Story by Franchesca Tuazon and Chelsea Visto
Although often overlooked, sports remains to be one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic. For student-athletes, prioritizing safety means putting their dreams on hold indefinitely. In worst case scenarios, some have already surrendered them because of all the uncertainty.
On Dec. 11, 2020, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) called off Season 83. It was unfortunate for the UP Fighting Maroons who had limited shots at the championship title to begin with, given the usual four to five year UAAP eligibility.
UP Badminton Varsity Team (UPBVT) captain Pauline Santos expressed her dismay over the cancelled season, given that this opportunity may have been the last for graduating players.
“Marami kasi kaming mga seniors, kumbaga ‘yong mga veterans, tapos marami rin kaming mga freshies na pumasok, so kailangan pang i-push para magka-experience pa,” said Santos.
“Sayang din ‘yong hindi nila nakita kung paano sa UAAP. Kasi next year, ‘pag sa UAAP wala na ‘yong mga seniors, so more on mga freshies na lang. Feeling ko ma-shashock sila.”
Most UP varsity teams had to migrate their practice to online platforms to keep their bodies in optimal condition. During the challenging first semester in lockdown, athletes had to overcome the struggle of learning and training remotely.
However, the inadequacy – or in most cases, absence – of technological resources and sports equipment were added burdens to both players and coaches. With limited funding and training program modification, teams were barely able to get by.
Difficulties of modified training system
At the onset of the pandemic, the teams’ training systems changed drastically. For the athletes, balancing their time between training and academics became harder to achieve with limited time and resources.
Before the lockdown, most teams maximized training routines at their home court. But with the remote set-up and inadequate training spaces, attendance was negatively affected. Their usual every day training sessions before the pandemic were cut down to only twice or thrice a week.
The UP Men’s Volleyball Team (UPMVT), UP Badminton Varsity Team (UPBVT), UP Varsity Swimming Team (UPVST), and UP Track and Field Team (UPTFT) were some of the teams that initially scheduled synchronous trainings via Zoom or Google Meet.
But when the semester began, most teams settled for asynchronous training where athletes film their workout routine at their preferred time and submit this to their team coach or captain due to conflicts in their schedules and availability.
“I have this one teammate na before school started, lagi siyang uma-attend pero when the school started, in a span of a few months parang nakita ko na lang siya once or twice. Inamin naman niya na hindi talaga siya nakapagtrain kahit asynchronous kasi it was really hard for her to adjust,” UPTFT captain Marc Philip Alaurin said.
“Right now, ‘yong only kalaban lang talaga is how the profs would be considerate this semester,” UPTFT captain Alaurin also said about student-athletes’ problem with time management.
With most players currently living in the province, having complete attendance during a training session was close to impossible due to their internet connectivity issues.
These changes took a toll on the players. “Sobrang laking difference niya when it comes to discipline sa sarili, discipline sa pag-aaral,” UPMVT captain Ruskin Joss Ijiran said.
Not only did the teams cut down the number of their weekly training sessions, but they also had to refurbish their entire training program.
The Maroon Smashers’ current program focuses on core and weights training for agility and coordination but it was still far from what they used to do in the court. UPBVT captain Santos says they could only pull off limited drills at home.
The Maroon Tankers are also struggling with the lack of swimming facilities. They have been doing land exercises with hopes of being just as strong once they return to water.
“When you’re doing land work, you’re really just trying to strengthen your body. It’s kind of hard because we’re looking for bands to try to copy what we do in the water. Even then, it’s still different compared to other sports where they just go to the gym and be okay,” UPSVT captain Angel Villamil shared.
Older players somehow managed to condition themselves and adjust to the new set-up through the guidance of their coaches. Now they are tasked to help the freshmen adjust as well.
Inaccessibility of training facilities and equipment
Access to training facilities and equipment are significant parts of an athlete’s life, but both have been out of their reach since the lockdown.
The teams agreed that remote training was for physical maintenance only. Coaches only aim to keep their athletes’ bodies in shape so they would be ready to switch back to their usual routines once face-to-face practices resume.
The inaccessibility of training apparatuses pushed them to improvise – water jugs and loaded backpacks substitute barbells, heavy pillows take the place of exercise balls and body weight exercises are performed instead of weight-assisted drills. These do not work exactly as the professional equipment, but for the athletes, it is better than nothing.
“Medyo awkward and medyo nanibago kami kasi sanay kami na may ginagamit na weights, pero ngayon we can only rely on ourselves for weights,” UPTFT captain Alaurin said.
Alaurin also shared that the lack of equipment was not their biggest problem since Throwers already had medicine balls and shot put balls available at home. Their main struggle was the availability of training space, since they needed a field to practice on.
Badminton players echoed the same problem. Santos says that a lot of players could not pull off drills at home since they lacked sufficient space.
Even before the lockdown, the UPBVT have been inconvenienced by the absence of a training venue. The team currently does not have their own court in UP and their temporary court in Marikina closed due to the pandemic.
Unlike the swimmers, other athletes — aside from their sports equipment — had to worry about technological resources like gadgets and internet connection.
Alaurin opened up about how a majority of the track players did not have their own tablet or laptop at the beginning of the remote semester. UPMVT Captain Ijiran also shared that aside from the lack of gadgets, some players in his team struggled with their finances.
“Half of the team talaga is hindi financially stable. Hindi kayang magprovide for the online stuff, kaya kami nagkaroon ng urge na magseek ng help on behalf ng team,” Ijiran said.
To help the teams power through the difficult semester, many of the team’s supporters stepped up with monetary and in-kind donations.
Track and Field Coach Rio Dela Cruz was able to rack up a total of 33 laptops solely through his acquaintances. By the end of the sem, all track athletes had their own gadgets, for online learning and training alike.
Fundraising projects of the volunteer group Nowhere to Go but UP also served as a pillar of support for student-athletes who were barely getting by the crisis. The initiative was able to provide more tablets to track athletes and gadgets and wifi for volleyball players.
Post-pandemic plans and expectations
To keep track of the athlete’s physical state and capabilities, the UP administration conducted the Lockdown Fitness Testing where athletes were required to film themselves doing three tests: condensed push-ups, vertical jump, and pull-ups.
Alaurin saw this as an accountability test and progress check to see how much players improved during the remote training.
Despite being optimistic, the teams need the administration’s support now more than ever. The Fighting Maroons have to bear the weight of both distance learning and online training while keeping their mental health in check.
“I just wanted to keep training and trying to balance my academics pero I got to a point na na-burn out na ako kasi I wasn’t used to the training that I was doing. Tapos training alone without the coach, you have to motivate yourself which is really hard,” said Villamil.
Being a student amid a health emergency is already challenging enough. Being an athlete, on top of that, makes the remote university life twice as hard.
While many celebrated the countless opportunities presented to them during lockdown, athletes had to suffer losses. What was supposed to be a temporary period of isolation transformed into an endless waiting game – wasting blood and sweat, damaging dreams and plans.
Today, they’re up against invisible opponents. No loud cheers resonate; support only comes from the other side of the screen. This collective struggle calls for a collective effort so that no athlete gets left behind.