THE world has been abuzz with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. For almost three weeks, fans around the globe have been rooting for their favourite teams and Malaysians will know the champion early tomorrow morning.
Players such as Lionel Messi, Robin Van Persie, Neymar, Christiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez are idolised by adults and children alike.
Many children aspire to be professional football players and several clubs and associations offer soccer school for children in the country. Little League Malaysia has been active since 2000, starting with an invitation to coach at Alice Smith School.
Head coach Shazwan Wong, 37, formerly an electronics technician, said Little League’s main activities are coaching football as a co-curricular activity in schools; public coaching for ages 6 to 18 years old; coaching of football teams and clubs (all ages); organising football clinics and camps, and leagues and tournaments for children, adults and veterans; and facility and academy management.
It has been running private programmes for REAL International School, Alice Smith School and International School of Kuala Lumpur since 2006. It also runs a weekend programme at Setia Eco Park in Setia Alam, Selangor.
“We are also privately contracted to coach a few select teams such as those from the French Football Academy and KL Youth League which take part in our special football programmes and leagues,” saidShazwan.
Little League and Football Club Kuala Lumpur offer two programmes —Elite and Development for those aged 7 to 13 and 7 to 17 respectively.The training sessions are normally held during weekends with an exception for the Under 15 and Under 17 team members who train on a weekday.
“For the younger children, we have an introduction programme which is more fun compared to the structured training sessions for older ones. By far, we are one of the clubs which offers affordable fees.”
The children take part in the Borneo Cup Sabah every year and only 18 to 20 players are chosen after they undergo a stringent selection test.
“We try to give everyone a chance to play during tournaments. We want everyone to experience playing in a tournament,” he said, adding that they do not join competitions withthe aim of winning, rather to gain experience by taking part in them.
“If a club joins a tournament with a mind to win it, some players will be left out and won’t get a chance to play.
“The best form of training is at the matches.”
Those who have been left out will have a chance to play in friendly matches as it is important for them to stay within the club environment.
“I normally select 12 players and leave six to eight spots open. Then the children will train hard to fill them.
“Attitude during training is important to succeed as a player.”
Consultant Hazim Kamaruzaman, 34, said he wants his son Danial Harith, 6, to learn to play football and, most importantly, have fun.
“Danial has learnt so much about the sport in the past six months. He learnt the basic concept of football, confidence and discipline,” said Hazim.
Another parent, Satomi Yukawa, 36, a housewife, said football practice is good for her son Shoma, 9, and daughter Mina, 7, to train to play the sport.
“I want them to know football is fun. They have been attending football practices for 2½ years,” she said.
Little League has five full-time and three part-time coaches with a ratio of 1:12 students each.
“In all our sessions we limit numbers to a maximum of 12 children per coach. This ratio is ideal,”added Shazwan.
He started his coaching career at football clubs in Shanghai in 2003.
“It all began when a group of school teachers and expatriates started a weekend football programme for students. One of them asked if I was interested in coaching and as they say ‘the rest is history’.”
He returned to Malaysia in 2009 and started coaching Little League, working his way up the ranks from a normal to head coach. “I had zero experience when I started but I learnt a lot from other coaches.”
On the difference between training at schools and clubs, Shazwan said football seasons at the former are normally short and their training programmes are not as extensive as those in Little League.
“At Little League, the emphasis is on playing football. Nevertheless, we don’t want players to neglect their studies.”
Shyafeeq Suhaimi, 15, from Sri Utama International School, Kuala Lumpur said: “I normally train for two or three hours and I study about the same number of hours. I want to be a professional football player because I love the sport.”
Another student, Muhammad Qayyum, 14, from SMK Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur said football practices helped him to develop self-discipline and learn time management.
“I always ensure my training sessions do not clash with my classes. Overall, training makes me a better person. And, I would love to become a professional player one day.”
Located at Kuala Lumpur Football Association Academy Football Centre in Desa Melawati, Little League provides a FIFA futsal court, a full sized football field (FIFA accredited two-star artificial turf), hostels (which can house 150 players), a cafe, changing rooms and a boxing gym.
