Fast Break


Athletes come and go. Time will eventually arrive and their playing years will come to an end. Most of them remain to be visible in the sports industry, just serving a different capacity, while there are some who eventually fade as part of history. Few are somewhat in between. As they move into what seems to be an entirely different direction, in the end, they find their way back and somehow intertwined their two parallel worlds. Toni Faye Tan would be a fitting example. Eventually pursuing a career outside the sports she loves, she discovered the way to integrate one with the other and it was a story worth telling.

/ 25 August 2020

As a Lady Maroon

Toni played three seasons for the University of the Philippines in the UAAP volleyball from 2006 to 2010 alongside the likes of Jed Montero, Southlyn Ramos, Carmela Lopez, and Angelli Araneta among others. Only a handful are familiar with these names with Montero and Araneta being the more recognizable. After all, that UP squad was part of that rebuilding phase for the state university.

Image Source: PROJECT YSA

’Yung storya naming magba-batchmate, yung [mga] high school teams namin, lahat kami dun sa batch 2006, from champion teams, halimbawa ako Diliman Prep. Pagdating sa UP, sobrang frustrating kasi lagi kaming nasa bottom half, kulelat pa nga,” she recalled.

Indeed, During her time, UP was almost every year at the bottom of the standings, having a hard time building momentum and snatching up wins—a perfect contrast to the U.P team right now—which according to her may be because of the limited training days since their priority was still their studies. A little bit of change only came when Coach Ron Dulay seated at the helm. Still, with little exposure and modest support being received, the team was known to be cellar dwellers, which according to Toni, although frustrating, never made her think twice of wanting to play. Even if most of the time, she was just a bench warmer.

“I never thought of leaving volleyball. Yung father ko ayaw ako pasalihin kasi baka mapabayaan ko yung studies ko. Pagdating nung college ayaw niya ko magtry out sa UP or sa ibang school kasi he wanted me to take up nursing. Kinonvince ko siya. One game, pinasok ako ni Coach Ron. From the bench, ako yung nag best player of the game. For me that’s a big accomplishment kasi nga talunan kami tapos bigla naming natalo pa namin yung National University,” she recalled. And although her final playing year was cut short by an injury, closing that chapter of hers on a sad note, Toni has nothing but love for the sport.

Change Courts

Image Source: Faye Tan’s Facebook Page

Since professional leagues for volleyball are scarce during her time, Toni has no choice but to choose a different path for her to take. Initially wanting to already join the workforce, this time it was due to her father’s persuasion that she proceeded to study law instead.

Si papa yung epitomy ng kasabihang edukasyon lang ang maipapamana ko sa inyo. Kung kaya mong maga-aral mag aral ka, hannga’t kaya kong magpa-aral mag-aral ka. I got convinced and in a way, ‘yun na yung way ko of giving back to him kasi pinayagan niya kong magvolleyball.”

The transition from being a student-athlete to a law student was not easy, Toni told. While both are journeys, the latter requires more effort than the other. While she has teammates to rely on when playing volleyball, in law school, at the end of the day she has to fight her battles on her own.

Having a new challenge to conquer, Toni used what she learned in playing volleyball to cope immediately. Law School being a mental torture, and being an athlete that she was, being disciplined, focused, determined, and resilient helped her a lot.

“Iyong struggle of the law student nangyayari ‘yan during first year. If you got the hang of it, it becomes a habit. ”

She had a short comeback in the volleyball scene, joining the RC-Cola Air Force in the All Filipino Cup of the Philippine SuperLiga and winning first runner-up but she has a business to finish just yet.

Creating the vinculum

May 15, 2015 was almost a typical Sunday law student night. Toni was reviewing before going to bed. She looked outside her window and saw kids playing volleyball on the streets. Or they think they are. In Toni’s eyes they were just picking up balls. Instead of telling them to tone down their noises, (like what she used to do before), she felt an old familiar feeling. In a spur of the moment, she called their attention. She introduced herself, convincing them that she knows the sport and could teach them. “Niyayabang ko pa yung sarili ko para maniwala sila na I can teach them.” She went down excited yet tentative. She knows nothing in teaching much more about coaching. That was the first time she did such a thing. Nevertheless, her desire defeated her doubts.

