More of Marielle
Former women’s national football team skipper Marielle Benitez wears many hats. On this day, she’s at the Philippine Football Federation office as a coach, evaluating a recent international campaign where her squad achieved a silver-medal finish.
On some days, she’s on the campus of the Philippine Women’s University, sorting out the varsity teams’ requirements for a competition as the university’s athletic director. The following week, she can be anywhere else in the world, performing and touring as a member of the Bayanihan Dance Group, the country’s national traditional dance troupe. There are also days when you’ll find her on television, doing commentary for football matches.
“I’m someone who finds joy in doing new things everyday,” says Marielle, 35.
The juggling act isn’t new to Marielle, who, from 2003 to 2013, represented the country in international football. In fact, she’s mastered the art of managing her time amid her myriad interests. So when the PFF was searching for women’s coaches to make up the youth teams, Marielle was a natural choice.
She’s a member of La Salle’s four champion teams in five UAAP seasons and also bagged the Athlete of the Year plum in 2004, the first time the league gave the award to an athlete in a team sport. She has played close to 60 international matches for the country.
Coaching was a natural transition for Marielle, but surprisingly, there was a lot of apprehension on her part when the PFF appointed her to be part of the staff for the Under-14 team two years ago. Pretty soon, however, the concerns went away as she naturally blended in with the staff, led by coach Joyce Landagan.
Marielle finally got her break this year coaching the Under-16 team in the AFF Championship in Vientiane, Laos. Under the guidance of one of the icons of women’s football in the country, the girls blitzed through the group stage and delivered a memorable 3-2 victory against Myanmar in the semifinals. Against the powerhouse Thais, Marielle’s wards succumbed to a 2-6 defeat in the finals.
“There was a lot of fulfillment watching the girls improve from the first day of the tryouts until the end of the tournament,” says Benitez. “It’s not just about coaching these girls, but also giving them life lessons, too.”
It didn’t come as a surprise that Benitez was able to steer a team to a second-place finish on her coaching debut. For one, some of her players had experience with the Under-14 team in an AFC tournament last year. But as much as she deflects credit to other coaches like Landagan and Patrice Impelido, there’s little doubt that Benitez’s passion for excellence and work ethic has rubbed off on her team.
“I didn’t have enough experience as head coach, but the other coaches were very supportive,” says Marielle. “We knew we wouldn’t be starting from scratch, plus we had some unfinished business against Thailand.”
While the girls ultimately fell short, the runner-up finish validates the country’s sustained improvement in women’s football, which is enjoying a renaissance in the past few years, highlighted by the national women’s team’s qualification for the AFC Asian Cup in Jordan next year.
Passionate about football
“I may be very new to coaching since it’s a different aspect of football, but I like the challenge. I like to be kept on my toes figuring things out,” says Marielle. “I’m happy that even if we didn’t win the championship, the girls I coached became more passionate about football and appreciated all the hard work that comes with representing the country.
Marielle knows what she’s talking about. As a national player, she showed steadfast commitment despite her involvement with Bayanihan. She would attend Bayanihan rehearsals at night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and wake up early the next morning to join St. Benilde’s men’s team in training to improve her fitness since the team was also handled by then women’s national coach Marlon Maro.
“I’m lucky to have coaches who have been supportive of what I’ve been doing,” says Marielle, the second of three children of former Bayanihan dancers Noel and Susie Benitez.
Marielle draws parallelisms to what she’s doing in football with dance. “Both require discipline, sacrifice and patience,” she says. “Both things are challenging physically, emotionally and mentally. Training in football can go for two hours maximum, but in dance you can go one hour to six hours, depending on the difficulty of the routine. Precision is important. Dance also teaches teamwork. Both require the same focus.”
The balancing act will continue for Marielle as she furthers her coaching career, while pursuing her other interests. But count on her to fulfill her roles with the same drive and passion that has been the hallmark of an already amazing career.
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