Bernardo M. Villegas
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Futsal for Filipino Youth Development

          The Philippines is the youngest nation in East Asia.  With 23 years as the median age, we have a pool of more than 50 million young people who can be both a lucrative market for all types of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and a tremendous pool for cost competitive manpower  (at least compared to our Northeast Asian neighbors).  This young population have to be educated, most of them in public schools.  It is encouraging to note that the present Government is substantially increasing the budget for education, considering it even more important than physical infrastructures.  With the leadership of Secretary Leonor Briones of the Department of Education, I am confident that we will see significant improvement in the quality of basic education in the coming years.

         It is important, however, that the private sector complements the efforts of the State to convert our youthful population into a veritable asset for the economy, without in any way assuming that people are just an economic resource like raw material or machinery and equipment.  Much can be done especially by civil society to inculcate in our children and teenagers the appropriate human values and virtues that will not only make them productive citizens of the country but fully developed human beings who can enjoy their lives to the full, economically, culturally, socially,  and spiritually.  Getting children and the youth to engage in sports activities is one very effective means of developing in them appropriate values of discipline, team spirit, perseverance, hard work, camaraderie and other social virtues that can spill over to the other spheres of their lives.  I am especially interested in football as one of the sports that can contribute to the whole-person development of the Filipino youth.

         That is why I am glad to know that a group of concerned citizens has organized “Liga Eskwela”, a futsal (indoor football/or street football) program for public school children ages 12 years old and below.  With the Henry V. Moran Foundation as the lead organizer, together with the cooperation of La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) Batch 73, Globe Telecom, Toby’s Sports and sixty (60) Department of Education elementary schools from Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Quezon City, Manila and Muntinlupa, Liga Eskwela was started in early 2015 and was recently capped off by a Futsal Festival hosted by La Salle Green Hills last January 29, 2017.  An estimated 789 participants from 68 public schools in 6 cities of Metro Manila joined this year, compared to just 12 schools last year.   The children’s training started in October to November last year, with 3 to 4 sessions per week, in preparation for an elimination tournament among the participating schools in each city in November or December 2016.  Among the teams in each city, the top two teams for the girls under-12 and boys under-10 divisions qualified for the culminating futsal festival at the  LSGH.

         Given the success of the initial events, the program’s proponents have decided to support Liga Eskwela for the long term as a service to the public school children. From the initial twelve, the participating schools have grown to sixty (60) participating schools across NCR.  It is gratifying to note that the school divisions from the various cities in the NCR region have worked tirelessly with volunteers from the Henry V. Moran Foundation, teachers, and other groups such as JCI Manila, LSGH, Gawad Kalinga, and Nayong Kabataan to make the program grow.  The volunteers ran basic coaching seminars, orientations on futsals, clinics, and festivals within the respective school grounds.  They also organized division eliminations within each of their cities to determine who will be the final 16 elementary schools to represent the NCR in the final tournament.

         Developing among the youth the skills to play futsal (five against five) well will obviously redound to the upgrading of our football skills as the children grow into adults.  As other foundations emulate what Liga Eskwela is doing, especially in cities like Iloilo, Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Laoag, Vigan, Batangas and others with some football tradition that can be traced to the Spanish and American colonial eras, we will increase the number of Filipinos who can play for the various city clubs that will compete in the Philippines Football League which is scheduled to take off sometime in April 2017 under the auspices of the Philippine Football Federation.  The bigger mass base of football players will also encourage the establishment of other football leagues in the various regions and sectors of Philippine society.  As Mr. Danny Moran, CEO of the Henry V. Moran Foundation, remarked in an interview:  “It is clear to me more than ever, that a grassroots approach to football development must somehow include futsal in its development plan if we are to mobilize interest and engage a mass base who will have sustained interest in football.  The schools we work with have realized how easy, convenient and inexpensive it is to play and organize activities in futsal.  More kids playing the sport will only help further to pursue our common goal of seeing Philippine football grow, building on the great gains and hard work that the Philippine Football Federation  has already made in grassroots and youth development.”

         Liga Eskwela is only one of the many private initiatives that contribute to the development of football as a major sport in the Philippines.  Thanks to the popularity and initial successes of the national team, the AZKALS,  there is a noticeable increase in interest in football among the Philippine population.  The following words of Danny Moran should encourage more of the lovers of the beautiful game to contribute their share to the long-term development of football:   “What inspires me in this second year of Liga Eskwela is that despite the challenges in funding, our dedicated volunteers coached, refereed, and even raised their own funds to hold activities purely out of the spirit of volunteerism. If our sport is to grow, acts of sacrifice like these are surely needed.”  I hope those reading this column who are football fans will do their share in organizing similar activities that will employ futsal and football as a means to transform our youthful population into a real asset for long-term sustainable and inclusive development.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.