When I was a little girl I was bookish and not the least bit sporty.  I did, however, love swimming, climbing trees, running with the dogs and playing games the neighborhood children played. I even endured hula dancing class.  It wasn’t until high school PE that I became one of the goalies of the girls’ soccer team.  I sometimes walked home all covered in mud.  The only time I was goalie and we played against another school, it was a long, hard match that ended in a draw.  No big deal – we had sandwiches and we had our stories, and we enjoyed ourselves.

I had a place in the team, a role and a goal, and I tried as much as possible to achieve it.  The sense of belonging and pride in the team was exhilarating.  For once I was the doer, not the watcher.  Many people prefer to just watch, and never give themselves a chance to do.

Many years later, I watched my goddaughter Jassie play girls’ Little League Softball.  Their team won the right to represent the Philippines at the International Little League World Series that year.  I cheered myself hoarse that day, and was so proud of my friends’ little girl.  I remembered thinking that when I was a little girl I could never hit anything on cue even if I tried.  I was hopeless at shooting a basketball or returning a volleyball serve.   The only thing I knew how to do was kick a ball in certain directions and block it with my body.  I thought it was great that kids nowadays had all these organized activities that gave them opportunities to discover physical and social skills, activities that weren’t available or fashionable when I was small.  All we had then was a choice of learning dance, or a musical instrument, or art, or kiddie cooking class.  Very few little girls then participated in team sports, unless you counted school patintero and Chinese garter games at recess.

Last Saturday I watched my niece Lilo play Little League T-ball.  It was a very hot and humid day, but families gathered around the El Circulo Verde field, cheering on their kids.  There’s something so appealing about watching 6-year-olds running around a diamond trying to catch a ball.  Each of them had a job to do.  Lilo batted twice; later she had to exit the game due to heat exhaustion.  They only played for an hour in the sweltering heat, but they all got their exercise, which is one thing kids always need enough of.

When Lilo started out with the International Little League Association of Manila‘s Major Holdings team, she was the smallest girl (and one of the youngest) in the group.  They practiced once a week on a weekday and played virtually every Saturday in the school year.  In the beginning she didn’t understand the game rules.  She cried whenever she was tagged out.  Eventually she learned to hit a ball on a tee strongly, even hit a coach’s pitch, and to catch a ball. And she learned to run as fast as she could.  There were days she didn’t feel like playing, but she played anyway.  There were days she was more interested in daydreaming while in the outfield. But she played anyway.  Her teammates didn’t all go to the same school, but they all became friends.

A year later, some teammates moved into the next age group.  Some stopped playing in favor of other pursuits.  This year Lilo plays in a mixed boys and girls group.  (More new friends!)

t-ball-01t-ball-02t-ball-03This sort of experience is so important.  It’s not about dressing up to look sporty, or so you have something to brag about (although some people do that).  It’s about learning to work with others, and to do your job the best way you can so you can contribute to the team’s success.  For most little girls, it’s trying out what you initially think you’re not inclined to do, with the hope of finding out that you really like what you’re doing.  And becoming the better person for it.

The last time I participated in a team sport, it was in Philippine airsoft, from 2001-2003.  I was a member of the PPG, an all-girl assault squad of Team Wyvern.  We participated in the first Kalis competition, where we had to successfully complete an assault module, a defense module and a hostage rescue module.  We held a respectable middle place in the competition, not bad for first-timers.  Here’s a couple of photos from those days when I was 20lbs lighter and had sharper cheekbones:

That’s Ria Miranda-Regis and me clearing out the first room of the FTI warehouse in Taguig.  (Thanks to Mike Wu for these photos!)

The PPG disbanded at a time when some of us became wives and mothers.  Those are important roles, too – except your team is your family this time.  As for me, I passed my airsoft gear on to my godson Raffi, who uses it mostly for cosplay.

Those with young children should take advantage of opportunities for team sport.  If you’re thinking about things like the expense and the time it takes up, believe me, it’s worth it.  Let your children join something, have fun and learn to play well with others.  There are many, many lessons to learn from experiences like this, but playing well with others is one of those skills that you may not realize means a lot when it comes to living well in this world.