PHILIPPINES -- I have been playing for the Philippines since 2004. At age 14, I suited up as a member of the RP women's under-19 team. I was the youngest in the team and was a last minute addition to the line-up as the federation was undecided whether I was mature enough to handle the pressures of representing the country at such a young age.
I suited up and immediately moved up to the senior team a couple months later. I’ve been with the Philippine women’s national football team for seven years and I can honestly say that 2011 was an experience like no other.
“Pilipinas Laban” has always been the battle cry of the team. Until, then, we felt that ''Laban'' just wasn’t enough to express how we felt about the sacrifices we made, the blood we sweated, the obstacles we tackled. That’s when my dad (coach Ernie Nierras) came up with “Battle and Bleed”. For those of us who were senior to the team, the phrase hit a spot that could not be matched by the previous battle cry.
To “battle” didn’t just mean that we had to face the toughest players in South East Asia. We fought everyday in our own home turf, proving to the country we were going to do them justice as we represented the people, proving to the PFF that we were skilled and prepared to play with any other national team out there, and to the universities, that we deserved the opportunity to in play in a bigger environment and not just local games.
We shrugged it off when people criticised every move we made; the way we trained, where we went, how we dressed. People disapproved of the choice of our team name, “Malditas”, saying that it was inappropriate to promote that kind of image. People questioned if the members of our coaching staff were qualified for the position and whether they were capable of developing players and obtaining any results. People were so quick to judge our team, without ever actually taking the time to understand it from our perspective.
Despite all the criticisms and obstacles in our way, we defended what we believed in and stood our ground. We surged on training, aiming for the October 2011 tournament. This was where the “Bleed” came in. Bleed did not just signify the amount of effort we put in working on ourselves and improving ourselves, preparing for the tournament. Bleed did not only mean we poured every ounce of energy we had in each training session, wiped off the blood stains from our shorts and pretended there was no pain. Bleed meant that we felt every single blow people thrown to us. It was mentally exhausting to deal with it all.
There were moments where we felt like it would just be a whole lot easier to just give up and stop fighting, but my dad would see us struggling, look us in the eyes and ask a simple question that would get our adrenaline pumping ready for Battle; “How much do you want it?”. It was a question that no one ever answered verbally. I would look at my teammates long, tired faces and see their expression instantly change. There was a glint in their eyes that could only be understood as determination and desire. Something I think lacked in the previous years I was in the national team.
Year 2011 was unlike any other experience I ever had on the national team. Being the daughter of the coach only added to the amount of criticism we were already receiving. People questioned if my dad would be biased towards me, and questioned whether I was deserving to be on the team or if I was just getting a free ride onto the bench. I was fighting a personal battle in addition to the battle I fought along side my teammates. Looking on it all now, a few months later, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The obstacles we fought only made us train harder, and make our desire even greater.
People misinterpreted when they saw us in training laughing and smiling, people assumed that we are slacking off by the mere fact that we have the energy to smile. People thought that to be an elite athlete you need to work yourself so hard that you did not have the energy left to smile. I too thought that before. That if you were laughing about in training it meant you were not focused and disciplined enough.
But what I realized, what my Malditas sisters taught me, is to enjoy what we do. I’ve been on the national team for seven years, and each year we worked hard to obtain the goal we set our sights on. We always fell short of what we wanted. We would return from a tournament like we failed. Coming home from the 2011 tournament in Laos, I have never felt prouder to be a Filipino and a member of the Malditas.
I truly believe we played to the best of our abilities, and that we have set a new tone for Women’s football. Year 2011 was an experiment, to test the waters. We enter a new year, with new challenges and new goals, but with the same “Battle and Bleed” attitude. SN
[This article was originally published on January 8, 2012. Photo by Joan Pauline Lapid]