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.
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.
SPORTS PROMOTES HUMAN VIRTUE AND BUILDS CHARACTER
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.
GOD’S DIVINE HAND
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.
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