Catch them young and guide them as they grow is Fritz Schmid’s long held belief. The former Switzerland professional footballer turned coach, and presently world governing body FIFA’s grassroots instructor, says he is never tired of spreading this message.
The Festival of Football, a FIFA initiative organised by the Football Federation of Cambodia, brought Schmid to Phnom Penh last week from which he said he would carry abiding memories of what he had seen and felt after watching hundreds of boys and girls aged 6-12 years old launch their prospective football careers.
“There is no better teacher than sport, and there is no better way than a grassroots level programme for mass induction like this for the kids to be happy and learn human values at the same time,” said Schmid, echoing FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s assertion that football is a “school of life”.
“We are not here to create Ronaldos, Messis or Kakas. We do not talk results here. We talk about values and how well a simple game like football can shape the next generation’s future,” the instructor said.
“You can not expect miracles overnight. The wait will be long and arduous; do not count in weeks or months. But at the end of it all, the sport will benefit from this climate of change.”
The former FC Basel player, whose career was cut short by a serious knee injury which required multiple reconstructions, said he was eager to channel his energy and expertise into coaching and was more than happy to be part of a FIFA grassroots project.
“The toughest challenge at this level of coaching is making the kids understand what its all about and the best way of doing it is to allow them to act freely on their own impulses.
“Football is a simple game with simple rules for children to follow, but this is where the educators come in. If the coaches are coached well, the knock on effect would be on their trainees,” Schmid said before handing over participation certificates to 33 coaches who had completed a specialisation course under his watch.
The FIFA instructor, who had made similar project trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Korea and Kazakhstan, said he would be keenly watching the progress of this first-of-its-kind project in Cambodia, and if the need arose would be willing to revisit the Kingdom.
“I was really surprised by the turnout, especially girls, in a conservative set up like Cambodia’s, and it is a good sign,” he said, adding that the real playmakers here are the so called stakeholders; football academies, clubs and schools. “They have a very important and crucial role to play.”
Schmid asserted that a solid foundation in youth development was necessary for success in the future. “What Cambodia needs is the kind of a structure like a pyramid, with a widened youth and grassroots base that leads towards a pinnacle of a good national side,” he said.