The Lesson I Learned From RP’s Top Tennis Guru

Summer of 2007, I wrote the article below about  BUTCH BACANI. One of the country’s top tennis coaches, he’ll be back in Cebu from April 27 to May 15. To learn more about his program, call Ging-Ging (office hours) at 416-1122 local 100. The Butch Bacani/Smart Tennis Camp (to be held at the Casino Español and Cebu Country Club) is offered FOR FREE.

The two words “Butch Bacani” stand for one of the most recognized and respected coaches in Philippine tennis. Felix Barrientos? Remember him? Sure, Coach Butch mentored him. Jennifer Saberon, the Wimbledon qualifier? Sure. PJ Tierro, today’s No.1 netter who represents us in Davis Cup? Another student of the Bacani Camp. In the last 30 years since Coach Butch Bacani has taught tennis, rarely has a top-notch netter not passed through his coaching.

Here at the Cebu Country Club from May 7 until June 1 (last Friday), I watched him. He showed the 174 participants of the Smart/Butch Bacani Tennis Camp how to topspin a forehand. He demonstrated how to toss the ball and smash a serve. From 8 a.m. to 12, 1 to 3 p.m., he baked himself under the sun. He lectured. He motivated. He disciplined. And, he’s good—just as Smart advertised in their banner, he’s “world-class.”

But among all the traits I saw in Coach Butch—his excellent command of English and superb communication skills; his technical expertise honed over three decades; his ability to spot a weakness then impart specific advice—above all these, the one quality that I witnessed that dominates all is this: His passion.

You can see it in Butch Bacani’s light gray eyes, the way they look you straight. For this is what I’ve learned from Coach: know-how is good, experience is important, credentials and your five-page resume will take you far—but what’s most essential is the sound beating inside your chest, that intangible feeling that screams inside you and shouts, “Let’s Go, go, go!”

Passion. Coach Butch has taught me that if you’re not passionate, drop it. And he speaks from experience: Back in 1971, Jacinto N. Bacani graduated with an Economics degree at UP. And, just as expected, he turned economist—lecturing at UP for four years then working as Manager at Cummins Diesel. But the engine inside him didn’t spark. Corporate life didn’t wake him up at 5:35 each morning jumping out of the bed. Economics didn’t make his chest scream, “Go, go, go!”

Passion? Nah. Then, it was absent. So he quit. And went back to his “first love,” the game he first learned at the age of seven. Tennis. He organized events, conducted lessons, and flew to Bardmoor, Florida to enlist himself under one of the greatest tennis gurus of all time: Harry Hopman.

Passion? Go, go, go? Yes. Sports and teaching and tennis—combined—was his passion. So he pursued it. Gave up a lucrative corporate job, more money, and a lofty status to pursue what ticked inside his chest.

Passion. Today, looking back at his life, what has this shift resulted? Amazing results. He’s traveled all over the world. He’s helped coach almost every single RP No.1 or No.2 or No.5—from Joseph Lizardo to today’s No.1, PJ Tierro, to tomorrow’s No.1, Nino Alcantara (who, last year, was Asia’s top player in the Boys 14).

One of the highlights of Butch Bacani’s career was in 1988. Then, he was appointed as Davis Cup coach. Against odds that appeared impossible, against a team from Japan that we had not beaten in 24 years, against a squad whom we lost to 2-0 in the first day of competition—Coach Butch and his RP Davis Cup team (Rod Rafael, Raymond Suarez, Andres Battad) rallied to win the last three matches and lift RP as Asian heroes.

How possible? Passion. Now, as you read this, look into yourself and ask just one question: Am I passionate? If the answer is No, I suggest you do these two words: “Butch Bacani.” Reexamine your life. Seek what ticks underneath that shirt. Develop the courage to change, to pursue, to leap.

Today is the birthday of Butch Bacani. This tennis—and life—lesson he’s taught me: What a birthday gift to us all.

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