What streetkids can teach us about developing our women’s football

What streetkids can teach us about developing our women’s football

Some of the future players of women’s football in the Philippines may be found in one of the unlikeliest places: a basketball court in Payatas, Quezon City.

In GK Trese, a community within Payatas, shouts, and cheers can be heard where children are playing a game. The teams are a mix of boys and girls, but the only thing that matters here is their skill. Their coach, Englishman Roy Moore, watches them closely and gives out instructions. He sees a bright future ahead, for the players and for the sport.

girls soccer

“In terms of their potential, there’s a lot of potential there. Obviously, there are players with the national team,” Moore said, adding he’s confident the other girls will eventually get a call-up.

Players Hannah, Kim, and Althea are equally optimistic and dream of playing in college and even breaking through to the national team. They’re still young, so in the meantime, they’re happy to continue honing their skills. Another player, April Joy, already experienced training with the team, and she’s raring to give it another go; while Althea’s sister, Regine, received a call-up to the U-16 national team.

It was mostly through Moore’s work establishing the Fairplay for All Foundation (FFA) that they got their start in the sport. The public school near their houses, like many in the city, does not have a football or futsal program, so it was unlikely that they would have tried playing on their own.

While FFA works to break the poverty cycle through education and safe spaces, it’s best known for its grassroots football program for underprivileged children. Moore, who began FFA with Naomi Tomlinson in 2011, saw the rising popularity of the Azkals as an opening to introduce football to the residents and teach them some important values along the way.

FFA eventually produced Payatas FC, a club with teams for boys and girls. Some of the players were selected to play in the 2014 Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The girls team reached the finals, losing to hosts Brazil.

Building the pyramid

Soccer goalie in action
Soccer goalie in action

For Moore, a grassroots program with a league for continuing development will play a key role in building momentum and stability for female players. If the girls’ performance in the Street Child World Cup is anything to go by, this isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“If you have that investment and development for the women’s game, they could really be one of the best, obviously 50 in the world, but top 30, top 20, if the right development’s there,” Moore explained.

The girls’ teams have shown they have the potential to compete against some of the better teams in Asia. In June 2016, the U-14 team came in second to Thailand in the 2016 Asian Football Confederation’s Regional Championship. This was the same story in 2014 when the U-14 team won silver in the same tournament, beating teams like Myanmar and Singapore, but losing in the final to Thailand.

One way to continue producing talent is to start youth leagues and give the young players a chance to develop in the future. The usual route for many girls is to get into a school team or a club, play at the college level, and hope for playing time in leagues like the Philippine Football Federation’s Women’s Invitational Cup.

Leagues, like the GK League, give girls like the Payatas FC kids a chance to work their way towards the proverbial “10,000 hours.” FFA, Dream Big Pilipinas, and Gawad Kalinga are working on a girl’s league, which they hope to pilot this year or the next, according to Moore.

“Leagues are so much better for development. You’ve got a weekly game. You know at the end of the week you’ve got some games, so at the end of the week, the kids really focus on training and will train themselves,” Moore said.

One-day tournaments, on the other hand, can be more expensive, especially for less established teams because of the registration fees and transportation costs.

With a better grassroots system in place, leagues like the Women’s Invitational Cup can continue player development and open opportunities to join the national team, much like what the National Women’s Soccer League did in the United States.

Why bother with women’s football?

On December 5, 2010, the men’s team pulled off what fans affectionately call “The Miracle of Hanoi,” where the Philippines beat AFF Suzuki Cup defending champion Vietnam. That win was credited with causing the resurgence of Philippine football.

Philippine women’s football, on the other hand, was seemingly left behind as many neighbors, notably former world champions Japan and Women’s World Cup newcomers Thailand, grew more competitive.

A lot of factors come into play: the number of facilities, competition, and, to an extent, culture can all explain the challenges ahead.

Many of the fields are located away from the densely populated areas. Rizal Memorial Stadium and McKinley Hill are two of the more fields for competitions, aside from those located in schools, making it difficult to set up the regular leagues.

Working around this problem means turning to football’s cousin, futsal. The indoor variation can be played on basketball courts, so players can turn their local facilities into training grounds. More indoor facilities have also popped up, including Sparta in Mandaluyong and the United Campus Court in Merville, Parañaque.

A futsal league also has the added benefits of being as fast-paced and action-packed as basketball, which draw the crowds. With facilities easier to come by, this also means players can improve their technique for a longer period of time.

So while there is a lot to be proud about in the country’s women’s game, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “You get the grassroots leagues together, the senior leagues will happen with the products of those leagues—the youth leagues—and then you’ve got the full system of it. You build the pyramid,” Moore emphasized.

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