Villaflor: Lessons from a ‘headlock’

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Monday, March 24, 2014


AFTER watching the highlights of the rough-and-tumble El Classico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid yesterday morning, my 13-year-old daughter and I started the day with quite an unusual experiment in the living room.

I told her to break free from a headlock I’d subject her too. She was game enough, and each time I slipped my arm around her neck, she managed to yank herself free, quite easily. After a few tries, I was out of breath.

Perhaps that little experiment was our own silly way of making light of that deplorable March 16 “footbrawl” incident that shook the sports community to the core.

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That now iconic shot taken by photojournalist Allan Cuizon of a grownup, blunt object in hand, ready to pounce on a young goalkeeper attempting a headlock on an even younger boy will serve as a reminder of what should never happen again in any football field in any part of the world.

FOOTBALL PARENTHOOD. Anyway, the headlock experiment yesterday with my daughter taught me a few lessons, like how hard it is to keep a headlock if the target is constantly moving.

But more importantly, as I wrapped a playful arm around my daughter’s neck, I realized how much this familiar footballer with long flowing shiny hair has grown, how agile and strong she has become after years of training on the football pitch.

I remember her first football clinic roughly a decade ago, when we—her mom and dad—“officially” joined the ranks of football parents. She was barely four years old.

We cheered her every move, gasped each time she tripped and fell, urging her to get back on her feet. The wife screamed loudest when the ball found its way to her feet, and sighed deepest when it rolled or flew past her.

OH, BEHAVE. Over time, her love for the sport grew, and football parenthood became a way of life. As we watched game after game, we encountered various types of football parents.

Economic class never was an indication of how football parent-spectators behaved. Many carried themselves in a dignified manner, but it was just as common to see those who barked louder than the coaches, if not engaging in verbal abuse.

But we have never heard of a parent-spectator attack a player in the field until that fateful March 16. The parent-spectator in question is Customs policeman Enrico Mongaya, the man in the now iconic photograph.

Some parents regard him as a hero for coming to the rescue of the diminutive player of Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, but no attempt at damage control should divert the public’s attention from the most pressing issue: that a minor, the Alcoy FC goalie, ended up with a bloodied head during the scuffle, apparently at the hands of Mongaya, who became part of the brawl instead of breaking it up.

As the brawl has reached scandalous proportions, the Cebu Provincial Government has stepped in and called for a meeting between the two teams on March 31.

THE PARENTS’ CODE. Alongside these developments, level-headed members of the football community have seen the need to educate parent-spectators about the do’s and don’ts of watching football matches.

In this regard, I am sharing The Parents’ Code that Fifa has laid down for its grassroots program (grassroots.fifa.com):

Remember that children play football for their own enjoyment, not for that of their parents.

Encourage rather than force or oblige.

Encourage children to always respect the rules of the game.

Never reprimand a child for a technical error or for losing a match.

Remember that children learn from example.

Encourage both teams.

Congratulate both teams irrespective of the result of the match.

Help to eradicate all physical and verbal abuse from football.

Respect the decisions of the coaches and referees and teach the children to do the same thing.

Support, encourage and help volunteers, coaches, organizers and officials in their work. Without them, the children would not have the opportunity to play football.

Ensure fair play in all circumstances.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 25, 2014.

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