By Eric Hodgson
A heartfelt account of American volleyball coach Eric Hodgson’s trip to the Philippines to teach aspiring Filipino children to love the game
“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”—Anonymous
It was a faraway world from the comfortable confines of our practice gyms in the United States with ball carts, air conditioning, wood floors and, well, walls. Eighteen hours on a plane into a day lost in the calendar. “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” as Dorothy would say.
This particular practice gym in the Philippines, in September 2015, was outside in tropical heat and humidity. It was cement and only one court, with no line and no walls. There were only two things in common between home and away: the athletes and the coach.
So began a week-long journey into wide-eyed wonder, adaptation, and an underlying sense of accomplishment that maybe hasn’t been part of your coaching for years.
We went into it not knowing what to expect at any turn. Facilities, weather, and equipment presented a challenge at each coaching opportunity we traveled to. We had three goals in mind: play as much as possible, incorporate as many athletes as possible, and make sure everyone was having fun. We knew if those three objectives were met, these athletes would become better players and teammates.
As volleyball coaches, our first hurdle to overcome was adaptation: we put up ribbon across a regular tattered net to make more courts for athletes to play. We would see at some venues 100 athletes or more on one court over a 3-4-hour stretch and it was paramount to get them all maximum playing time. With the help of local coaches and the cooperation of the athletes that all wanted to play, we constructed four, five, and sometimes six smaller courts with a rope net to incorporate as many as safely possible. We played queen of the court, we played mini tournaments and we played 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 to get these young Filipino athletes as many touches on the ball in our limited time with them as possible.
We had to overcome things that our American athletes rarely have to worry about: hunger, weather, and transportation. Our sister organizations fed the athletes after every clinic and we all just worked through the high temperature and humidity that book-ended the typhoon rains in between. Many kids walked home after playing four hours as their parents were still at work. These Filipino children were used to these conditions and we, as coaches, quickly took a cue from them as they became not impediments, but scenery.
We introduced drills that encompassed more athletes and as coaches, stepped aside to let the kids run them. There was no room for coaching egos here and watching how these amazing young people persevered through all that their American counterparts would complain about, we adopted a stance of humility that best served everyone and stayed with us long after our return to the States.
We gave only positive feedback in rudimentary sign language that was punctuated with a smile to smile connection of understanding between coaches and players. The language barrier, while perhaps daunting for normal tourists was broken down by the love of our game and the power of play. While the exact wording of our feedback may have gotten lost at times, the sentiments never were.
We want to go back. We want to learn more of the language to help us go a level deeper in our teaching of the sport. We want to embrace the culture more: not just with traditional food and drink but the customs and flavor of these athletes and their families. We want to be better prepared for conditions that we now know better: weather, facilities and the athletes and coaches themselves. We would be more accessible to help with things other than volleyball: perhaps helping at a local orphanage or church or helping to build something the neighborhood could use. We want to leave a footprint this time around: something that can help these resilient children and their families, something that can make a difference longer.
We spent a glorious week with these golden children and coaches who appreciated all that we and our sister organizations provided them. We made many friends, got some new players and perhaps saw some roots of upcoming teams and programs take hold. We slept very little, woke early to catch vans and airport shuttles and got used to non-comfort foods.
But without exception, we took much more away than what we left. A sense of entitlement rich in American consciousness these days was left behind, replaced by a deep appreciation for resiliency and a happiness found not from material things but from an internal sense of accomplishment and pride. It was a cleansing of souls for the coaches who came home with a newfound sense of purpose and a week that will stay with them for life.
We have put down the last chapter. On to the next.
Editor’s Note: Coach Eric Hodgson detailed his personal account on his blog, too.
Eric Hodgson has coached volleyball for the last 18 years and been working with the Arizona Region for the last 13. He was named the Director of Outreach in 2012. Eric is also the Coaching Education Director for the Region and started and ran the Region’s High Performance Program from 2001-2011. He is a CAP Cadre for USA Volleyball and the Grassroots Chairman of USAV. From 1999-2004 he coached Club and High School volleyball and worked with Arizona State University. Eric works summers with Gold Medal Squared Volleyball clinics and has worked clinics in Canada, Sweden, and Germany the past two summers. He is currently a CAP III level instructor for USA Volleyball.