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From Pitches in Asia – Report from JFA Coaches/Instructors Vol. 73: HIRATA Reiji Head of Youth Development of the Philippine Football Federation

30 November 2022

From Pitches in Asia – Report from JFA Coaches/Instructors Vol. 73: HIRATA Reiji Head of Youth Development of the Philippine Football Federation

Football in the Philippines after the pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to work in the Philippines and had been working remotely since July 2020. I was finally able to return in February 2022 and football in the Philippines gradually returned to the pitch since then. We are still coping with the impact of the pandemic, which was much more severe than we had anticipated. In particular, girls' football, grassroots, youth age groups, and the TAD (Training Area of Development) programme (the Philippines' equivalent of JFA’s national training centre system) have all suffered significant setbacks. My heart breaks for the players and coaches who have lost the opportunity to play over the past two years.

Although we have been able to stay in touch with the coaches in each region through online meetings, we anticipate that there will be some disruption to our regional activities, because some football coaches have moved on to other occupations. Nonetheless, the Philippines Women's National Team's first-ever qualification for the FIFA Women's World Cup™ is a piece of bright news for the country, and we look forward to the gradual return of football to our daily lives.

How Japanese football is perceived in Asia

Despite these circumstances in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to participate in the AFC U17 Asian Cup Bahrain 2023™ Qualifiers held in Jordan in October as head coach of the U-16 Philippines National Team. At the qualifiers, we played against the U-16 Japan National Team led by head coach MORIYAMA Yoshiro on 3 October (the Philippines lost 0-3).

Gabriel and Nicholas GUIMARAES, twin brothers from Funabashi Municipal High School (first year students), were called up to the U-16 Philippines National Team for the first time during this tournament, giving us a valuable opportunity to experience Japanese football from both the inside and outside of the team. Needless to say, we experienced a huge gap between the Japan National Team and the Philippines National Team in all aspects during the tournament. I won't go into details because the differences were so great, but I was particularly struck by the scale and passion of player development in Japanese football. The Philippines National Team players and Filipino coaches have benefited greatly from seeing first-hand the qualities exhibited by the U-16 Japan National Team players (attitude, diet, practice, game environment, behaviour, and demeanour), as well as the behaviour displayed by the Guimaraes brothers within the team.

As a coach based in the Philippines, the tournament gave me a chance to witness Japanese football from the outside, especially from an Asian perspective. I found that Japanese football places emphasis on daily practice and routines that are based on dreams and goals, and that players are greatly passionate about constant growth without ever being satisfied with the status quo. This appeared to reflect the philosophies of the coaches the players had interacted with and learned from during their youth years. I was convinced that Japanese players’ behaviour and passion for football are great role models for Asian countries, especially those in the ASEAN region.

The DNA of Japanese football coaches

Finally, please allow me to introduce two Japanese coaches who are actively involved in Philippine football.

The first is Mr. HOSHIDE Yu (head coach of Kaya FC-Iloilo in the Philippines Football League/pictured right). After playing professionally in several different countries, he played in the Philippines where he later became a coach. He has had great success in the PFL, the country's top league, and has a ton of experience in the ACL and AFC Cup.

And the second is Mr. SUZUKI Taketomo (head coach of Tuloy FC, Tuloy Foundation/pictured left). He is the head coach of a football club at an orphanage in Alabang, near Manila. Tuloy FC has become one of the most popular football academies in the Philippines over the past few years, producing a number of players, both men and women, for the Philippines Youth National Teams. Coach Suzuki also participated in the recent AFC U17 Asian Cup Bahrain 2023™ Qualifiers as a member of the coaching staff for the U-16 Philippines National Team.

As a fellow Japanese coach, I am extremely proud of them for their success in the Philippines and how they have gained the respect of Filipino coaches and players. Their presence has also encouraged Filipino coaches to strive to fulfil their coaching ambitions. Their wisdom and experiences have taught me a lot, and they have helped me in my work as well.

This is just my personal opinion, but I believe that the DNA of Japanese coaches is unique in the world. We have the capability to demonstrate adaptive leadership that is diligent and balanced even in difficult situations in a foreign country. The environment and time required to cultivate this kind of behaviour may be one of the key factors for the future of coach education in Japan. I believe that there will continue to be high demand for Japanese coaches as catalysts for the development of football in Asian countries and the world.

I will continue to take it step by step and make every effort to contribute to Philippine football so that I can live up to the expectations as a member of the Japanese football community.

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