Commentary

Too much basketball

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If we are to improve our international performance in sports, we should perhaps look into regulating our basketball. We shouldn’t play it as we do now, which is the whole year round. We should observe seasons in sports, so that athletically gifted players can train for and play other sports.

We have enough big, hefty men, unlike in the past. Guys 6’4” or 6’5” tall are now quite common in our basketball courts. They are still shorter than other nations’ top players, but with some training they should do well in other sports, especially in Asian and Asean competitions.

In observing seasons in sports, we should disband our basketball teams and scuttle organized competitions after their competitive period, and encourage players to train for other sports and events. We had more or less such a system in the old days. We then did better in offshore meets.

Sports are a domain of big men. Some small guys do excel. But in general, more men with large physical stature stand out, and not only in basketball—even if power, speed, strength and other physical qualities (that can be improved) can help overcome the size advantage.

Big men with longer limbs have an edge in running, in aquatic sports, and even in events where there are weight classifications. Tall, bulky guys dominate field competitions, particularly the throwing events. We are defaulting in other sports as practically all of our big men are in basketball.

Observing seasons in sports poses a problem. Our basketball has been commercialized. It draws virtually all our big athletic guys who, for lack of rewards in other sports, gravitate to it. Most basketball programs are geared at producing guys for our pay-for-play league—and nothing nobler.

Athletically endowed big guys would likely do well in any event. Thus, basketball really starves our other sports and stops us from doing better internationally. This is really tragic as we cannot make a respectable dent in international basketball despite the attention and resources we give it.

In the past when we played sports seasonally, we were better off. Basketball season was then followed by soccer, track and field, etc. Guys like Carlos Loyzaga, Ed Ocampo and others dabbled in soccer and other sports, which helped build their extraordinary prowess—also for basketball.

Our penchant to develop one-track players began in the 1970s or so. With it came our decline in virtually all sports including basketball. Our belief in year-round training and competitions just goes against the grain of the systems followed by successful countries, particularly the old Soviet Union.

When it was building its prowess in the 1950s and 1960s, the USSR had its athletes play different sports. Even its weightlifters trained and participated in various games and in track and field. It quickly caught up with the United States, which was its main goal. It remains among the top in the Olympics.

Russian athletes had a period of “active rest” after the main competitive season. Then they’d train for and participate in other events. When training and competing again in their main sports, they’d reach new and higher peaks—frequently approaching or even surpassing world records.

Performance doesn’t suffer with some rest, actual and active. With these, something improves imperceptibly in the athletes’ physicality—something that powers them to a higher peak when they train and compete again. They add a new, if subtle, dimension to their condition by playing another sport.

Our professional boxers, who are more successful globally, also don’t believe in continuous year-round training. They’d train hard for three or so months for a fight. They’d peak for the fight—and rest for months afterward. They’d train seriously again when they have another fight coming up.

Our fighters, including Flash Elorde and Manny Pacquiao, won world titles through this pattern of training, competing or fighting, and resting. Pacquiao plays basketball when he’s not training for boxing. Under such a system, he improved—in speed, power and skill—year after year to what he is today.

Strength athletes recognize the need for rest in order to continue building prowess—and to cycle training methods. Continuous, unvarying training makes an athlete somewhat like a laborer who uses his sinews daily. Such a grind pegs strength and prowess at a limited level.

There are a few other things to consider. One is to widen participation in many sports through our schools—and local governments and barangays. We should prod as many youngsters as possible to seek excellence. Great athletes do not develop in a vacuum.

Our universities should become depositories of sports expertise. We had imported many foreign coaches and trainers but still lack, after those years, a body of expertise in sports development. A public sports institute can serve this purpose, but it can be wrecked quickly by the wrong political appointee.

We should also study the tendency of our youth to mature belatedly, compared to western youngsters. Can we turn this into an advantage—or do we have to correct it so that we’d fare better? If we need to, what can we do so that our youngsters will grow, mature and develop faster?

We must introduce weight training, including bodybuilding and weight lifting, in our high school PE classes, even on a selective basis. Moreover, we should shed our reluctance (or fear?) to do heavy lifting or weight training, the proper dosages of which can help build better athletes.

Many of these will moreover improve our mettle as a people and as a nation.

A retired newspaperman, Quincy T. Ataviado wrote and published a book, “Fitness and Successful Athletics,” in the 1970s. More recently, a local bookstore issued his latest book, “Failure-proof Weight Loss Methods.”

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