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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Stroke of God

International Sports Seminar
"Coaches: Educating People"
May 14-15, 2015
Villa Aurelia, Rome

Below is my testimony on How Sports Changed my Life in the seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity division of the Vatican. I have to say that it was a very enriching and inspiring seminar, which focused on the role of the coaches as life coaches more than just technical coaches. The presentations and discussions were very insightful. Maybe I will write another post about my learnings another time.

Good afternoon everyone, I am Chris Tiu from the Philippines. I am 29 years old and recently married. I wear a lot of different hats but I have to say that my profession as an athlete is something I take very seriously.

To give you an idea, basketball in my country can be likened to how football is in Europe & South America, how hockey is in Canada or how rugby is in New Zealand. Filipinos are just crazy about basketball.


Until today, my involvement in the sport constantly changes my life as well as my perception of life, I would say, for the better. But more importantly, it is a medium that brings me closer to God and strengthens my faith. It was through this sport that I experienced my first miracle, and thankfully it happened at a very early age.

When I was 11 years old, my school team won the championship in our league back home in the Philippines. As a result, we were invited to represent the Philippines in the Las Vegas Easter Classic where we would compete against Americans who were much bigger and definitely more athletic. Unfortunately, because of my lack of height and confidence, I was a “bench-warmer”. You know what they say, “bench-warmers” sit on the bench long enough to keep it warm for the star players of the team. That was basically our role.

Surprisingly, the undersized underdogs from the Philippines were able to conquer the odds and we made it all the way to the championship match. On the day before the championship game, we were resting in our rooms in the hotel when a bunch of older, notorious boys from an older team barged inside our rooms. They were so excited to show us their new discovery – the Pay-Per-View box beside the TV. They activated a channel and couldn’t contain their excitement. Since we were in Las Vegas, you could already guess what type of show it was.

I remember my mom telling me that we shouldn’t watch indecent and immoral shows. So I hid under the blanket because I didn’t want to watch. But the older boys were very aggressive. They were tickling me and coercing me to watch. Soon, everyone else in the room was watching. So I left the room, went outside and prayed the rosary, which my mom gave me before I left, reminding me that the Holy Rosary will protect me.

The following day was the championship game. It would have been a huge deal if we won because never has any Philippine team won in this international competition. In basketball, only 5 players play in the court at a time. I was the 10th man, meaning I was usually one of the last players to enter the court, if we were even called by the coach to play. But that day, things were not going our way. We were playing bad. To make matters worse, two of our best players got injured. One fouled out. Another star player couldn’t fly to the US because of VISA problems. We were close to giving up.

So during the 2nd half of the game, our coach had no other choice but to call on me, his benchwarmer. Miraculously, we made an unbelievable comeback. In the end, we won the championship. We made history and also made the headlines in the Philippines. And even more miraculously, I played the best game of my life. I played like I never did before –I was scoring, assisting, playing good defense. Guess what, I was eventually named MVP. I went from a benchwarmer to an MVP all in one day. A “nobody” that God decided to make a “somebody”.

I truly believe that there was a force in me that was not my own doing, but God’s mighty hand, maybe saying to me, that I had done something right and pleasing to Him. And it was clearly manifested through the game of basketball. However, to be clear, I don’t believe we are always necessarily rewarded for our good actions. That’s why I consider this experience all the more a miracle. Most of the time, we must persist in our prayers and deeds. Mother Teresa said, “The good you do today will often be forgotten, do good anyway.” For sure, if we remain faithful to Him, our reward may not be in this world, but in a better place.

In any case, that experience changed my life. I gained confidence like never before. It gave my coach confidence in me. And it was a start of many more championships and MVP awards for me. Today, basketball is my livelihood. It is a platform for me to serve God.

Looking back, it is easier for us to see how my “good” behavior was connected with an MVP award. But at 11 years old and when all your peers are influencing you to “go with the flow”, it can be very tough to make the right choice. Sometimes you are not even certain if you made the right decision. After the tournament, my coach punished those who participated in the viewing session and uttered a few words to me, “you did the right thing”. That was enough for me to have a sigh of relief and it gave me the courage to do the right things. That’s how important a role a coach has most especially in the formative years.


