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The truth about playing an underrecognized sport in the Philippines

By Andrea Robles Published Jul 28, 2023 5:00 am

Sports introduced me to some of the most hardworking and dedicated people I know.

It introduced me to people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to their sport—full-time athletes who would practice long hours each day in the scorching heat, spend time away from their families for weeks-long training camps and competitions, and endure other difficulties that come with the profession.

These are individuals who have won medals internationally and brought honor to our country, proudly raising the flag on the world stage, yet would return home to receive little recognition for their accomplishments and the sacrifices they made to achieve them.

Andrea Robles is the first Filipino to win Gold at the Indoor Archery World Series.

These athletes come home and struggle to make ends meet, fund their next competition and training expenses, and find the budget needed to replace that piece of equipment that has been on the verge of breaking. It is a constant scramble to get access to suitable training facilities, high-level coaching, treatment to heal the injury they’ve been nursing for months—the list goes on. They often lose out on things that are crucial to remain competitive.

“Athletes must have a solid support system that begins right from the beginning of their sports career, and not only when they have already won medals for the country.”

Likewise, there is often unpredictability and a lack of clarity on whether they get to participate in certain events at all. This makes it difficult to create a long-term plan that supports a more effective and productive training program to achieve peak performance when it is needed.

This is the reality for a lot of Filipino athletes, especially those in lesser-known sports.

How can we push boundaries in sports if we still need to worry about these basic parts that come with being a competitive athlete?

Yet despite everything we lack, Filipino athletes do still continue to push boundaries.

One wonders what more we can achieve if only provided the right resources. How much more can we achieve if, instead of spending valuable time and energy worrying about things that should have already been taken care of from the moment we began representing the country, we are able to focus wholly on becoming the best we can be?

It takes a village to help an athlete succeed

Growing up, I had always been fortunate to have parents who were not only supportive of my sports goals but understood what it takes to achieve those goals. Being former athletes themselves, they understood how much dedication and hard work were necessary to be competitive among top athletes. They knew how important it is to have easy access to a training facility and the right coaches, and that I needed exposure to competitions both locally and internationally.

I believe that to reach an elite level, it is absolutely important to have that alignment with those around you in what exact goals you are working towards and what actions are necessary to get there.

Whether it's support from your family, coach, or public or private institutions, no man is an island. Success is a team effort, in any sport—just like many other areas of life.

Some of the athletes under the Atletang Ayala program: (from left) Andrea Robles, Prince Alejo, Abby Bidaure, Pia Bidaure, and Jasmine Alkhaldi.

Just a year ago I got the chance to be in the pilot batch of the Atletang Ayala Program, an initiative by Ayala Corporation through the Ayala Center for Excellence in Sports. It provides select national athletes with the holistic support needed to achieve their fullest potential in both their athletic and professional goals.

Bringing together the different resources of the group and its affiliates, the program gives us the opportunity to work as part-time employees at the Ayala Group of Companies, building our post-sports careers and providing us with a stable income, while also giving us the flexibility to continue training and competing. The program also provides us free access to state-of-the-art training facilities through the Ayala Vermosa Sports Hub, and healthcare and injury prevention services through Healthway Medical Network of AC Health.

Knowing that I am backed by such a program aligned with my goals and committed to helping me get there, I have felt a significant difference in the trajectory of my career, both in and out of sports. I have never felt more empowered to go after my biggest dreams.

“Yet despite everything we lack, Filipino athletes do still continue to push boundaries,” writes archer Andrea Robles.

It truly takes a village to help one succeed and I myself have been fortunate enough to be part of such a program that provides a lasting impact. I hope that more institutions—both private and public—follow suit in addressing the specific needs of an athlete aiming to make it big on the world stage and look towards how working collaboratively can lead to a fruitful ecosystem where athletes are geared for even greater things.

Athletes must have a solid support system that begins right from the beginning of their sports career, and not only when they have already won medals for the country.

While it is true that continuous steps through the years have been taken to recognize and support more of our athletes, there is still much to do to push development in Philippine sports. However, with the right programs and systems, there is hope for Philippine sports to truly flourish.