Lessons from a World Cup
FILIPINO football fans can’t wait for the Germany-Argentina World Cup final on Monday morning (Manila time). The early rising for the dramatic quarterfinal and semifinal matches have been all worth it given the athletic and emotional investments the teams have poured in.
It will be hard to forget this World Cup, played out in a stirring worldwide TV coverage and participated in by hundreds online. The images of triumph and frustration have been heartwarming, with the best and even the worst of humanity being put on display.
Played at a high level by truly great players and with excellent coaching, football is clearly a game to savor. The struggle to score and the effort to prevent another team from making goals is the drama of the game. Penalty shoot-outs are nerve-wracking as you feel the anxiety, thrill and even frustrations of the players and the crowd.
Die-hards want to use the phrase “the beautiful game” to praise the sport to high heavens. They underscore the lack of handwork (save for the goalkeeper) in executing passes and the athleticism necessary to scale the pitch and establish or defy defenses.
There’s no sense in saying that it’s the only beautiful game because all sports have their inherent greatness. When played superbly, all sports are a sight to behold. From golfers charging a difficult course to sprinters and jumpers beating times and heights, from basketball players sharing the ball generously to volleyball players keeping the ball alive—all sports offer opportunities for athletic challenge and recreation.
However, it should be noted that the level of play required of the World Cup was achieved only after years of intense player development, club play and international exposure. All the top teams started by honing players when they were very young, exposing them to high-level competition by allowing them to join elite clubs and then recalling them for national team duty.
It began with fundamentals. The deft and magical ball handling, passing and attacking we have relished were no automatic skills that came with each player. There was talent and football courage to begin with but coaching had to step in to hone the skills.
In our many football, basketball and volleyball centers, many children tend to get bored with endless drills that are needed to master a specific skill. As a one-time coach at Chot Reyes’ basketball camp assigned to the small kids, I came face to face with the reality that kids wanted to play full games instead of going through dribbling or passing drills.
Teaching and coaching young children are thus faced with the challenge of making sports continuously interesting without sacrificing play and fun. Kids tune out a sport when they are forced to do something they are bored with or have already learned. “Terror” coaches seem to have disappeared in a more tolerant era but there is always room for creative teachers for the classroom or the playing field.
One day, our dream is that we will be able to send a Philippine team to the football World Cup. Let’s allow, as the poet Robert Browning said, our “reach to exceed our grip.”
We’ve been able to do it in basketball. But it will have to begin by honing a generation of football players solid on the fundamentals and developed by creative coaching.