In a well-planned physical education program at the elementary school level, children must be patiently helped to progress to the next mature version of each skill with respect to their developmental characteristics, instead of pushing them to perform the way an adult would.
As an aside, the consideration to be given to a child’s physical characteristics was especially crucial to the development of the Greatest of All Times (GOAT) football player, Lionel Messi, who reached the summit of his fabled professional success at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where he led the Argentinian national football team to a historic and most spectacular victory. At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a rare disease called Growth Hormone Disorder (GHD). This condition impedes the body from growing as it should according to age. With the help of friends and the proactive role played by the officials of FC Barcelona (who funded the medical expenses to treat the disease), the Argentina legend fought the condition gracefully and came back strong as the unquestionable GOAT of football.
On Dec. 18, 2022, the whole world witnessed the historic victory of Argentina in FIFA World Cup 2022. Messi’s fans were left in tears as he lifted the trophy with joy and pride. Everyone knew that his fame and success did not come easy and overnight. As he once said, “I start early, stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me over 17 years to enjoy the moment of happiness where people call me their football inspiration.” Coincidentally, I first saw Messi face to face in a football match at the Camp Nou in Barcelona when he was 17 during the amazing feat — viewed by tens of millions since then — showing him agilely evade eight defenders of Club Getafe of Madrid, running straight to the goal and scoring.
In time, children eventually grow and their body systems, such as their brains and their muscles (also called hardware), mature to become more like that of adults. If they are forced to skip the pre-requisites (progressing from simple to complex), children may never achieve their optimum motor development. In Canada, for example, the Canadian Sport Centre, a chain of sports development service providers, was alarmed by the lack of basic movement skills among many of the children and youth who enter its sports programs, and has massively campaigned for the development of physical literacy.
Physical literacy is a composite of fundamental movement and motor skills that can be further reinforced through activity-specific skills, or their application in a wide variety of contexts— from sports to exercise and rhythmic activities or dance. It must always be kept in mind that learning fundamental sports skills before mastering fundamental movement skills reduces performance ability later. All these must be considered in devising the physical education curriculum, especially in our public schools which account for 90% or more of pupils at the basic education level.
In this regard, one of the leading proponents of football in the country, Kevin Goco, has suggested to me in an e-mail that the best way of promoting football in the Philippines is to encourage as many children as possible in the public schools to play futsal, a simpler version of football that can be played by fewer players in each team and in smaller spaces than an official-sized football field. It can be played on a basketball court. As in Croatia, it can be part of the curriculum in our public schools.
We can also learn from Brazil’s development model where most Brazilian children play futsal until the age of 12 to 13 years old. Once the kids reach their teens, they can either continue focusing on futsal or switch to football. Kaká, Ronaldinho, and Neymar were all examples of Brazilians who started off playing futsal and made the seamless switch to football. These three are among the most technically gifted footballers in the last 50 or so years. They attribute their development to the game of futsal.
Vice-President Sara Duterte, as Secretary of Education, will be well advised to mandate that futsal be a regular sport for girls and boys in the Palarong Pambansa. At present, it is only a regular sport for secondary school girls. (No wonder it is the National Women’s Football team that has qualified for the World Cup for women next year!) In order to have futsal as a regular sport, it first needs to be showcased and inserted into the Palarong Pambansa as a demonstration sport.
Futsal is less taxing on resources (only 12 to 15 players are needed versus a squad of 20 to 25 for football). It is also less demanding on facilities since indoor courts can be used. In addition, with the Department of Education’s rollout of a Sports Club program in their sports development agenda, there is an opportunity for the department (in cooperation with the Philippine Football Federation and some football-oriented NGOs) to roll out football and futsal sports clubs. The Sports Club program is co-curricular and should serve as a basis for developing the teams that will eventually compete in the Palarong Pambansa.
The Department of Education (DepEd) is key in the promotion of futsal. With the leadership of VP Duterte, the department can readily give futsal (and as a consequence football) a big boost by:
1.) Making futsal a demonstration sport, and eventually a regular sport, for the pupils (both boys and girls) at the elementary and high school levels during the Palarong Pambansa starting in 2023 in Marikina. This is key because once a sport is regularized in school competitions, the schools and their respective teachers are incentivized to promote and propagate the sport.
2.) Promoting the development of football and futsal sports clubs in schools through the DepEd’s Sports Club program that will be eventually rolled out by the department. Sports clubs are meant to be holistic, catering to both non-elite and elite players. The DepEd has a budget for this program and can count on the collaboration of private sector groups to implement the theory and concept of the Schools Sports Club through football and futsal.
Among the private organizations is the Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) which has seven schools in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao where the School Sports Club concept has been actually implemented. The PAREF schools would just be only too willing to share their more than 40 years of experience promoting the playing of both futsal and football. In fact, one of the pupils of Southridge — a school for boys under the auspices of PAREF — at the age of 13, showed so much promise as a top football player that he was invited by FC Barcelona to transfer to their home city in order to train in the famous school called La Masia, which is the training center for future players of Barca situated in Barcelona. This person, named Sandro Reyes, who belongs to one of the prominent political families in Marinduque, has played for leading football clubs in the region of Catalunya and is now one of the midfielders in the Philippine national football team, the Azkals.
3.) Closely coordinating with the Philippine Football Federation, the Philippine Sports Commission, and the appropriate agency in the DepEd so that they do not operate as silos in the development of football. As in many other sectors of the government, more often than not these three agencies do not coordinate their respective activities and may actually at times be at cross purposes with one another. It is proposed that VP Duterte use her clout as the second most important executive in the Government to convince the heads of these three agencies to agree on a common football development agenda. n
(To be continued.)
Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.