Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Four Noble Truths about Ateneo Women’s Volleyball

With Coaches Anusorn Bundit (left) and Parley Tupaz (right) talking volleyball and football! Hahaha
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The Four Noble Truths about Ateneo Women’s Volleyball
by rick olivares

If you watch the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ games on television, maybe you’d be perplexed that during timeouts, the head coach, Anusorn Bundit, issues few instructions or reminders and yet, he mostly tells his girls to be “happy happy.”

If you are looking for secrets here, you will find none. There is no secret training method. No “secret stuff” like Bugs Bunny showed the Toon Stars in the animated film, "Space Jam."

What it is really --- is a paradigm shift. A unique meld from head coach Anusorn Bundit’s adherence to Buddhist principles as well as techniques learned in his time as a volleyball player and coach as well as ideas adapted from another sport.

The First Noble Truth: Heartstrong
In one incredible season, the term “Heartsrong” has forever joined Ateneo lexicon alongside “One Big Fight.”

When Bundit was asked if he could coach the Ateneo Women’s Volleyball Team, he was told that the team lacked heart. The Thai coach did his due diligence and researched about the team that had lost two years running to the rampaging La Salle Lady Spikers.

“I think of how I can introduce some psychology into their thinking,” wondered the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Coach Tai.’ “To make their heart strong.”

Hence, “Heartstrong.”

Bundit rebuilt their fitness program because they were going to need to be healthy and superbly conditioned to undergo his rigorous training regimen. No doubt, word has leaked that he conducts killer practices with players sometimes getting injured. “Practice hard so the game becomes easy,” he quipped. “Teach and do everything in practice. In game only reminders.”

Then referring to himself, he added with a smile, “Tiger in training; father in game.”

After a recent practice match against Philippine Army with its truckload of national players, the Lady Eagles were joking around with their coach and were surprised to see Lady Eagles captain Alyssa Valdez playfully telling off Bundit: “Coach ha! Bad boy!”

Tiger in training. Father in game.

While their bodies were conditioned, he also worked on their strengthening their mental toughness. Or clearing the mind of the non-essentials.

“When you meditate, you learn to focus on what is essential,” he said like a Thai version of Mr. Miyagi minus the wax in; wax out techniques.

Incredibly, it also reminds one of the techniques that Phil Jackson had his Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams doing.

In his book, “For the Love of the Game,” the man called ‘His Airness’ states: “When we first started meditating during stretching before practice, I thought it was crazy. I’m closing one eye and keeping the other eye open to see what other fool is doing this besides me. Eventually, I became more accepting because I could see everyone making an effort. My mind travels a bit but Phil taught us to concentrate on breathing to bring the mind back to the center.”

When Lady Eagles setter Jia Morado talks about the method Bundit has his girls enacting, she eerily mirrors Jordan’s thoughts: “We all laughed and thought he was joking when he asked us to meditate. We tried it and when we saw it helping us we took it more seriously.”

Added assistant coach Parley Tupaz who has imbibed his head coach’s ways, “Marami na rin ako natutunan kay Coach Tai. Malaking tulong talaga sa pag-grow ko bilang volleyball coach.”

The Second Noble Truth: Unity
Before his arrival, one of the other things that Bundit read about the Filipino is their love for dance. “So I dance to make people happy and to take away attention from the players so they can concentrate. Just like (Jose) Mourinho.”

If you think that name-dropping the Portuguese coach’s name means he is a football and Chelsea fan then your half right. Bundit loves the game of football but cheers his heart out for that team from the Merseyside -- Liverpool. The English club’s slogan of “You Never Walk Alone” that relates to solidarity through life jives well with another of his watchwords: “unity.”

“We are one family,” said the Thai national with his hands gesturing to form a circle. “We have one goal and that is to win. If all have purpose of winning championship, we are one.”

Aside from Liverpool, Coach Tai also borrows elements from Dutch football.

“You know ‘total football,’” he asked. Tai is referring to the style of football espoused by legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michaels that was refined by its foremost disciple in the equally legendary footballer Johan Cruyff. In total football, every player is taught to play different positions and to excel in them. More than that, they are also taught to be equally adept on offense as well as defense.

While playing for the Thai national team in the 1990s, Bundit and his teammates won almost every regional title they could get their hands on (he even played against Parley Tupaz and De La Salle coach Ramil De Jesus). Tai played every position – setter, libero, middle blocker, open spiker. Total volleyball. 

“If one goes down, another can take his place,” he explained. “And how can you teach to set when you do not know how to set? How can you teach to receive when you do not receive well?”

While some of his players are multi-talented – Alyssa Valdez in particular – it is a teaching that will take time because this has to be taught at a young age where kids can imbibe them much better.

If everyone can perform that way then they will all have roles to play. And in doing so, they get their chances to showcase what they’ve got.

The Third Noble Truth: Happy Happy
Morado has talked about even during difficult parts of the season, the Lady Eagles are never at each other’s throats with recriminations. “We all encourage one another,” she added.

“Dancing makes people happy,” elucidated the coach. “Being happy means you do good things. If you are happy in your body then you are happy in your work. If Buddha happy then Buddha blesses everybody.”

The good vibes are infectious. The team has never one to engage in trash talking. They celebrate won points moderately and without any trace of obnoxiousness or disrespect.

“If I get mad at player for a mistake, player will be nervous about making mistakes,” further added Bundit. “But if you encourage them and be happy then their confidence goes higher.”

Respect is important to Coach Tai. In fact, after every training, every game, he makes it a point to thank his players.

“I don’t know of any other coach who does that,” marveled team supporter Arthur Lim. “By being respectful of others and the game, it brings good karma.”

“Respect the game,” Bundit summed up. “It respects you back.”

The Fourth Noble Truth: Believe. Can do.
In Buddha’s teachings, suffering is a part of life and it is something everyone has to go through before they succeed.

The little known new nugget that Coach Tai is sharing with his Lady Eagles this year is, “Believe. Can do.”

“Must be in the mind to do,” he decreed.

Despite the elimination round sweep, Bundit says that the season is not easy and it is just as difficult as their previous season when they achieved the impossible. “Same. Same,” he said. “Never easy. Always hard. Accept it is hard so you work hard.”

“But if you believe in your mind that you can win then you will do it.”


  1. Thank you for writing this. I've always wanted to know more about this coach and his methodology.

    By the way, the "secret stuff" of Bugs Bunny was just water, his way of saying "Believe. Can do"

  2. And the one paradigm shift in volleyball (and soon in basketball?), angas will no longer get you nowhere. Trash talking was a fad for so many years and it still is in many sports.. You can negate physical talent with working on the heads of your opponents. The one thing this meditation, focus, and concentration did good was to negate that from foes like Ust, La Salle, Nu, and to some extent Feu. When they started seeing it didn'r work, and social media backlash was twofold, talent and skills were all there were left on the court.

  3. Again, great insight into the only team of which I am totally invested. Great read Rick.