How The PFF Plans To Bolster Its Grassroots Program

The local football federation wants young Filipinos to start learning the sport early, as in really early, with help from their parents.

Ever since he took the reins as president of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) in November of last year, John Gutierrez has repeatedly emphasized the need for the federation to shift its focus more to grassroots development and tapping homegrown talents.

On Friday, he further showed his commitment to this approach by formally launching in the Philippines a tried and tested program aimed at introducing very young children to the nuances of the sport right in their very homes.

Dubbed “Football Starts At Home,” the program is the brainchild of football coach Tom Byer and has been successfully implemented in other countries. Now, Gutierrez is hoping it can be successfully rolled out in the Philippines with the help of the 33 regional football associations (RFAs).

At its core, “Football Starts At Home” pushes the belief that grassroots training must start just a couple of years after a child learns how to walk.

“In a nutshell, there has always been this belief or now, in my opinion, a misconception that grassroots should start between the ages of 6 to 12,” Gutierrez said during the event held in UP Diliman to launch the program. This program will prove that learning football can start much, much earlier.

“We’re very excited to have come across this program. This is one of the initiatives that the PFF believes will change the landscape of Philippine football. Not in the near future, but moving along preparation for nationals in a few years.

“When I say few, I don’t mean two. I mean around maybe 6, 8, 10, or 12 years. But it’s very important to start things like this sooner than later because otherwise, we will just have to depend on getting, again, talent that are developed elsewhere.

“Not to say that we will stop doing that. I think it will be a disservice to Filipinos around the world if they’re not included. But, of course, we would like to see our home-grown talent at par with the international level.

“And again, this is what we believe will get us over that hump.”

The man behind “Football Starts At Home” is Byer, a longtime youth coach who has been part of the Japanese youth football scene since the late 1980s. He has implemented the program in Japan and China, and with the help of the PFF has begun cascading it to the different RFAs in the Philippines.

“I have a long history of working and developing this program in Japan which right now is regarded as one of the top footballing countries, at least in our confederation,” he said.

Byer believes that children’s first exposure to football should be through their parents, who are in the best position to convince their children to start playing with a ball.

“We’re not advocating coaching 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds,” Byer explained. “What we’re advocating is educating parents of 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds who can then have the knowledge to practice with their own kids.”

In his presentation Byer explained that the program “challenges the common belief that the for developing top football players is primarily at the elite level. Instead, it argues that the entry level, involving young children and their parents, is where crucial development occurs.”

Byer shared that countries with a strong football culture use this approach.

“The difference is that in a football culture, football development starts way earlier than the other countries.

“So it’s not particularly they have better coaching. They just have a culture of development that starts earlier than the rest. Of course, then when you add on great coaching, that’s going to supercharge it.

“There’s an ecosystem out there that needs to be nurtured, and it all starts with the grassroots. It starts with developing the market and more intelligent, more knowledgeable, educated families that will participate in football.

“So this really is a reset button to start at the very, very bottom age. But yeah, it’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (years old). But it’s the parents. The parents have a vital role.”

The Philippine setting

While Byer acknowledges that the situation in the Philippines is different in that the football culture isn’t as strong as it is in other Asian countries, Gutierrez is confident that will proper implementation the program will be effective in the long run.

“We’re five days into the launch of this program, and we want all the clubs, all the schools, most importantly, all the homes to get on board,” Gutierrez said.

“It’s not rocket science. As a matter of fact, when Tom first presented to us through Zoom, he was in Japan then, and the technical team of the Philippine Football Federation listened through remotely. I would personally call it football for dummies because it’s really so simple. And the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Why didn’t we think of this earlier?’”

The key will be getting buy-in from the parents, who will need to encourage their kids to do simple drills with a proportionately sized football for a few minutes every day. Gutierrez is banking on the simplicity of the drills and the fact that they can be done in a living room.

“When the parents see how simple it is to get their kids involved in football, it won’t take much convincing for them simply because this is football instruction disguised as playing time. La why wouldn’t you want as a parent to play with your 2, 3, 4, 5-year-old?”

Byer believes the potential in the Philippines is huge, given its young population.

“There are around 15 million children here that are under the age of six,” he said.

To help with the dissemination of the program, Gutierrez said instructional videos will be uploaded to the PFF website on a regular basis.

“These instructionals will only require 5, 10, maximum 15 minutes a day, maybe 4 days. If you can do it every day, better, but maybe 4 days a week. It’s football instructionals disguised as play time. So, you don’t need to motivate.”

After an initial roll-out of a few pilot programs, Gutierrez is happy to report that feedback has been encouraging.

“This is much bigger than a football program. This is a program that’s going to help to develop your children’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills. It has a very strong academic component involved in it.

“We need to be active in schools, in preschools, early learning centers, kindergartens, first, second grade.

“And when I say active, we want access to the families. So everywhere that we’ve gone, at least this past week, we’ve been embraced. Everybody’s been very excited, very supercharged.

“We’ve already got a couple of potential pilot programs that we’re going to run at some big kindergartens with several hundred children. So my first initial impression has been extremely positive.”

Banner images from AFP.

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