10 to 13, The golden age to learn football

By Noel S. Villaflor

The golden age of learning football is 10 to 13.”

This I heard from the then Asian Football Confederation official during a press conference in Cebu three years ago.

Last weekend, in sprawling San Carlos City in Negros Island, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Football Festival Regional Finals showed why the Girls Under-14 and Boys Under-13 are so crucial.

These are age brackets where an 11-a-side match makes sense to young football players. (More developed football countries such as England are going in a new direction of introducing younger kids to nine-a-side football for two years before they can progress in 11-a-side matches as Under-13 players.)

The festival in San Carlos City was tailored for such brackets, using smaller pitches and having a format different from the regular “adult” 11-a-side football that the AFC itself designed. Instead of two halves, each match has three 20-minute periods.

In the first period, each team would field its first eleven, while the next period, the second eleven. Based on their performance from their respective 20 minutes on field, the best players would be selected to play in the penultimate period.

While there are winners in the tournament, what concerns the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) technical team composed of Ariston Caslib, Oliver Colina, Eleazar Toledo and John Carmona the most are how the players perform in competitive 11-a-side matches. As scouts, they look at the players’ skills, rating those with potential based on their strengths and weaknesses during the entire tournament.

“The competition is composed of the developmental tournament and skills tests designed by AFC,” explained Toledo, who is also the head coach of the Cebu U-14 Girls squad and Cebu Football Association Grassroots and Youth committee chairman.

Toledo added that the tournament —which drew youth teams from powerhouses Iloilo, Dumaguete and the host city – will be the basis of players’ selection for the National Team that will be sent to Vietnam in June 2011.

While the technical team was scouting for players, it was also an opportunity for coaches to impart on the children – many of whom have never played outside their hometowns, much more against the best in the region—the tactical aspects of the competitive 11-a-side match.

For instance, after the game against the vaunted San Carlos City girls’ squad, Toledo, an AFC licensed coach, broke down the performance of the Cebu U-14 Girls’ second eleven, citing the number of shots they made on goal and a rough percentage of ball possession between the two teams.

After a rundown of strengths and weaknesses, the coach then proceeded with the more intangible aspects of the game, such as appealing to his team to play with heart and pride in their next game.

While this scene might seem commonplace to older enthusiasts of the game, the coach’s pep talk at such a level in such a tournament is bound to stick in the newbies’ impressionable minds.

The tournament itself reveals much of the state of youth football, at least in the region.

One is the lack of competent referees, one of whom nearly triggered a walkout from the Iloilo boys’ squad in their game against Cebu prior to the final because of a succession of allegedly terrible calls. Another is the decorum of some coaches and parents during the matches. A parent of one of the teams was so noisy while “giving instructions” I thought he was the coach.

These things aren’t lost on PFF grassroots committee chairman Richard Montayre and PFF technical director Caslib, who were generally satisfied with how the tournament was run.

Also, what made the festival a remarkable experience, especially for the visiting delegations, was the venue itself, with its close to a dozen football fields arranged neatly in a grid in the heart of extraordinarily clean San Carlos City. Even better is that the well-trimmed football fields —goals, surrounding kalachuchi trees and all—are open to the public, free of charge. What a wonderful place for young footballers to spend their golden age of learning. Source