DESPITE football’s growing popularity in the country, thanks to the Azkals, “grassroots development” suffers from so much misconception, if not regarded with an enormous deal of indifference.
In a comment to my previous article about mentoring coaches posted on Pinoyfootball.com, football enthusiast Eric Nacorda came up with a perfect analogy to illustrate the unfortunate grassroots situation.
“It’s a pity that too many ‘supposedly diehard supporters’ of Philippine football have no idea or interest whatsoever about the grassroots,” says Nacorda, whose keen observations about the sport’s development in the country never fail to knock some sense into online discussions that are often muddled by mindless fanaticism.
“It’s a lot like being just interested in the end-product, and not caring about the raw materials –a lot like just thinking about enjoying the food on the table and not giving a second thought about the fields from where it came, the farmers who planted, cultivated and harvested it, so you can have and enjoy your meal.”
Thinking about Nacorda’s remarks, I now find the situation even more ironic, especially that the idea behind the grassroots—a Fifa pet initiative—is to make football accessible to everyone, hence the catchphrase “Football for All.”
So what exactly is “grassroots development” and does Philippine football even have such a program?
Fifa , in its website, says the developmental program aims to introduce football to boys and girls ages six to 12, the grassroots age group.
While that sounds unremarkable, it is how football is introduced to this age group that makes Fifa’s grassroots program special.
In a discussion we had a couple of weeks ago, AFC licensed coach Elying Toledo explained to me how grassroots football is taught and why it must be taught that way.
That time, Coach Elying had just arrived from San Carlos City where he took a “Fifa Grassroots Pro-active Instructors’ Course”—a course distinct from the C, B and A coaching license curriculum intended for elite footballers--that Fifa instructor Takeshi Ono handled. Ono was a former technical director of the Japanese Football Association, which early this year pledged to support the Philippine Football Federation’s long-term grassroots development program.
The approach Coach Elying and fellow participants learned from the course is something new to them, as it requires coaches to alter how they deal with children of such age.
The grassroots program demands two things from the coach: to teach children the basics of the sport and to instill in them love and passion for the beautiful game.
“In other words, grassroots football is, first, about learning, and, second, about having fun, fun, fun,” Coach Elying said.
After they “graduate” from the grassroots level, these kids would now possess the essential foundations needed to learn a higher level of football, the coach pointed out.
While grassroots football is fun for the kids, Coach Elying now finds himself ridding certain teaching habits that are no longer compatible with the country’s current grassroots program, which is patterned after the highly successful Japanese experience from many years ago.
“In grassroots coaching, you cannot say anything negative to the child during practice or the game,” the coach said. “You still have to praise the child even if he commits a mistake, and then show him a ‘better way’ to pass, kick, shoot or control the ball.”
“The child must have fun on the field so he would look forward to the next session, and learn more football in the process,” Coach Elying said.
Chances are, every child who has fun playing will share the experience with others. As a result, football spreads.
While it puts a premium on the role coaches play as frontliners in bringing football to the masses, Fifa seeks the participation of parents and volunteers in ensuring that more Filipino children learn and truly love the beautiful game through the grassroots program.
Imagine what a huge difference even a handful of “diehard supporters” heeding Fifa’s call can make.