Coaching changes are a norm in sports, and athletes are always expected to assimilate to their new mentor’s system.
In the case of Jaja Santiago, Babes Castillo is her fourth coach in five years with the National University. She started under Francis Vicente, then the Lady Bulldogs employed Edjet Mabbayad, Dong Dela Cruz, and Roger Gorayeb after him.
For someone in the developmental stage of her career, the six-foot-five Santiago is taking the coaching changes well. As one of the best players in the country, the Cavite-native is constantly on the receiving end of different styles of coaching not just from NU, but also from her club Foton — with Moro Branislav — and the National Team, with Francis Vicente.
“Noong una nahihirapan ako. For me sobrang hirap mag adjust sa gusto nila,” admitted Santiago, who is in her fifth and final year in NU. “Pero be a professional athlete na lang ang naisip ko. Kailangan kong maging flexible talaga. Kailangan ko disiplinahin sarili ko na player ako, kailangan ko sumunod sa mga coaches ko so go lang ako nang go.
“Kung ‘di man agad mag-click, iniisip ko na lang na ‘di mo naman makukuha talaga agad-agad. Take your time para hasain yung posisyon na binibigay sa iyo.”
Now, Santiago likes Castillo’s motivational style of coaching.
Castillo, who steered the Junior Lady Bulldogs to three UAAP titles, encourages his players to be more creative and is very hands-on with educating them.
“Si coach Babes kasi nag-fo-focus talaga sa basics.
“Makikita mo every day sa training imo-motivate ka nya, hindi ka makakarinig ng di maganda. Never siya nagbibigay ng negative na feedback sayo. Imo-motivate ka niya talaga na mag-level up at mag-grow pa. Maiisip mo rin na tama siya kaya magma-mature ka rin talaga,” thought the 21-year-old.
On his part, Castillo knows he has something special with Santiago and is trying to get her to be not only a better leader, but also a smarter player.
“Jaja is undoubtedly one of the best players in the country.
“You can see now that she’s becoming more vocal as a leader. Lumalabas na ‘yung maturity niya,” Castillo said of his ward, who tallied 24 points in just three sets in NU’s win over the Arellano Lady Chiefs in Game One of the PVL semifinals. “With me, I’m just trying to get her to look at things in a more procedural way. We know what she wants to do on the court. It’s just about getting her to understand how those things are done.
“You can see now that we haven’t been taking her out when she’s in the back row. She’s getting so much better all-around,” the youthful mentor added.
When it comes to her position, Santiago has learned that her versatility as a player is a valuable asset.
“Dati kasi, pag wala akong laro sa open, mas gusto ko talaga middle. Pag wala akong laro sa middle, mas gusto ko open. Wala na akong ayaw na posisyon kasi nati-train ko na naman sila lahat,” shared Santiago.
“‘Di ko na kailangang magdalawang isip sa mga pwesto.”
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