We often talk about how sports promotes the development of human virtue, like discipline, perseverance, sacrifice, modesty, excellence, teamwork, and so on. Since the very beginning of my basketball journey, I am extremely grateful to have been mentored by very capable and reputable basketball coaches. I had a coach who was a discipline administrator in school, a teacher, a former NBA player, an Olympian coach and even a coach who was also a congressman. What’s important was that they were life coaches as well, whether they knew it or now. Their words, and more so, their actions on and off the court cling to us vividly and most certainly affect the way we make decisions.

Athletes, on a daily basis, face challenges like balancing academics, securing playing time, battling injuries, dealing with sports ‘politics’ and worse, being victims of structural injustices. I have to say that these, if handled well, build character and prepare us for the real world at an early age.

I played college ball for a Jesuit-run University called Ateneo in Manila. Our rival school was de La Salle University, another elite school with a formidable basketball program. It was like Real Madrid playing Barcelona or North Carolina vs Duke. People would camp overnight to secure tickets. The coliseum is packed with 20,000 people, one side wearing blue, the other green. You can hear the cheering and the sound of drums reverberating throughout the coliseum.

It was a close game with my team coming from behind on a run. The lead of the opponent was only down to 5 points after being down by as much as 17 points. We finally had momentum. I was a sophomore point guard then. I made a nice steal. I was on a fast-break all by myself and I could feel the excitement of our crowd. I had a wide-open layup ahead of me, and to my devastation, I missed. To those who don’t understand basketball, it was like missing a penalty kick in football, but without the goalkeeper. Anyway, that killed our momentum and we lost the game.

It also killed my spirit and my confidence. The next day, I could not bear to walk in school with my head up or make eye contact with anyone. I know I was being ridiculed and I was too embarrassed. Thank goodness Facebook and Twitter did not exist then. We eventually got eliminated that season by our archrivals. I was at my weakest point in my entire basketball journey. So I took a year off from basketball and went to France on an exchange program. I prayed to God and I worked harder than ever when I came back. In the following years, I was appointed Team Captain. I made clutch shots, made it to the Mythical Team and to cap it all, we won the collegiate championship in my senior year against that same team. And so many doors were opened for me!
That humiliating experience taught me to be strong mentally and emotionally. Failure brought me to my lowest of lows. I felt that nothing could get worse. My coaches helped me to get back on my feet. Fr. Nebres, the President of the University then, told me these words that I cannot forget up to today. He said, “If you can handle the worst possible scenario, then what else are you afraid of? You will be fine.” It made me a more courageous player and also a more courageous person. It was indeed a character-building experience, not to mention, life-changing. I thank basketball for this.


Athletes are exposed to so many moments of chance every single day, in the many hours of training and competition. And these moments may have significant impact. One bad bounce of the ball could cause you to lose a championship. One bad call of the referee can change the outcome of a game. One wrong move could fracture a bone or tear a ligament. One trade decision could end the career of a pro athlete. There are just too many variables beyond our control. The exposure to these uncertainties on a daily basis builds a certain kind of individual, which allows him to cope in life as well.

In my basketball career, there were so many unexpected twists and turns that allowed me to get to where I am today. If it had not been for one moment or one small decision, I could have been in a totally different place right now. It is only in retrospect that we realize how everything was so well crafted and planned by the Ultimate Architect. Truly, there are no accidents in God’s plan.

Every shot, pass, steal, substitution, defensive stop all have repercussions. The hundreds of decisions that an athlete has to make on and off the court define the person. I believe that this ability to make numerous decisions in an environment of uncertainty taught me how to trust and let go, which I realized can be seemingly difficult for a non-athlete. We’ve learned to be appreciative of every opportunity and blessing given to us. We’ve learned to submit ourselves to the wonderful hand of God.

