Profiles, Stories

Coach Bonnie Tan: On running the path to coaching victory

Colegio De San Juan De Letran made headlines last May 22 as the Letran Knights scored a historic back-to-back championship win in season 97 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament. 

The team achieved this memorable victory after sweeping the season and beating commendable team Mapua University with a finals score of 75-65. The outstanding season-long performance was brought about by the team’s hard work, the Letran fans’ support and of course, the brains of the coaching staff headed by none other than Chinoy Bonnie Tan.

Becoming the head coach of the NCAA men’s basketball champion team was definitely no easy feat for Coach Bonnie but he has proven that through hard work and determination, anything is possible.

Budding love for basketball

Coach Bonnie recounts that his love for the sport started at a young age in a typical Chinoy household. His father would watch every PBA game on their television and following the unspoken norm among Chinoys, the children would watch whatever their bàba or dad is watching. 

“It all started sa dad ko, so my late father talagang mahilig manood ng basketball, pumupunta kami sa PBA live. Kung di naman, eh yung TV namin iisa so kung anong pinapanood namin ng dad ko, ng mga kapatid ko, panay basketball so dun na nagstart,” he shared.

Tan eventually started playing basketball games with his friends as well and soon realized how much he enjoyed and excelled in the sport. It was during this time that he realized his growing love and passion for the world of basketball.

It helped that his parents were very supportive of his chosen passion for sports, quite contrary to typical Chinoy parents who would steer their children to narrower career paths, which Tan greatly appreciated. “Di kami minold ng parents namin para maging kung ano gusto nilang gawin, na dini-dictate. Kung ano yung decision namin na gusto namin yun yung sinuport nila,” he said.

Road towards being a successful coach

Before coaching basketball players, Tan was one of them first. He initially became a basketball player at Grace Christian High School, where he participated in different basketball tournaments, including Filipino-Chinese leagues.

After graduating high school, he entered University of Santo Tomas (UST). It was also during this time that he first gained his coaching experience at St. Stephen High School, which was coincidentally near UST.

Tan eventually rose up the ladder and coached for a university in 2003. This university was the Lyceum of the Philippines, which he was able to enter after its athletic director, Tanny Gonzales, asked him to spearhead the university’s basketball program. Tan spent 11 years coaching the LPU Pirates before heading over to the professional league, PBA.

He became the team manager of Global Port for five years before entering Letran, where he has begun to create a legacy with the team. The Letran Knights had an elusive chase for the NCAA championship title in the previous seasons until they were able to finally bag the crown, surprisingly during Tan’s first year as their coach.

Play like it’s your last

One of Coach Bonnie’s constant reminders to his players is to play every game as if it was their last, to always give it their all and never be complacent no matter how easy things seem to be. “I always remind my players naman parati to play every game like a championship game, na parang sabihin nating last game na nila yun,” said Tan.

Aside from this, Tan also believes in the importance of every member of the team, not just the players and the coaches. “I believe in involving my staff, not just the players. Kahit sa mga ball boys, iniinvolve ko sila, kinakausap ko sila. [I do whatever] it takes everyone to develop a willing attitude,” he said. This highlights his humility and deep appreciation for every member of the team– qualities of a great leader which Coach Bonnie truly is.

Chinoy representation in sports

The traits that make him an effective coach can also be traced to his roots as a Filipino-Chinese. 

“First, yung respect sa elders sa mga parents natin. Second, pagiging compassionate natin, showing concern to someone sa mga nangangailangan, sa mga in need. Last yung courage. We need the courage to move on in our daily battle sa buhay natin.” Despite our modern time, Coach Bonnie still strongly believes in these traditional Chinoy values that has helped him reach the success he enjoys today. 

Being true to his passion for basketball and sports, Coach Bonnie also highlights that he is hopeful that the Chinoy community can make a stronger presence in the field. “Honestly, Chinoys sa Philippine sports, hindi masyado tayo well-represented kasi mga typical Chinese after college, they help their parents sa mga business nila. So yun, hopefully we can develop more Chinoys to represent the Philippines sa sports,” he said.

Tune in on Sunday, 8PM to catch Coach Bonnie Tan’s full story on 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart, only on CNN Philippines (Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10).

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