May tatlong bata. Naglaro kami. Tinuruan ko sila ng basics, [at] form kung pa’no yung kamay. After a little while may umalis na bata. So parang napaisip ako na sana pala hindi na lang ako bumama kasi umalis siya pero yun pala, nagtawag siya ng kalaro niya after that, I was surrounded by 20 to 30 kids.”

She was overwhelmed. Because of the amount of kids, it was impossible to play anymore. Instead, she sat down, answered their questions, and told them stories. She saw the sincerity in their eyes. She knew they really wanted to learn. Her ordinary study night turned into a trip down memory lane.

Toni promised to teach them again on Thursday and told them to be ready. Training would start at 7 a.m, she reminded the kids. Days dragged on and the promise took the backseat. It was just when Thursday arrived and things are a little bit louder than usual for a Thursday morning when she remembered it. The kids were already there, prepared, and just waiting for her.  She started teaching the basic positions and conducted receiving drills. Toni felt inspired and satisfied. 

She shared her experience in social media. To say the least, the reception was surprising. She titled her story ‘A Call to Filipino Athletes’. She wanted her former teammates as well as players of other sports to give back to the community because the effects are positive. Surprisingly, the majority who showed interest are mothers, kids who wanted to learn, and sports enthusiasts. Because of that story, donations kept on coming and people gave balls and shirts that they could use. Toni thought that was the time to establish a Non-Government Organization. Because she was still in Law school, she was hesitant. However, because of the people who assured her to support and help her cause, she pursued it.

Hence Youth Sports Advocacy came to existence. Youth Sports Advocacy or Project YSA aims to change society through sports. With over 400 volunteers, Toni together with others visits communities to conduct sports clinics among the youth. While initially thinking of focusing on volleyball, Toni thought that it will be good for the kids to learn multi-sports.

Image Source: PROJECT YSA

It became a community-based project, conducting sports activities for weeks or months. Today, kids who participated in their programs are members of their school varsity teams and some are now champions in their own right. With the kids’ dedication and sincerity, Toni can see that they are aiming to be the athletes that they just saw on TV before.

Project YSA already established two communities and Toni and company plans to do more, tapping different sports organizations to partner their cause. Nonetheless, Toni feels that the best partners they could have would be the athletes themselves. After winning in the 13th Ten Accomplished Youth Organization (TAYO), she thought of proposing Athlete Sports Responsibility (ASR) among schools to encourage student-athletes to have the chance to give back to the society and inspire younger generation what sports could do to them. Through ASR, it will show that athletes know and care about more than just winning.

Toni believes that the best way to build a better society is to start with the grassroots and it could be achieved by doing and participating in sports. She hopes people in the government will do something to improve the Philippine Sports industry.

Ang sports naman kasi could be used to reach your dreams. Gamitin natin yung sports to instill values. Yung mga paliga sa baranggay, bigyan natin ng lalim,” she emphasized.

Toni’s work in Project YSA has just begun. In fact, now that she is now known as Atty. Toni Faye Tan in the legal profession, her vision on what should be improved in the Philippine sports also widened. She reminded the kids that they do not need the right equipment for them to play. It is just a matter of figuring out how you would do it and there are organizations like Project YSA that would give them the opportunity to be engaged.

In the near future, when Toni will have her talks and share messages, her court stories will not be limited to her as a volleyball player. It will include her life as a lawyer and how passion and love tied the two.

Now that her worlds found the link to co-exist, Toni realized that you do not need to be rich or be influential to touch lives and create a difference, much more to start something up and stir change. You just need to be creative and bold, passionate, and dedicated.

After all, It all started with three kids, one ball and a street.