St. Augustine very aptly said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

Sometimes when we think we’ve got things figured out, and all circumstances seem to be in our favor, we still fall short. In the same way, when it seems that all things are against us, and there is no chance of victory, we end up winning or reaching our goals. Some people say it’s a stroke of luck. I prefer to think of it as a stroke of God – a mysterious force that nobody can explain nor understand. From my childhood miracle in Las Vegas, to my adversities in Ateneo, I am grateful that I get to witness and experience being puzzled yet amazed every single day by His brilliant stroke, through this game called basketball.


Photos courtesy of Philip Sison

Friday, January 9, 2015


I guess the consolation of getting eliminated in a PBA conference is that I get to catch up on my other work and I get to post a new blog entry. 

I’ve been wanting to blog about this since I spoke at the Youth Rally for the Pope in Araneta Coliseum last month.

As we all know, Pope Francis will be here in a few days and many of us are really excited. The first Jesuit Pope is enjoying an approval rating that many political leaders would like to have. This is what the church needs most especially in this day and age when she is facing many long-standing challenges including dwindling church attendance and the damaged moral authority of some clergy.

The last time Pope John Paul 2 came to Manila in 1995 for the World Youth Day, I was 10 years old and I was fortunate to have caught a glimpse of him in his Pope Mobile along EDSA-Buendia. I remember my dad carried me on his shoulders so that I could see the Pope pass amidst the sea of people.


Personally, there are many things I like about this Pope. But if I had to choose, I would say it has to be because of his simplicity and compassion, very fitting with the theme of his Papal visit which is “Mercy & Compassion”. Right from the moment of his election, he refused the traditional red cape and opted to hop onto a bus instead of the papal limo. He kissed, served and showed compassion to the most marginalized people in society.

This reminded me of what Cardinal Tagle taught us in his keynote speech in our Charis Leadership Summit last year, “The higher we go up the organizational ladder, the lower we should go and the more we should serve”. This paradox is very true to be an effective leader because conventional thinking would excite us of the power and prestige that comes as we move up to the so-called “leadership positions”.  When in fact, the higher we go, the more we should serve.  This is what we call Servant Leadership and Pope Francis is a living example. St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, reminded us to be humble because Jesus, our role model was humble.

Pope Francis’ passion to serve has challenged the prevalent culture’s approach to leadership, how leaders live and what they value. Our culture is becoming self-absorbed and fascinated with superficial pursuits such as money, power, status and even the number of likes on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. On social media, everyone seems to have a ‘perfect’ and nice life. This is why we should be wary of what we aspire for. Are our goals going to give us lasting happiness? What will? Again, this Pope reminds us to focus not on ourselves, but rather on the poor, the sick and those marginalized. Hopefully in time, it will create a ripple effect from a culture of selfies to a culture of service. 

I think another reason why Pope Francis has become so loved is because he does not condemn those who are ‘lost’ or confused. But rather, he listens and welcomes them back home just as God extends His infinite mercy to us sinners.


Now, how do we prepare ourselves for the coming of the leader of the Catholic Church? Here are three very simple ways that could help us maximize and fully appreciate his visit.

#1) First is to develop a strong spiritual and prayer life. Being a Jesuit, Pope Francis himself engaged in what we call the Spiritual Exercises, this is the core of the Ignatian Spirituality and Jesuit life. It is a series of meditations that allows one to ponder on your own life, Jesus’ life and how one can follow Jesus in their own concrete circumstances.

For me, developing a spiritual plan is like creating a fitness plan. You need to integrate it to your daily life and set aside time everyday for prayer and reflection. Since I am a busy person, my spiritual director came up with a plan for me that is workable despite my chaotic schedule. I’m sure he won’t mind that I share it with you.

1)   5-minute morning prayer the moment I wake up
2)   Visit to the blessed sacrament
3)   Reading of the New Testament for 5 minutes + a short silent reflection
4)   Night time prayer with 3 Hail Marys
5)   Confession (at least once a month)

This is to be done daily. But I have to admit that many times, I’ve been a delinquent student.

Now why should we do this? When we are in silent prayer, we become detached from the daily grind of things. We speak to God and more importantly, we allow Him to speak to us. Many realizations and conversions occur during these moments of silence and solitude with our Lord. Also, I firmly believe that our consequential actions will naturally overflow from the interior peace and joy that we experience with Him. Lastly, we cannot bring others to Christ if he doesn’t reside in our hearts. Simply, we cannot give what we don’t have.

