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Coach Tai’s Meditating Ateneo Girls

Now that the excitement has died down after that titanic battle between archrivals La Salle and Ateneo in the UAAP women’s volleyball tournament, let us take a look at a seeming oddity that Ateneo’s Coach Tai introduced in the finals.

Once in a while, we could catch camera pans of the Ateneo bench with the players eyes closed as they did something that we all assumed was meditation. The commentators themselves pointed this out as so.

My immediate reaction to seeing the row of Ateneo girls with their eyes closed was, “You have got to be kidding me!” That said, I immediately recognised it as yet another ploy by the wily Thai coach, something that sent a message to the La Salle bench that said, “I know something you don’t!”

This Thai coach is a cheeky old warhorse, well-versed not only in the sport of volleyball but also in the art of mind games.

So, now we understand why Coach Tai was always shouting Happy-Happy and asking the girls to smile. Even a forced smile releases chemicals into the blood stream that increases the feel-god and helps to release stress.
The commentators pointed out often enough that he left it late before calling his timeouts, pressing the buzzer almost at the point when the serving player was ready to toss the ball in the air for the serve.

That was not all. The jigs at the technical area whenever Ateneo earned a particularly difficult point were well-calculated to not only convey joy and positivity to the girls on the court but also to rouse up the Ateneo support in the bleachers.

The most brilliant piece of innovation in the psy-war, it has to be said, just has to be the meditation at the bench. Coach Tai sold La Salle what in football we like to call a ‘dummy.’

Let me explain.

He knew that there were many rookies in his team. Whatever the pundits said about this, having all these rookies was not necessarily a bad thing, as events subsequently proved.

Last year’s Ateneo team was arguably more powerful; but it carried baggage that it could not get rid of in the finals against La Salle. This year’s rookies, on the other hand, did not have this baggage and could play without fear.

The key always was to find a way so that the rookies would not be overwhelmed not only by being in the finals but, more importantly, by being up against the three-time defending champions.

So, now we understand why Coach Tai was always shouting Happy-Happy and asking the girls to smile. Even a forced smile releases chemicals into the blood stream that increases the feel-good and helps to release stress.

Fear causes stress; and stress reduces performance. Fear is also internal to the mind of the player; so it is also there where the player deals with it.

The meditation was just one of the tools Coach Tai used to help his players deal with fear and stress. It was a cockamamie ploy that, I was sure, was meant to have something of a placebo effect.

I am not a Buddhist monk; but I have read up on meditation before. Some literature on the subject even suggests that meditation be done in the deep of the night when all is quiet.

How the devil do you really meditate, then, in an arena filled with twenty thousand screaming spectators and a game going on?

The fact that the girls’ eyes were closed would have helped somewhat because they were not watching the game; and this spared them the additional anxiety from seeing how the game was going. On the other hand, curiosity alone could have made the ploy backfire and made the girls more anxious.

I think the trick worked for Ateneo in two ways.

First, the girls were being made to do something new to remedy their inevitable and perfectly understandable nerves. Coach was good!

The second was across the court at the La Salle side. How unnerving was it for the La Salle girls, huffing and puffing as they already were to try and win the championship, to see their opponents with their eyes closed probably casting voodoo spells on them!

While Ramil de Jesus continued to frown and scratch his pate in annoyance as errors piled one on top of the others… out-thought in the series, I rather felt.

I did something similar back in the eighties in the Go-for-Goal. One of my centerbacks was overcome by nerves and warned me that he would not be able to finish the coming matches.

I had no spare centerbacks, so who was he kidding? I brought him this energy drink from the drug store and told him it would keep him strong. It worked! He finished the tournament strongly and bought the energy drink for every match till he graduated.

The drink’s most active ingredient was caffeine, which kept the mind alive; but it was not a magic potion for stamina. The poor lad never knew the dummy I sold him.

So back to Coach Tai’s meditating girls... Brilliant gamesmanship! If you ask me, I think it was in the mental side of the game where La Salle was well and truly beaten.

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