Why we lose
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2017 - 12:00am

All excuses are equal. That much, we’ve learned in some of our corporate trainings, self-improvement workshops, weight-loss programs and other adult learning institutions. It does not intend to demean all diversions per se. The death of a loved one, for example, definitely deserves more attention than whatever task is at hand, regardless of its import. What the cliché means is that all distractions produce the same result: the job does not get done. If this were a recording on an old vinyl disc, the diamond tip of the needle would have scratched its way all the way through already. Yet, here we are again.

Older people cast an askew glance at the emerging generation branded “millennials” because some of them grew up receiving medals just for being there. We’ve heard stories of professional athletes returning their kids’ medals because they didn’t earn them. I’ve never approved of generalizations or mindless stereotyping of entire classes of people. I am merely using this as an example of some of our sports programs. We are just there to show up. On the odd occasion, such as heavyweight division boxing in the Southeast Asian Games, we may stumble upon an unintended bronze medal. And so someone gets rewarded just for being there.

This is not to be cruel to our athletes, coaches and trainers. But the results speak for themselves. We have not produced a single Olympic gold medal for the Philippines, yet Filipino athletes competing for other countries win golds in the Olympics and world champions in many disciplines, what is the difference? The difference is that they intend to win. Oftentimes in the Philippines, we do not.

The capacity to ad lib is considered a premium in live entertainment. You are considered a gold mine if you can create something funny or amusing in the spot. But that’s show business. Sport is science, it is exact. Records do not change depending on your imagination, a certain high level of input elicits an expected output, plain and simple, like a mathematical equation where both sides balance. And you can’t ad lib math, can you?

If your answer to any of the following questions is “no”, then don’t be surprised if you are getting failed results in international competition. Do you know the world record in your event? Have you trained or competed with the world or Olympic champion in your sport? Do you have international exposure in the majority of competitions the world or Olympic champion joins? Are you being trained by the coaches of world or Olympic champions? Are you capable to achieving or surpassing their records? You can’t answer “No, but...” there are no buts. You can’t argue with the clock, or the scale, or existing standards.

Ironically, we’ve already had a taste of this. When the Philippines surpassed all expectations in hosting the SEA Games in 2005, it was because the great majority of national athletes spent two months in China, alongside Olympians, Olympic medalists and world champions. And that was just two months. Imagine if they had been there two years before.

We don’t have to spend a fortune traveling to competitions, either. In many sports, we can send our national athletes to be training partners or sparring partners with the world’s best athletes. The learnings would be priceless. Remember, the Olympics is actually only a few days’ competition for most sports. You only need to reach a certain level or win a handful of matches to make the finals. Once there, all you need to do is conjure up one magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime performance. But if you’re not even in the same ballpark, don’t even start a conversation about it. You can’t make excuses about results. Nobody will remember them, except perhaps the incident between Mary Decker and Zola Budd, and we know the result of that race has never been altered.

On another note, how do we mentally strengthen our athletes for international competition? In a series of interviews with Manny Pacquiao’s opponents in the US last November, this writer saw a common thread in their experiences. They had never been in a fight that big before. They were overcome with nervousness, even at their level. Imagine that, and these were already world champion boxers or multiple world champion boxers who had fought in front of huge crowds before. Multiply that emotional impact for an inexperienced Filipino athlete who has not been mentally trained to perform in a world championship or Olympic event. We don’t seem to comprehend the mental toughness that it takes.

Perhaps our greatest failing of all is not that we lose, but that we don’t learn from the losses. All judgment aside, we want to win, but we don’t put ourselves in a position to. We don’t have a clear target: world-record times, world-class training, world-champion opponents. We are not aiming high enough. You don’t get into an elevator heading for the penthouse and press the button for the second floor. You commit. Are we committed, fully committed to the outcome we seek?

The obvious answer, it seems, is no.

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