#2) Second basic way to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Pope is to take care of our academic duties or our work, for those who are working. Sounds simple right? It is. Oftentimes we take these for granted. But we forget that our schooling or our jobs are gifts to us from God. We must value them by practicing excellence, honesty and humility not just for our personal growth, but also because it is our way of contributing to nation-building. We may not see the results immediately, but our personal contributions as well as the virtues we develop will create a more visible impact to our society eventually. Our nation needs competent and virtuous leaders, or else we achieve nothing. This is also our best way to show our appreciation to our Lord for the blessing of an education and a job.

#3) Last is to do our apostolic duties. We all have an obligation to evangelize or to do “apostolate work”.  In the recent World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, the Pope called out to the youth, “I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets…”

How do we do this? It start at home, with your closest family members and friends. There are times when we want to do outreach activities to the needy or other marginalized sectors of society. This is wonderful! But we might forget that our most immediate apostolic duties start at home, by inviting them to pray or simply by being a good parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, etc. An effective way to be a light of Christ is by serving as a good example. Like they say, actions speak louder than words.

Hope this helps, not only in preparation for the coming of the Pope, but continued even afterwards until it becomes fully integrated in our lives. It might be difficult at the beginning, but the more we do it, the more it becomes 2nd nature. We may fall at times but what’s important is the constant struggle and effort to make Christ happy.

Happy weekend folks!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Ivy League Alum Explains How Prestige Can Destroy Lives

Hello there friends! 

It's been a while since I posted an entry on my blog. I've been preoccupied and have not had the chance to write about something. I came across this article, (which I decided to repost here) that I found interesting and I thought of sharing it with you. 

It talks about HUBRIS (defined as excessive pride) and how it can destroy our lives without us realising it. At the end of the day, we want to live a happy life. Who doesn't? But sometimes we might not be aware that our motivations are already flawed because of societal structures / norms. Hubris is a deterrent to that goal. As much as we want to 'be successful' in our respective fields, the article below is a good reflection on how we can avoid self-destructing.

Happy weekend!


How Prestige Destroys You

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by hubris. From an early age, they were persuaded that they had a talent in school, or excellence in some extracurricular activity; for that their names became lauded in school newspapers, emblazoned on certificates, or announced on podiums. The high of recognition was addictive, and began to slowly eclipse the achievements themselves.

As they grew older, they learned that within the message of empowerment, what most grown-ups mostly care about is prestige. If you wanted to make them proud, and earn the right to be proud yourself, the story of your life had to abound with names and titles – AP Merit Scholars, national finalists on the Policy Debate circuit, School Orchestra Leader — that would provoke an envious silence.

The students had learned that the only legitimate reason for being proud was being an object of jealousy. The future was a zero-sum game.
yale university
At the top they stood, their future lives well-defined: suited financiers, white-coated doctors, smile-forcing lawyers, pasty hackers, and turtle-necked entrepreneurs.

At some point, a few lucky ones realized that anyone who cared about the world they would leave behind, and worked to better it, had found something more precious than pride. Others never left the cult of prestige. They had scrambled to the leading edge of every bell-curved valley, and were rewarded at each peak with quick and pacifying hits of a drug called pride. It was an opiate that their lives had bathed them in, to pre-empt the fabled agony of “low self-esteem.” Many found that they couldn’t live without it.

When college acceptance letters came back, some of them ended up as the “lucky” ones. The next four years had a timeless, theatrical quality. Narration was provided by the voice of awed posterity, against a background of carillon bells and WASPy a-capella hymns. It was a time to plan for the important and visible postgraduate careers that they would be called upon to do.

But it wasn’t long before the high wore off, and the airy plateau gave way to a deeper valley. A friend, dressing impeccably, returned from an investment banking “networking session” in tears; she applied for the job, anyway. Seniors with return offers at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs moaned about their clients and bosses, and grouched about trying to move into the mythical “buy-side” — the same work, only with fewer hours.
man suit buildings

At the top they stood, their future lives well-defined: suited financiers, white-coated doctors, smile-forcing lawyers, pasty hackers, and turtle-necked entrepreneurs. At the bottom sat those whose young adult lives — a guest copywriter for a startup blog, for example — were a merciless anticlimax. How steep was the ascent? How long would it take? How many would enjoy life at the top? Did it matter?

