Having fun
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2019 - 12:00am

After seeing moms and dads bursting with pride, some of them teary-eyed, over their medal-winning children in the just-concluded 30th Southeast Asian Games, I’m sure there are other parents who now face a dilemma: should they allow their kids to indulge their fondness for sports at the possible expense of their studies?

Filipinos know that a career in sports can be hugely profitable – but only if you go pro, and mostly in the conventional sports such as boxing and basketball.

On the other hand, how many parents will allow their children to spend hours on end in athletics, with the principal objective of winning a medal for the country in international competitions?

As it is, parents are already wringing their hands in despair over the long hours spent by their children with heads buried in electronic gadgets even during family meals, not just to check out information but to communicate with friends and, horrors, to play video games. And now it’s a sport!

Kids – and people of all ages, for that matter – are entitled to fun time and indulging in the recreational activity of their choice. But where do you draw the line between having fun and neglecting formal education?

Parental forbearance if not full support can be critical in producing gold-winning athletes.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones believes athletics is underrated as a profession in this country, with only a small number of senior high school students opting for the sports track. She’s hoping that the SEAG would encourage more youths to consider a lifelong career in sports and related fields.

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The parental concerns are understandably most intense in relatively new sporting activities, such as dancesport and eSports.

It must be a generational thing: my initial reaction when I learned that eSport had been included in the 30th SEAG was – since when did a finger workout become an athletic activity?

And I’m pretty sure that the typical impulse of parents whose children are deeply into eSports is to pry the kids away from their cell phones and computers.

Even if the parents do this, of course, kids will find a way to access gadgets and play video games.

Sibol Mobile Legends coach Jab Escutin is aware of such concerns, and had ready answers when he appeared on One News’ “The Chiefs” together with his gold-winning players. Think of eSports as any other sporting activity, he told us: it’s a competition where strategy is needed for both offense and defense.

If a child spends an inordinate amount of time playing basketball, Filipino parents tend to be more forgiving, thinking that the child might have the makings of a pro.

Escutin says it shouldn’t be different for eSports. He recalls similar concerns being raised over billiards and skateboarding. The success of Efren “Bata” Reyes elevated billiards to respectability as a sport.

Parents’ concerns are most highlighted in eSport because it started gaining popularity in the country only about two years ago (according to Escutin), the players are generally quite young, and they go pro rather quickly. Escutin is confident that the concerns will dissipate as the sport becomes better understood, and eSports will eventually go mainstream.

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Still, there are many Filipino parents who don’t consider sports as a serious career path. While they understand the need for recreation and the health benefits of athletics, they think spending a lot of time in activities such as dancing and swimming fritters away time that is better spent in studying.  

In fact, seven of the eight Sibol team members who were guests in our show had dropped out of school, with only the youngest, age 15, still studying through homeschooling.

Asked if they weren’t worried about the disruption of their studies, one of them said school could wait.

Education can wait, especially if you’ve started earning the kind of money the Sibol players are reportedly making from what is said to be the highly lucrative eSports world.

But what about other athletic pursuits? A father who used to complain about his son spending too much time swimming is now proudly sharing with friends the boy’s SEAG photo with a gold medal. But he still worries that the boy will amount to nothing in life if he doesn’t do something more than swim.

Kristina Knott, the Filipino-American who is now Asia’s fastest woman after breaking the track records of Lydia de Vega, told us she couldn’t afford to train at the expense of her academic performance. This was the condition, she said, in the sports scholarship that put her through college in Florida. Knott now has a degree in advertising, but at 24, she intends to continue her training, and to aim higher.

Parents may also be reassured by the fact that basketball gold winner Samboy Lim’s daughter Jamie, herself now a SEAG gold winner in karate, is a summa cum laude mathematics graduate of the University of the Philippines and valedictorian of the UP College of Science.

Other SEAG medalists are also honor students. I guess the same spirit that drives them to excel in sports is also present in their academic pursuits.

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Parents will just have to trust their kids to be able to strike the proper balance between their studies and passion for sports.

Who knows, the child might be another Manny Pacquiao in the making. Or a potential SEAG gold medalist meeting with the president of the republic. Or, why not, the country’s first Olympic gold medalist.

Kristina Knott is going for it – at least according to her coach, retired American sprinter Rohsaan Griffin. Track and field needs strategic thinking, Griffin stresses – knowing the competition, proper pacing, the wise use of energy for that crucial spurt to the finish line.

This calls for sustained rigid training that Knott will have to weave into her interest in advertising – especially if one is gunning for Olympic glory.

The necessary discipline is possible only if the person has the passion for the sport. Parents who let their children freely indulge in their sport of choice have that in mind: let the kids do what they enjoy doing. Medals and fat paychecks, if these ever come, will be icing on the children’s cake.

Knott, who devotes about four hours a day to training, has only one advice to all the budding Filipino track athletes now looking up to her as a role model: “Have fun.”

30TH SOUTHEAST ASIAN GAMES
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