Alyssa Valdez


Trust In The Process

Alyssa Valdez has been voted Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Sports Personality for 2024. The award recognises the volleyball star’s contribution to Filipino sport, and the positive impact her zest for life has made on the nation.

Anyone watching Alyssa Valdez play her heart out on the volleyball court is struck by her passion and unflinching determination. The 30-year-old national player thrives when the pressure is high and the next shot will determine the game. Her wide smile, positive personality and dedication to promoting her sport further endear her to Filipinos. She is fondly known as the ‘Ang Heartstrong Phenom Ng Batangas’ or the ‘Clutch Queen’.

Reader’s Digest spoke to a delighted Alyssa soon after her professional club team Creamline Cool Smashers won the 2023 Premier Volleyball League Second All-Filipino Conference championships. For Alyssa, who despite dealing with a knee injury in earlier games, was still able to deliver the winning point, the victory will forever remain “a sweet memory”.

After the closely fought game, Alyssa was quick to praise her teammates, the coaching staff, physical therapists and fans. “It’s nice to achieve things with people around you, people helping you. You cannot just be alone and win. It has to be a team effort all the time.”

Alyssa believes that in order to make it in sport, you first have to trust your own abilities before you can trust your team. “If you trust yourself, it is easy to trust others,” she says. “Trust is at the very essence of a team sport like volleyball, which requires intense team interaction and coordination. If you trust each other, confidence will follow and make you feel like you can do anything. It starts with trust.”

Alyssa showed that she is a team play who can be counted on when she left the final of Pinoy Big Brother: Kumunity Season 10, turning down the opportunity to be the television show’s Ultimate Big Winner, to compete in the 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi. At the end of the day, she said at the time, representing the Philippines meant everything to her.

Heartstrong forever

Alongside values such as trust and teamwork, Alyssa is known for the motto ‘HeartStrong’.

“It’s such a weird mantra,” she laughs, “because we all know that it’s not grammatically correct, it should be ‘strong heart’ really.” She sums it up as “having that strong heart no matter what happens, to keep on fighting until the final point.”

Alyssa first encountered the HeartStrong mantra back in 2014 while playing for the Lady Eagles at Ateneo de Manila University. Legendary Thai coach Anusorn ‘Tai’ Bundit didn’t speak Tagalog and had limited English. He encouraged the underdog Lady Eagles with sideline happy dances and the HeartStrong mantra. “He taught us that while we had the skills, we needed the ‘heart’ and mental focus,” she recalls.

That HeartStrong mentality carried the Lady Eagles to their fairytale victory in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 76 women’s volleyball tournament against archrivals De La Salle in 2014. “We learnt we could do anything if we really believe, and we trust the people around us,” she says.

That victory was also the moment that catapulted Alyssa to the forefront of Filipino volleyball, making her the household name that she is today.

A national obsession

At the time, volleyball was also on the rise, seeing a great surge in popularity among Filipino sports fans and television viewers. As the game grew, so did the level of competition and professionalism and there were increased investments in coaching programs and training facilities. The vibrancy Alyssa brought to the game established a deep connection with fans. She views the role of fans as crucial in developing volleyball in the country. Cheering crowds always spur players on and help them overcome the odds, she says. “As players, we need the support of fans as they challenge us to be better and give us that extra motivation. They have their own opinions and constructive suggestions.”

The growth of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube further expanded the reach of volleyball, bringing new legions of supporters.

Today volleyball is a national obsession, and often considered the second most popular sport after basketball. “Women’s volleyball has its own charm which makes it highly entertaining to watch,” says Alyssa.

Social media has played a major part in this, and she attributes the strong following of volleyball players on social media to their accessibility and the fact that every player has a story that fans are curious to learn about. Alyssa herself has a massive online following

of over two million on Instagram and two million on Facebook.

Where it all began

Alyssa was born in June 1993 in the historic coastal town of San Juan in rural Batangas. The

only daughter of four children of automobile worker Ruel and teacher Pablita Valdez, she picked up volleyball through tossing a ball around with her two older brothers. Her roots are important to her. Last year, a particularly proud moment for her was when the Creamline Smashers played under the lights at the Batangas City Sport Center, in front of a hometown crowd. The young Batangueña had come a long way.