For ever-smaller highs, pride set ever-higher expectations, and called for ever-greater sacrifice. What mattered was that those on the other side had MBAs and JDs and CFAs, that they lived in respectable places like SoHo or Berkeley. It would become perversely enjoyable, even, in doing what pride demanded – of martyring the self and its preferences, and building in their void an obedient engine of self-advancement. It was another sport to convince themselves that slaving over contract law and discounted cash flow models was a meaningful use of their young lives.

Yet four years is not fourteen or forty. And few have gasped amid pinging heart monitors that they should have made more people jealous. This is not to say that no one loves contract law, or that all flashy titles aren’t worn by people who were born for them. But most are born for something else – or more likely, for a few things else. And for them, scaling the wrong mountain takes a lifetime, even when trickles of pride numb the aching cold.
Most 20 year olds who want to be doctors are only a shade wiser than six year olds who want to be spies. And the six year old has a kind of wisdom that the 20 year old didn’t inherit: he wanted to be a spy because he thought he would like it.

Our current lexicon of work offers tellingly little guidance. We have “professions” just as we would “profess” to be good at anything, whether or not it’s true.

We have “careers” just as we would board any “carrier,” whether or not the destination is worth it. Conspicuously absent are “vocations” and “callings,” which sound touchy-feely, perhaps because they touch a nerve.
It is no coincidence that Dante imagined the prideful as stooped “carriers,” who haul crushing boulders past statues of the famously humble. Their sin was inverting the moral relationship between career and what is carried. In life, their careers didn’t serve them and hasten them to a better place; they had become careers. They had entered an unwitting servitude carrying someone else’s baggage and expectations. (The exemplars of humility are not just unburdened, but themselves made of stone.) It is probably no coincidence, either, that Dante put them in Purgatory, where their suffering would be only temporary. But I think he still went too far; a life spent that way is purging enough.

Withdrawing from hubris isn’t easy. So start by taking pride in the fact that your career is carrying you, that you haven’t confused approval with value, and that your life isn’t a zero-sum game because it isn’t a game at all.

Friday, December 20, 2013

TOYM Acceptance Speech 2013

The Outstanding Young Men Awarding Ceremonies
Malacanang Palace
December 19, 2013

Response from the TOYM 2013 Awardees
by Chris Tiu

His Excellency, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III; Bienvenido Tantoco III, President of the TOYM Foundation; Mrs. Judy Roxas, Chairperson of the Gerry Roxas Foundation; Jose T. Pardo, Chairman of the TOYM 2013 Board of Judges; Ryan Ravanzo, National President of JCI Philippines; Congresswoman Leni Robredo, Member of the Board of Judges; Dicky Puyod, Chairman of the TOYM 2013 Search, to my fellow TOYM 2013 honorees, to our families and special guests, good afternoon to you all!
In behalf of this year’s awardees, I want to express our utmost appreciation for citing us among the great individuals in the 54-year history of the TOYM foundation. We feel unworthy to be standing amidst such distinguished and admirable individuals when there are many other young Filipinos out there who have so selflessly dedicated their lives for the betterment of our dear country. For this, we feel truly humbled and blessed!

Our world is changing. Because of global warming, we are experiencing typhoons on an unprecedented scale. We can now do virtually anything on the go, from reading the paper, to watching movies, to booking an airline ticket.
We often hear the phrase, “Iba na ang kabataan ngayon”.  If you’re guilty of saying these words before, malamang hindi ka na nabibilang sa kabataan. The youth have information and resources at their fingertips and are a creative, capable, and intelligent generation. On the other hand, this may mean na iba na rin ang value system nila. We accept as reality many things which would have been considered scandalous to older generations. Because of modern day technology, we hardly have to wait for anything anymore and therefore, there is less need to be patient and persevering.

