Training with the Philippine national women’s futsal team
MANILA—There are reasons why, despite the fact that I’m a sportswriter who loves covering any kind of sporting contest, I don’t play any sport.
One of those reasons made itself evident through my black San Francisco Giants shirt just after the whistle blew to signal the start of the national women’s futsal team training at the Rizal memorial Coliseum.
Merely walking to the other side of the makeshift futsal court on the historic basketball hardwood was enough to make me sweat profusely. I was more drenched than the members of the team, who were already into back-breaking conditioning drills.
Having been assigned to do a feature on the women’s team, I figured it would be great to actually try and experience what our national athletes go through as they prepare for the Southeast Asian Games this November. After going through proper channels, I managed to book a training slot with the girls.
As luck—or the unbelievably unfortunate lack of it—would have it though, that slot fell on a Wednesday, which is strength and conditioning day for the women’s futsal team.
I had little inkling of what lay in store for me at the onset. The evening started harmlessly enough. I sat through a lecture on the new amendments made by the AFC regarding futsal—which would be critical in international play where the keen-eyed referees are more wary of the little things.
Changes in the rules on the back-passes, four-second counts, the space allowances for the goal keepers and the kick-ins, the substitutions, what is illegal or not during goal clearance, among others where discussed.
It all sounded alien to me. I only started watching football last year because of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and I’m still taking in the rules of what I have discovered to be a very wonderful game.
Plus, I had only learned how different futsal is from football—from the court, the pace of the game, and the mindset of the players. Although most of the national team members—if not all—started playing football before jumping to futsal.
After the lecture, national coach Esmaeil Sedigh, coach Esse to the team, introduced me to the girls as their “new teammate.” In a few minutes though, I would be revealed for what I really was: A saling kit-kit, a sportswriter who can’t play any sport.
Because almost suddenly, I was thrust into one of the most intense workouts I had in years. Close to 10 different ladder drills in one-minute bursts. Thankfully, I was allowed extended rests in between.
For starters, everything.
We did three-a-side, with one neutral player. I teamed up with twinkly five-foot-tall Iranian Nadia, who also was a guest trainee with the national team like I was—but with a whole lot more talent.
The scrimmage started with a high-five—and hurried questions from me about the proper way of passing and receiving the ball. Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t even wearing proper futsal shoes, just worn-out Pumas I’d been using since college.
The exercises were three minutes per game, and I probably got two touches, which was understandable. If I were my own teammate, I wouldn’t even let me near the ball.
But in one of those touches, I actually got a chance to score a goal. My teammates set me up perfectly and I thought I really had a good angle. But once I fired my kick, there was absolutely no power behind it. The shot was easily gathered by the keeper—probably the easiest shot she’d ever cleared.
In basketball, I can at least put up what looks like defense on an opponent. This time, I was utterly clueless. I don’t know the spacing, and I even committed a cardinal mistake—I turned my back behind my opponent, and Karla Pacificador, one of the sweetest girls I met in the team, easily blew by me for a shot on goal.
I was thankful not to hear any harsh words from Coach Esse—he may be very friendly and accommodating outside the court, but straddling the sidelines, he is one disciplinarian. As the scrimmage wore on, he kept stressing the importance of that extra pass before taking a shot. I was simply worried about staying upright.
The rest of the night was spent on a one-one-one session with the team’s physical therapist and conditioning coach, Vicent Pagaoa, a BS Sports Science grad from the University of Santo Tomas who, aside from committing himself to tech me the sport, also vowed to help me lose weight.
Coach Vincent also said that I could challenge “ate” Kat Aguda, who is also trying to lose weight, to a contest to see who sheds off excess pounds faster. Like I stand a chance against one of the team’s certified leaders—I even heard Karla call her mommy—and someone who once played football for the University of the Philippines.
After practice, Kat asked coach Vincent to let her run around the court for 30 more minutes. God, I envy her commitment.
I thought my night was over then, but we were back to non-stop, and I mean non-stop this time, ladder drills which finally zapped the wind out of me.
The coaches had fun at my expense, good-naturedly teasing me: “So that’s how that drill looks in slow motion.”
And when coach Vincent was kind enough to let me sit while resting, coach Esse would call me out.
While tiring myself to the hilt, I took the chance to ask coach Vincent a little about the team’s preparations for the SEA Games. He said one of the main problems right now was injuries. Most of the girls were playing through chronic injuries.
True enough, before the night ended, Richelle Placencia—one of the many players from Rizal Technological University—suffered what looked to me like a mild ankle sprain.
Stamina was another thing too, he said. Some girls were complaining that they tire out easily during drills (believe me, it’s understandable). So coach Vincent included bursts and more running, to help the team adjust to the breakneck pace of futsal.
I don’t know how they do it. But they were actually looking forward to more drills. Me? I was beat up. Running on empty. Wasted. And yet, I could not help but offer a smile and a nod when the girls called me as I dragged my weary self out of the gym and shouted: “Balik ka ha? (Come back, will you?)”
I definitely will be back.
(The men’s and women’s national futsal teams train at Rizal Memorial Coliseum every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Despite the tone of conviction at the end of the story above, the author doesn’t promise she’ll actually be back regularly for the thrice-a-weeks. She does promise, though, to finish her story on the women’s national team once she’s fully recovered from her “ordeal.”)
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