July 16, 2011

Villaflor: Nobody loves the grassroots

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.

Azkals’ non-Filipino surnames surprise Kuwait football official

The names of some of the stars on the Philippine Azkals football team have surprised the Kuwaitis, who will play the Azkals in the opening match of their home-and-away series in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers at the Mohammad Al-Hammad Stadium in Hawally on July 23.

The media officer of the Kuwait Football Association said they had already received the lineup of the Philippine team but indicated “we’re surprised that most of them have non-Filipino surnames and most of them don’t need a visa to Kuwait.”

However, the official said everything is in place and Kuwait was “ready to welcome the Philippine Azkals.”

Al-Mehteb, the media officer, told the Arab Times the Kuwait National Team has been undergoing rigorous training in preparation for the match with the Azkals. The team had a training camp in Lebanon from June 27 to July 7 where it played two friendly matches against Lebanon on July 2 and Oman on July 6. The Kuwaitis beat the Lebanese, 6-0, in a match that ended in an ugly brawl and forced the military to enter the field and fire warning shots into the air.

The Kuwait team, ranked No. 102 by Fifa, 57 spots above the Philippines, is now in Amman, Jordan, to compete in a friendly tournament with the national squads of Saudia Arabia, Iraq and Jordan.

The second game of the Kuwaiti-Azkals showdown will be played at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on July 28.
The Kuwait National Team, a 10-time Gulf Cup of Nations Champion made it to the World Cup in 1982 and achieved its highest ranking of No. 24 in December 1998.

Al-Mehteb added that the team is now in Amman, Jordan, where they will take part in a friendly tournament with the national teams of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in preparation for the match against the Philippine team. “They are expected to be back in Kuwait on July 18.”

Filipinos in Kuwait are making arrangements to give the Azkals a warm welcome while the Philippine Embassy has informed the Kuwait Football Association of its willing-ness to help in efforts to ensure the success of the match.

53-year-old love letter finally on way to intended recipient

Since a love letter was written to Clark C. Moore 53 years ago, he has married twice, fathered 21 children, retired as a teacher, converted to Islam and become a Muslim cleric.

In fact, the letter--addressed to Moore when he was a student at Pennsylvania's California University--should now be addressed to Muhammad Siddeeq, as he changed his name years ago when he converted to Islam, the Pittsburg Tribune-Review's Jason Cato writes.

A university mail worker found the opened love letter only last week. It was signed by "Vonnie" and said "I still miss you as much as ever and love you a thousand times more," according to Reuters. Vonnie asked why the object of her affection hadn't called her before he went back to college, but signed the note "Love Forever." National news outlets publicized the discovery, and a Pittsburgh friend recognized Siddeeq's former name and contacted him, according to the Observer-Reporter.

The 74-year-old now lives in Indianapolis and is waiting with mixed emotions for the letter to arrive in his mailbox.

"I'm curious, but I'm not sure I'd put it under the category of 'looking forward to it,'" he told the Tribune-Review.

He and Vonnie married later that year, in 1958, and had four children before divorcing. Vonnie, reached by the paper, said she was upset the letter had been released and did not want her last name known. The couple no longer speak.

Siddeeq told the Observer-Reporter that the romantic piece of mail is "just a testament of the sincerity, interest and innocence of that time."

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