“Don’t get involved with somebody from football,” a Filipino football coach told me.
Without much prodding, he explained that lack of time is the main reason why romantic involvement with a Pinoy football coach could be difficult. “We are so into the game,” he said of himself and his colleagues. Their schedule is filled with weekday training sessions and weekend tournaments, making it hard for them to have time for other things. A partner would be upset that days supposedly for her are inevitably sacrificed in favor of the sport. Therefore, the relationship would always have to be secondary to football. As such, a woman in her right mind couldn’t possibly agree to this kind of set-up. Right?
Perhaps someone with limited view of a partnership would wave a Red Card if, say, her partner-coach would be on the pitch in some faraway province on Valentine’s Day giving drills on dribbling and shooting to school-age kids, instead of being with her.
But a more perceptive woman would appreciate a coach’s devotion to motivate athletes and his willingness to take a chance that may or may not result in a championship (but he persists nonetheless).
A wiser woman would be able to celebrate the reasons that make a Pinoy football coach special and—dare I say—more admirable than mentors in other sports, or, for that matter, a standout among professionals.
I’ve talked with friends who know Filipino football coaches. I’ve made some observations and reflections on my own, too. Our discussions led to “Five Admirable Traits of a Filipino Football Coach.” Here goes:
Reason number 1: He studies to practice his profession. Like doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses, architects, and other professionals, football coaches do study and need to pass a course to be given a license. While other coaches (the non-licensed ones) insist that a license is not essential to the practice, many Filipino coaches still take these courses. “Kung baga, continuous ang education namin unlike sa ibang sports,” cites John Vergara, coach of the Los Amigos Futbol Team of San Carlos, Negros Occidental.
Coaching licenses are handed after attending a course given by instructors of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body of Asian football and one of the six confederations that make up FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association).
In 2013, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) announced its decision to implement a “no license, no coaching” policy in order to uplift the quality of coaching and standardize the training of players. Filipino coaches are required to take the C license course with option for additional studies to obtain a B license and ultimately an A license. Some of them choose to go abroad for elite training.
Parents whose children are part of football teams or football clubs can take comfort in knowing that their kids’ coaches are not just enthusiasts or former jocks, but actually have formal training for the job.
Reason number 2: He manages eleven players on the field. Basketball has five players per team on the court during a game. Volleyball has six per team in a match. Football has seven-a-side but the standard game involves eleven-a-side. “The big difference,” says former footballer-now-lawyer Mickey Ingles, “is the skill in managing eleven players with eleven different roles all at the same time. That’s a challenge,” he points out.
On top of closely watching his own eleven players, a football coach also keeps tabs on the players from the opposing team and their movements —a task that’s certainly not a walk in the park.
Reason number 3: He feels passionately about an underdog sport. While football is the number one sport in the world, it is not so in the Philippines where basketball reigns supreme.
Football was said to have been introduced in the country in 1895 by British sportsmen. Years later, in 1912, Iloilo-born Paulino Alcantara began playing for FC Barcelona at the tender age of 15. Alcantara became the first Filipino and first Asian to play for a European football club. Alcantara is revered in world football because he scored 357 goals in 357 games, making him the greatest striker of his era. It would take 87 years before his record for Barcelona FC was broken by Lionel Messi.
The Philippines was affiliated with FIFA in 1930 and was also one of AFC’s twelve founding members when the confederation was formed in 1954.
But in spite of football’s long and special history in the Philippines, the sport remains obscure in the country. Proponents—which include Pinoy football coaches—have been trying for so long to promote and elevate appreciation for the game. The work is at times frustrating but breakthroughs like the Azkals’ historic victory versus Vietnam, a.k.a. the Miracle in Hanoi, give a boost. Win or lose, football coaches carry on.
Reason number 4. He cares about the wellbeing of his players. Football coaches do seem to take their role to heart. They’re like fathers to the boys and girls under their wing. “Tinuturuan nila kami ng discipline, respect, loyalty, and good morals on and off the pitch,” formerly of Kaya FC and now with the San Beda University Red Booters, Shane “Shaninho” Clemente says of his coaches.
The sense of responsibility does not end after practice or after the tournament. The coaches go the extra mile for the sake of the team. A coach is also usually the team manager who looks for ways to find funds for uniforms, shoes, and tournament fees.
The documentary “Little Azkals” by filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama showed three national coaches—Percy Guarin, Aeyh Fabroada, and Laurence Dave Gerali—who accompanied the U-11 boys in the UK for training, washing the kids’ clothes and jerseys in the laundromat.
The bond with players is very tight, so much so that the coaches are involved in the footballers’ personal lives. When something happens to their team member, they are deeply affected. I know of one coach who moved heaven and earth to raise money for his scholar-player who was severely ill.
Another coach became so devastated with the demise of his young player, he grieved like a father or like an older brother would.
Reason number 5: He’s got a big heart. Evidently, for these Pinoy coaches, it’s not about the salary but the chance to make a difference—in the life of a young person, the team, the school, the community and the nation—that makes them stay in their profession. Not many of their football players can make it to the national team, turn pro, or likely become a Paulino Alcantara and play for a European league and make money out of playing. But some of the players turn out to be fine individuals like 2012 bar topnotcher Atty. Mickey Ingles who played for the Ateneo Blue Booters from high school to college.
“A lot of the things I learned from football, I got to apply in life,” Mickey said in a magazine interview. “Our coach Ompong Merida always told us that if you can’t do things in practice, you won’t be able to do them on the field during the game.”
Let me end by quoting documentary filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama who declared, “I don’t know a lot (of Filipino football coaches) but from what I’ve seen from the ones I’ve had the opportunity to know, I’ve come to admire their passion, their strong command and their dedication to the sport. They’ve got big hearts and their hearts can teach yours to expand.”
Photo courtesy of the Claret Football Community Facebook page