Bernardo M. Villegas
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Forming the Youth Through Football (Part 1)

         Let the older generation stop complaining about the alleged defects of the Z generation.  The youth of today are accused of spending too much time with their smart phones.  They are supposed to lack discipline, unable to focus on one activity at a time, constantly multitasking, with a very short attention span.  They also are faulted for lacking loyalty and commitment to any organization, butterflying from one job to another. I can go on and on.  I would rather take the positive approach of Pope Francis who gave a very practical advice on how to develop the appropriate virtues among the youth.  One answer he gave in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation address to young people and to the entire people of God (entitled “Christ is Alive) is sports.   Let me quote paragraph 227 of this recent document.

         “Equally significant is the emphasis that young people place on sports.  The Church should not underestimate the potential of sports for education and formation, but instead maintain a strong presence there.  The world of sport needs to be helped to overcome some of its problematic aspects, such as the idolization of champions, subservience to commercial interests and the ideology of success at any cost.”  The Pope, as a keen observer of human behavior, is well aware of the dark side of sports.  That is why we need to have coaches, managers, referees, and educators in general who are able to help the youth avoid the excesses to which he refers.  On the positive side, he enumerates the character-forming nature of sports: “At the heart of the experience of sport is joy:  the joy of exercising,  of being together, of being alive and rejoicing in the gifts the Creator gives us each day.  Some Fathers of the Church used the example of the training of athletes to encourage the young to develop their strength and to overcome idleness and boredom.” The Pope hit the nail on the head.  Studies after studies today show that one of the serious problems of young people, sometimes even driving some of them to commit suicide, is boredom.  I can’t think of more effective antidotes to boredom than some active sports like tennis, swimming, basketball or football!

         In a letter to adolescents, St. Basil the Great highlighted the role of the effort demanded by athletics in nurturing self-sacrifice as a means of growth in virtue:  “These men endure sufferings beyond number, they use many means to build their strength, they sweat constantly as they train…in a word, they so discipline themselves that their whole life prior to the contest is but a preparation for it…How then can we, who have been promised rewards so wondrous in number and in splendor that no tongue can recount them, even think of winning them if we do nothing other than spend our lives in leisure and make but half-hearted efforts?”  These words of a great saint remind me of relatives and friends of mine who regularly wake up at 4 a.m., run tens of kilometers, keep very strict diets, avoid excessive drinking of alcohol, and punish themselves in all sorts of ways to keep in shape for marathons, triathlons and other demanding individual sports.  I don’t think, however, that there is a sport that can equal football for the number of human virtues that can be nurtured under the guidance and tutelage of a good coach or manager:  discipline, perseverance, humility, team spirit, courtesy, positive thinking, nobility of soul, docility, respect for authority and many more.  That is why I have decided to spend a lot of my non-professional time to collaborating with the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and many other non-profit as well as profit-oriented organizations in the Philippines devoted to the development of football as a sport to be played by as many Filipino children and youth as possible.  

         Fortunately, there are dozens of non-profit and for-profit organizations in the Philippines that, without much fanfare, are actively promoting football, the beautiful game, among children and the youth precisely as a means of strengthening their character.  Among the business corporations that stand out for their work in promoting football are Alaska Milk Corporation, Nestle, Allianz PNB Life Insurance, Inc., the Aboitiz group of companies, the Araneta group of companies, CERES Transport, RAYOMAR, Nike, Toby’s and a few others.  I would like to focus, however, on some of the not-for-profit organizations that are precisely focused on football as a means of youth formation, following the lines described by Pope Francis.  The standout is The Henry V. Moran Foundation (THVMF) which has been involved in community development through football since 2009.  Because its officials want to reach as many children and youth as possible (by the tens of thousands), its focus is on futsal which can overcome the serious difficulty of the lack of football pitches in the country.  Futsal, which develops the same skills and values as football, can be played practically anywhere, in basketball courts, small vacant lots in any neighborhood, or like  in Brazil as popularized by the great Pele on the streets.  With its five by five format, the players are given many more opportunities than football to handle the ball.  The portal of the website of the THVMF echoes the very theme of Pope Francis’ eulogy of sports: “Futsal for Joy.”  (To be continued)