Shazwan pointed out that sometimes parents push their children too much.
“There is no point in signing up children with no interest in football. Obviously they won’t train as hard as their minds are not on the sport. Children who are keen on football have to set out their goals. Parents should ask their offspring what they want to achieve in the next few years.
“Most importantly, children must not neglect their studies. Their career as a footballer can end anytime. You can start playing at 21 and break your ankle at 22, and then you’re done. Get an education to fall back on.
“And if you are lucky enough to play till 30 or 33, you still need a good education to succeed.”
For example, overseas youth football academies produce many talents who grace the world stage. A dozen of players in Barcelona’s B team — as well as one of its stars, midfielder Andres Iniesta — pursue college courses.
The coach’s approach to training is important. Coaching a 6-year-old differs from a player who is 12.
“I do hope there will be more coaching of grassroots football (for amateurs).
“The best youth coaches whom I have worked with are from the United States. Their approach is very different. For example, they instil fun into football. They make dribbling sessions fun and the children don’t even know that they’re dribbling.”
Little League is proud of its success on the field, as it is fulfilling its mission to produce the next generation of Malaysia’s finest footballers.
Meanwhile, The Goal Academy’s philosophy is “Football for Fun, Football for All”.
Academy manager Matthew Lister said: “We run a child-centred programme. Our philosophy is to build character and skills. Each child has different characteristics and different goals.”
Established in 2007, it now has some 1,000 students.
It offers two main courses — Goal Elite (a special development programme) and Goal Skills (a fun development programme).
“Good Skills is a 12-week programme, and our next intake will be in August while Goal Elite is an on-going course which runs from January till December.
“We hope students learn new skills by end of each session and dedicate themselves to becoming a professional footballer one day. However, parents have many reasons for sending their children here,” he said.
Aylwin Skelchy, 44, a father to Hanz, 9, and Kyle, 7, said: “I am very pleased to have enrolled them in a soccer school which has helped to develop their skills, teach them the importance of exercise and fitness, nurture social skills and encouraged them to make friends through the sport.”
Both Hanz and Kyle, who attend a homeschool centre - Arrows Resource Centre - have been in the Elite Programme for the past four years.
“Training has made me stronger, more confident and disciplined. It has taught me teamwork and sportsmanship. It has made me a better person and will continue to shape me. The coaches are encouraging and supportive,” said Hanz, adding that both he and his brother would love to play for Liverpool FC one day because “we will never walk alone”.
The academy is organising the World Cup Weekend football festival at Padang 1Utama, Petaling Jaya to mark the 2014 FIFA World Cup,
“There are exciting football games for all ages. We are also giving away souvenirs,” said Lister.
The festival will be held today and on July 19 and 20 (4pm-7pm).
10 schools, 700 teens
MORE than 700 teenagers will get to hone their skills at football clinics across the country, thanks to Zurich Insurance Malaysia Bhd.
The company,in collaboration with Little League Soccer Sdn Bhd, launched Zurich Love for Football — a corporate social responsibility project — at Kuala Lumpur Football Association Academy Football Centre in Desa Melawati recently.
The programme, which runs until early October, is in line with the National Football Development Plan launched by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to nurture young football talents from the grass-roots level.
The football clinics are led by former professional footballer and ESPN Starsports pundit Paul Masefield.
Zurich Insurance Malaysia and the Little League coaches will run a series of football clinics in 10 secondary schools with football clubs from various states including Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Perak, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Pahang and Johor Baru.
The clinics will provide training in dribbling, passing, shooting and fitness drills.
Each of the 10 selected schools will receive a contribution of RM5,000 from Zurich Insurance Malaysia, which will go towards the purchase of football equipment and upgrading of football club facilities.
Little League Soccer general manager Andy Johnston said: “Little League coaches train between 60 and 70 students at a football clinic.”
The most outstanding player at each clinic receives RM500 worth of football merchandise.