at 5 pm wherein that would be their court training, where they practice volleyball.

Before meeting our informant, we were  just bystanders watching. People would look at us like we weren’t supposed to be there. We assume it’s not normal for people to watch their practice as only a handful of “outsiders” were in the gym spectating like us. We then met up with our other informant, Ponggay Gaston, and she was just briefing us with what we were going to see and everything that was going to happen in their practice. The players would glance every now and then at our direction, but the coaching staff never did and just continued to do their jobs.

“We’re going to be holding practice a little different than usual because of the finals game coming up. It should be a little more intense and everything. Don’t worry, you won’t be distractions to us as we are more than focused and hungry to win. Feel free to ask me any question after practice if you were confused with anything.” Words from Ponggay before the training as she told us about the nature of this training session and its importance to their performance in their upcoming games.

women's volleyball teamShe said that since they are preparing for the finals, they are going to be focused more than ever. They will be going into practice with a different mindset and they will be training even harder. They will be having more intense practices to simulate the intensity of the game and the intensity of La Salle. She also said that conditioning is a very essential and necessary aspect that they will be focusing on in order to perform optimally in their games which are going to be the peak of the season.

For our first participation, it was obvious that the players were glancing at our direction every now and then, but they were still able to perform exceptionally in practice either way. We thought that maybe they weren’t used to people watching their practices. This is just the first time we attended their practice, however, where we mainly observed.

One of the drills, which happened when we attended a second time and actually participated, was their kind of conditioning where they would have to run a certain distance in a certain amount of time. It didn’t really seem like our presence impacted their conditioning because they all made the time and were just in some laser focus mode where they weren’t distracted by anything. All of them really seemed focused and couldn’t be shaken off their game. Another one where we participated was we weren’t necessarily in charge of the time, but we were behind the time keeper telling him when to stop and start the time. Again, it didn’t really seem like our presence impacted them because they rarely looked over our direction and said anything. It would just be loud grunts from fatigue but no talking. They knew we were there but that didn’t really throw them off with what they were doing during training.

One of our informants was the physical therapist of the team. He was able to guide us throughout their practice and tell us what was going on during the time. He also pointed out some players who were fighting through injuries and how to spot if something was wrong with a player.

At some points of the practice players would go up to Sir Geriko to ask for some medical treatment. Such treatments would include sore quads, hamstrings, knees, etc. He would assess them first then treat them. We helped in a way by handing Sir Geriko the things he needed and by looking at for any player who showed any kind of pain during the duration of the practice.

Volleyball is a well-known sport in the Philippines, as well as all over the world. Like basketball, it is a pastime that many filipinos enjoy and partake in and might even be a career for some. As with other sports, it is an exciting way to exercise. For others, the reason they step on the playing court could be love of the game. From watching to playing, volleyball is certainly a beloved sport in this country. It is a sport that can be appreciated by anyone physically qualified to play, but usually young men and women. Volleyball wasn’t as big of a hit before compared to basketball. It was only in the recent years to when its popularity spiked in the country. Since then it’s had the big stars and names such as Michelle Gumabao, Gretchen Ho, Mika Reyes, Alyssa Valdez and many more. Due to its recent hit, volleyball has been just as common to Philippine culture just as basketball now. You see people playing and practicing volleyball just as much as do basketball anywhere. You can even see people outside their houses playing with a volleyball along their street.

People do it either because they simply love the game or they really want to be just as good as their “idols”. One can never question someone’s love for any certain sport. You can see it just by how they dedicate their time and effort towards that one thing. Which leads them to looking up to people such as the famous names of Alyssa Valdez who excel in this sport. This leads to the community to aspire to be just like her and many more of the famous athletes who do a tremendous job at their certain sport. Volleyball has no limit to the kind of people who play the sport. It’s anyone’s game. As long as you have a volleyball it’s easy to play. One just has to be creative with the resources he or she has.

The overall feeling of being part of the training was very different from just observing. You could sense the intensity and see that every person on the court had a role and made a significant impact of the entire practice. For our participation, we were simply timers or timekeepers. Despite the role seeming to be small, it was not. We noticed the importance of each individual involved in the practice, which is something we did not quite see when we were just observing. From the outside, it was not evident how important the role of every person on the court was.

Having a key informant helped us understand the things we were really clueless about. We rarely knew anything about volleyball from the start and we still don’t have a solid understanding of the game. Our closest comparison to volleyball practice would be basketball practice since it is as close and as intense as its equal. It both involves scoring and a ball.

The informant also added information that we were really confused with. One of those would be the meditating since it is not normal for players to do that before a practice. We were able to obtain the answer which was close to our initial understanding; meditation before practice is used to calm down one’s mind and to have it focus on the task at hand.

Another one would be that the informant also filled us in with what the drills purpose was. The practice was not all toss the ball up and have someone spike it over as hard as possible, yet it was constant and loud communication.

Communication is key. Yes, it certainly is because of the loud drums as explained by the informant. She described it as that the drums and the crowd is so loud that it’s really hard to communicate with one another on the court and that it should be cultivated in practice. Not only is communication a major key just to make sure you hear one another on the court, it is important you say key words or phrases on time and correctly so that your teammate knows where to go. It’s all about helping one another to win because not just one person alone can get the job done. It’s a collective effort.

Our key informant was also able to explain to us why the intensity in practice may seem a little bit more than during a game. The intensity in the practice was almost crazy as they were dripping in sweat and their compression tops went to a darker shade of each one’s respective color. The reason why practice has to be more intense than in game is for one, to simulate game type movements and actions so that come game time, one already knows the feeling and is already used to it; much like, if not exactly like, the concept of muscle memory. Another reason is that it helps one get into great shape knowing that they’re giving their 200 percent effort in practice and knowing it will come out as a great result in the game.

Actually bearing witness to and taking part in the training gave way to perceiving and experiencing on the spot. This made it different from just asking the informant questions or her explaining the whole scene to us. It would have been different just having someone answer questions about the occasion because we would have answers to the questions we needed, but we would not have actually felt where the interviewee was coming from. Instead of just a transmission of information from one person to another, we were able to get involved and experience firsthand the activity that we chose. We were also able to see the culture and way of the volleyball players in training, which we might not have been able to observe if we had only held interviews.

Participating in only two volleyball practices didn’t give us as much insight about the team’s culture as we wanted to. It also didn’t help that they were already practicing for the finals, which would require more focus and each player’s active participation. We felt that we didn’t get to interact with the players. It was helpful that we had a sort of interviewee-interviewer communication with our two informants. In a situation where we would not have been able to participate or observe, interviews or questionnaires would have been a good alternative.

Even though all of them were busy and very focused with what they were doing, we didn’t feel left out or out of place because the people we talked to were very accommodating. They were patient with us when teaching us about the game, about their practice, what they do, and how to do these things properly.

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