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Education, Football and ‘Tingin sa Pogî’

Initially, I did not quite know what to make of the appointment of former Swansea City FC boss Brendan Rodgers as replacement for Liverpool’s sacked Kenny Dalglish. True, the ‘Swans’ had the utter cheek to come to Anfield, that cathedral of the English passing game, and in patches manage to out-pass and out-think their illustrious hosts. Without the benefit of household names, it must be added; in stark contrast to the multi-million pound team in all-red.

Rodgers was ultimately unveiled at Anfield with an apparently impressive enough CV. José Mourinho, among others, was quick to sing Rodgers’ praises, the latter having been his assistant at Chelsea.

However, words coming from Rodgers himself more than anything the ‘Chosen One’ could have said has begun to fill me with optimism once again. Yes, even more optimism than when Dalglish was reappointed two decades after he resigned the post.

‘Footballers are footballers. They want to learn. They want to be educated and want to improve.” These were Rodgers’ statement during a press conference on the day he was unveiled.

Rodgers has got to be the one and only manager that I have ever known who has spoken about football in terms of education. That is good.

For all the headlines that star players make, it is the manager – or the coach – who is the key to the success of a football team.

Put together eleven players who grew up learning football from their respective schoolboy coaches and you will have eleven players thinking eleven different ways about how to best play the game. It is the coach, thus, who comes in to unify all these concepts into a singular playing style.

To do so, it is always an advantage for a coach to understand the learning process; and that managing a football team is not at all unlike managing a classroom.

Crucial to this is communication. Coaching, after all, is like teaching the attempt to transfer concepts from one brain to others. It goes without saying that for that transfer to be come into effect, the receiving end has to be open.

I have always felt that my having taught in the classroom ultimately helped my coaching; and many who did the same will understand where I am coming from. In the countless seminars that teachers attend through the years, among the principles frequently emphasized and re-emphasized is that teaching and discipline go hand-in-hand.

In my time, I had known teachers who were excellent sources of content. All that precious content, however, was subsequently wasted if only a handful inside the class was actually paying attention.

It goes without saying that things are not far different on the football field. I once went to see a college game and was aghast to hear a coach giving halftime instructions using an unholy mixture of English, Tagalog and Ilonggo; with players walking around and talking to each other rather than paying attention. If I could only have picked up the words and pasted them on his players’ foreheads.

When giving instructions, there are no two ways about it. The coach has to demand attention, period. How he does it is up to him; but the communication lines have to be opened.

In my case, particularly in recent years, I would sit my players together in front of me. “Compress!” That was the first command, just to make sure that everyone was within my line of vision. This was, needless to say, learned inside the classroom.

Since I could naturally see anyone who was distracted – frequently the newcomers who did not as yet know the rules – any offender was quickly briefed about what was expected of him. I would ask one of the older boys to tell the newcomer Rule Number 1.

The older player would turn around and with eyes twinkling tell the newbie, “Tingin so pogî!”

And of course the newbie would be all eyebrows and totally clueless. So I would instruct the same player to tell the newbie who the pogî was.

“Si Sir!”

Cue adolescent laughter. That episode was played over and over through the years and worked everytime. There is nothing like a bit of humour to capture attention. That was learned from the classroom as well.

As for Brendan Rodgers, if his understanding of coaching as a process of education is as good as his own words seem to say, then Liverpool the club is in good hands. To have a clear philosophy is one thing; to be able to communicate it and actually have it played on the field is another.

“I hear people talking about working hard; but for me it is an obligation. It’s not a choice.” Rodgers was quoted to have said as well during another interview. Sounds like a thinly-veiled threat being communicated to those highly-paid stars who too often last season gave no more than disinterested performances.

Last season was simply not good enough for a club like Liverpool FC. It is early days yet; but to me Rodgers is making all the right noises. It is apparent right away that there will only be one person in charge inside the dressing room.

Makes me happy already.

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