Alyssa’s natural agility and motivation soon became evident when she started playing at a school level at the age of ten. Competing at the Southern Tagalog Calabarzon Athletic Association regional meet, Alyssa was recruited by the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to play for their high school varsity volleyball team, the UST Tigress Cubs. Moving from her hometown to Manila when she was only 12, Alyssa steered her team to several championships. She also won numerous individual player awards.

Next up for Alyssa was an undergraduate degree major in Psychology at Ateneo de Manila University, which she completed in 2015. There she not only received academic honours but led the Lady Eagles to three championship victories. In the process she gained herself the nickname ‘The Phenom’.

Competing internationally

Alyssa sees international exposure and competition as highly beneficial to Filipino sportspeople and has represented the country on various occasions. Among those, she led the Youth 16-Under National Team in 2008 and was also a member of the National Team that competed in the 2014 FIVB Southeast Asian Zone Women’s Volleyball Qualifier. In 2015, she was named team captain of the Women’s U23 Volleyball Team and was the country’s flag bearer in the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore.

Last year, smiling broadly, she was once again the proud flag bearer for the country at the SEA Games in Cambodia. “Sport really unites everyone,” she says. “There’s no such thing as a language barrier when you are playing. That’s one of the beauties of sport. It brings everyone together.”

She speaks with enthusiasm about bringing volleyball players from other countries to the Philippines. “Volleyball is one of the most-watched sports here in the country, and we want to share it with the world as well. So we want to welcome other countries to play here.”

Alyssa attributes some of her sporting prowess to the time she spent after university playing for teams in Thailand throughout   2016 and Taiwan in 2017. “You can learn and grow by going out of your comfort zone,” she shares. “While tough at times, it was one of the best decisions I have made.”

As Thai team 3BB Nakornnont’s first Filipino player, Alyssa also got the chance to play with Thai national team players. Aside from making new friends and learning about different cultures, she adds, “you get to know playing styles.” By working on strengths and weaknesses, she says, “you improve yourself as a player and we all improve as a country.”

Learning to deal with failure

Over the years, Alyssa says that she has learnt that the road to success is not a straight line and failures are part of the learning process. Like all of us, she thinks through her mistakes and shortcomings and ponders where she went wrong and what she should have done to correct the situation.

As team captain, she also has to keep her teammates motivated and stay positive when things aren’t going well. “It’s not always that you are given the opportunity to see where you are going wrong. Sometimes a loss can be a blessing. It can make us feel human and help us to grow as individuals.”

Inspiring young people

Giving back to the community and growing the sport she loves so that it becomes more sustainable is very important to Alyssa. Among the ways she hopes to nurture young talent is through volleyball camps she runs for children and exhibition games. Held in different parts of the country, the volleyball camps are run in conjunction with expert coaches, corporate sponsors and local governments.

Alyssa believes it’s important for young people to participate in other communities outside of school so they can develop more social connections, make friends and be exposed to different options. The aim of the camps is not only to introduce children to volleyball and develop their skills but provide a foundation for growth and self-exploration.

“One goal is for them to realize if they really want to play volleyball, or they want to explore other sports. We want to offer them choices.”

Fair play and fairness are also important values to learn at a young age, she says, such as learning to treat opponents with respect and cooperate with teammates. Alyssa enjoys the structure that sporting rules provide, regardless of which sport you play. “It’s all in your own hands. Within the rules you get to write your own history and your own story. You can change the fact whether you win or lose. It’s up to you.”

Gender bias in sport is ever present, she says, so Alyssa would like to see more women represented. “Women can be role models and that is one of the beauties of women playing sports.”

Alyssa is hopeful that the next generation of volleyball strikers are already turning up early for practise. Sport offers many health benefits to young people, she says, as well as learning skills such as discipline and developing a positive attitude to life.

“You can put your heart into something when you play sport,” she says. “When you do things it has to be done with love and with passion and you’ll appreciate it in the long run.”