Consumer behavior is changing. The youth have become more fashion forward, and embarrassed to repeat an outfit because your entire social network can see what you are wearing with the advent of smart phones.
Measuring of ones self worth has evolved to the number of friends, followers or LIKES that one has on ones social media sites. Thus, encouraging the user to ‘keep up’ by posting more photos of himself, who he associates with, what he buys or where he eats.
In fact, ‘selfie’ has been named the word of the year by Oxford Dictionary. Don’t worry, if you lost me or don’t have any idea as to what I am talking about, that just means you don’t belong to this generation. “Selfie”, as defined by Wikipedia, is a self-portrait photography usually taken by a camera or a camera phone.
In an article earlier this year, Time Magazine has noted some negative traits of today’s youth, such as, lazy, narcissistic, materialistic, feeling of entitlement, less concerned with community. This is a cause for concern because these so called “Millenials” will be our future leaders!
This is why, in its 54-year history, the TOYM foundation, with its theme of “Inspiring a Nation of Heroes”, plays an even more important role today. By using modern day tools, it can reach out to our youth and propagate its core values of excellence, integrity and most importantly, a deep sense of service to community

Despite the many changes we have witnessed throughout the decades, from climate change, technology, buying habits, to our attitudes and behavior, there are some things that remain and SHOULD remain constant. And these are the timeless values that the TOYM Foundation espouses – excellence, honesty, humility, simplicity, sacrifice, and charity just to name a few. Regardless of age, gender, social class, race or religion, these principles serve as guiding pillars for human conduct that are proven to have enduring and permanent value.
In order for our country to progress, we cannot accept the “pwede na” attitude. Pursuing excellence cannot be learned overnight. It involves a process and tremendous commitment. Once it develops into a habit, it becomes a lifestyle. This is what we call virtue! The foundation of heroism in the Ignatian Spirituality is Magis, which means “more”, - being more, doing more! However, this simple motto requires a higher spirit for it to attain its fullness, which means that our motivation must transcend our own causes for a greater, higher being.
One of the world’s greatest leaders, the late Nelson Mandela constantly reminded his people that: “We should always be patient even if things are going bad, because great things will happen”. He also said, “what truly matters is the small acts of kindness towards others”. These words are very appropriate for our modern world where “selfies” are the in thing and everything has become so convenient that we need not bother to go out of our way for the good of others.

We, too, have Mandelas in our midst.
             Emerson Atanacio, in Social Entrepreneurship
             Dr. Nicole Curato, for Sociology
             Dr. Custer Deocaris, for Science Communication
             Former Gov. Miguel Dominguez, in Government and Public Service
             Dr. Alonzo Gabriel, in Food Science and Technology
             June Cabal-Revilla, for Community Development
             Dr. Karl Reyes and Dr. Paolo Silva, in Medicine.
There is no question that the youth are constantly looking for role models, people they can emulate. Mainstream media and Hollywood do not often provide us with the best models, we know that. On the other hand, the most powerful influencers are those who are ‘real’, those we can interact with in our everyday lives, those who are one of us. Whenever we meet people who inspire us, we feel a sense of relief, that there is hope for the future! And even more, a force of motivation giving us that second, third, and fourth wind, to do more ourselves. Most of the time, our heroes don’t even know the magnitude of the impact they have on others. They just do what they do best, in their respective fields, with utmost excellence, integrity and service to the community.
Hence, I would like to thank our dearest family and friends who have served as our personal heroes. Your example and your faith in us inspire us to serve!
I would also like to thank our Lord for this blessing. To God be all the glory! We are merely His instruments.
Last Sunday, the priest gave a beautiful homily about real joy. He said “joy is not in receiving. But rather, it is when we give, that we receive.” We are immensely honored to be given the TOYM distinction and we are even more inspired to continue giving by living a life of virtue, discipline and other-centeredness. It will take some courage to relay this message in today’s world, but like Mandela and St. Ignatius, we need to go against the wind!
This year’s theme is “Inspiring a Nation of Heroes”. But heroes need heroes too. And heroism starts within each one of us.
Thank you!