Bernardo M. Villegas
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Forming the Youth Through Football (Part 4)

          Shanden will soon be proving his football prowess in the great state of Utah.  He will be reporting to Head Coach Nuno Gurgle, a Portuguese native who grew up in London, playing for Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club Academy (Tottenham reached the finals of the 2019 Champions League competition). Upon learning that he had qualified for a scholarship, Shanden exclaimed: “I’m excited and very thankful to SRUSA and to Football for Humanity for leading me to this path where I will be able to test myself at all levels.  I welcome the challenge.  I look forward to working really hard.  It’s a dream come true, and I’d like my fellow Filipino players to realize that they should not put a limit to their aspirations, and to aim very high.  We’re the generation that will really make a quantum leap in football, and now is the best time to show the younger ones that this is an exciting, fulfilling way to see the world, and build our future.  Through football, we can change the future.”  With the thousands of Filipino children and youth now being exposed to futsal and football through the work of foundations like THVMF and FHH, it is very possible that we can have many more football players that will follow the footsteps of Shanden.

         Shanden comes from San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, deep in the so-called football triangle where Iloilo and Bacolod are the center of Philippine football culture.  In fact, the Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA) is one of the most active regional foundations in the promotion of football.  No wonder, the top football clubs Ceres-Negros and Kaya are from this region.  NOFA President Ricky Yanson fully supports the vision of Pope Francis about sport as a vehicle for nurturing virtues among the youth.  When he started the NOFA Cup in 2016, he did so with the vision of molding the character of young football players. To quote him, “…Most importantly, we aspire to develop the athletes’ personal lives. By imparting discipline through sports to these youngsters, we will be able to develop good players and better persons on and off the pitch.” 

         Last May 29 to June 2, 2019, the NOFA Cup held the fourth edition of the annual nationwide football tournament dedicated to grassroots players (boys aged 12 years and below).  Twenty four teams from all over the country traveled to Bacolod City for the welcome festivities at Bacolod’s SMX Convention Center, and the matches were held at the Sta. Maria Football Field.  All of the participants experienced a competitive nine-a-side tournament, while at the same time enjoying the hospitable Negrense culture coupled with learning values of team spirit, excellence and fair play.  Among the twenty four teams, eight were from Luzon, eleven from the Visayas and five from Mindanao.  Grassroots Officer Dave Javellana of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) commented: “The NOFA Cup is a great venue where young players can play and interact with other teams.  The nine-a-side format, longer playing time (two halves composed of 30 minutes each half) and a guarantee of at least five matches per team enhance the total development of the players.  Learning is shared among players and coaches all throughout.”

         With the implementation of the offside rule this year, the games were more challenging and more beneficial to the emerging football players.  As PFF Technical Director Coach Aris Caslib explained, “The complex environment helps the player make courageous football decisions and be better footballers.  Such experience in making decision is very helpful in real life.  When players make decisions, they always do so collectively…so much so that respect, support and encouragement from their team mates develop.”  I agree with Coach Caslib that it is in football that the team spirit, the constant concern for the common good, the willingness to sacrifice one’s ego and to assist others to make the goal can be found to the highest degree in football.  I may be wrong because my knowledge of basketball is limited. But I get the impression that the “prima donna” complex is much more common in basketball.

         I hope that by describing in greater detail the programs and activities of a few of the foundations and associations involved in the promotion of futsal and football, I have encouraged other individuals and associations to follow their examples and contribute their resources and energies to involving more Filipino children and youth in the playing of the beautiful game.  As I said at the beginning of this four-part article, there are numerous not-for-profit and for-profit organizations in the Philippines that are actively promoting football.   In fact, in addition there are nameless Catholic priests, both religious and secular, who selflessly devote much of their already very limited time to coaching children in the game of futsal or football.  They are found in practically all of the provinces of the Philippines.  I pay tribute to these silent evangelizers who have already for decades been doing what Pope Francis recently highlighted in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Christ Is Alive”, forming other Christs through sports.  May their tribe increase.  For comments, my email address is