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They Don’t Tell You Secrets

The other day, I made my disappointment public on Twitter about how quickly the tickets for the upcoming World Cup qualifier between the Philippines and Sri Lanka had been sold out – which meant those of us who were planning a trek to the Big City are now consigned to watching the match on cable television.

A former player saw the post and remarked with not just a bit of scepticism that he thought a great majority of those who will be attending will be there for the players’ looks rather than for the football. That was alright, I consoled him.

Beggars really cannot be choosers; and if you spoke to me just last year about the chances of the Rizal Memorial being sold out for a football match, I would have told you that it would probably not happen in a few lifetimes.

Those who saw the recent training match between the national team and a hastily assembled team called the UFL All Stars could not have failed to notice that a good percentage of those in the stands were females. That was good.

I have said it before and will say it again: the large majority of young kids around the nation who are already into sport are still in basketball. Never mind that the ladies will be at the Rizal Memorial just to drool all over Philly Younghusband. It is they who will bring up a new generation of football players; and for that alone, I am eternally thankful.

It goes without saying that quantity alone will not be sufficient to ensure that this nation will scale the footballing heights. Corollary to this thinking, therefore, is the hope that the powers-that-be in Philippine football will be mindful of the need to have knowledgeable and thinking coaches to accompany the next generation along.

I am not thinking about the average Juan who played high school or even college football. Neither do I think that somebody who has attended a certificate seminar or course is immediately qualified, either. What is needed is also a next-generation of coaches who is capable of rationalizing and applying whatever principles that are taught in these courses and seminars.

Truth be told, they do not teach you much in these courses, anyway. In the late eighties, I was fortunate enough to have attended a FIFA coaching course with former West Germany national coach Dettmar Kramer – who worked with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller – as the primary facilitator.

Apart from being in the presence of somebody who was to me something of a demigod, I actually felt disappointed that I was not hearing about any West German trade secrets. There was hardly anything that I did not already know about from the books and manuals I had purchased from the bookstores and diligently read.

That said, I myself am a subscriber to the notion that you have to protect what you have; and Kramer himself was quick to point out that the whole point of the course was to teach methods that each coach was expected to apply to the conditions that each coach was working with.

In other words, we were taught how to make cars; but were not given the secrets of the Mercedes Benz.

Just recently, in a local tournament, I was personally witness to a coach warming up his team with what I felt was already the equivalent of cardio-vascular training. This was at 12:30 in the afternoon under the blazing sun; and for a match scheduled at one o’clock.

What was the point of that, pray tell? It was like burning up half your car’s fuel before even driving out of the garage for the road trip!

I wondered if that coach had learned that warm-up method in a seminar somewhere and had not paused to ask himself if that method was devised by a European or South American trainer for the temperate conditions of his country. If the searing midday heat did not remind him that he and his team were in the tropics, I do not honestly know what will.

I did not linger to see their game; suffice it to say that I would not have been surprised to have seen his boys languid even before halftime. Football is supposed to be something that the boys will enjoy enough to convince them to take it up for good; not something made torturous by uninspired coaching and training methods.

In the old days, I used to subject my boys to something I simply referred to as “heat training.” It meant toiling for hours on end under the sun because, used as we were to the gentle climate of the highlands, a trip to some coastal city somewhere for a match or tournament meant we would not be able to perform optimally unless we did climate-related training.

This brings me to my next point. I know time and the limited number of suitable pitches are current constraints. Remember, though, that this piece is all about coaxing the next generation into taking up football as a favourite sport.

In that case, I hope those who are influential in football will see to it that football matches whatever the level are scheduled during those times of each day when both players and spectators can enjoy themselves instead of be toasted under the blazing sun.

Personally, I think scheduling matches between 11 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon is just criminal. The Premiership does schedule noontime matches for the Asian audiences. But these matches are in England; and England’s climate is very, very temperate.

And we are very, very much in the tropics; almost equatorial, as a matter of fact… Or has nobody noticed that yet? When you look at things from this perspective, then it is easy to see why it is so hard for many boys to like the game. It has just not been made easy for them to do so. How attractive is that roof over the basketball court on an unbearably hot and sunny day?

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