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Grow Her Game: Tackling challenges, opportunities for PH women’s football

“We’re representing something bigger than ourselves—it’s about the country and the sport,” emphasized Inna Palacios, captain of the Philippine Women’s National Team (PWNT), during the inaugural session of #GrowHerGame, an online forum series on the local women’s football scene. 

The former goalie for the Green-and-White was joined by fellow PWNT stars—Patrice Impelido, Camille Rodriguez, and DLSU Lady Booter Shai Del Campo—to share their insights on the persisting challenges, recent successes, and overall development of the national squad. With football personas Natasha Alquiros and Belay Fernando as moderators, the panel discussion was hosted on Facebook Live last April 23 by Pinay Futbol, an organization that has been visibly supporting the advancement of the sport in the country.

Commitment

The road to meaningful growth was not without pitfalls for these athletes. Compared to the rest of the panel members whose national team roots could be traced back to the youth squads, Del Campo had failed to make the cut after several attempts early on in her footballing career. “I didn’t get in [right away], but it didn’t stop me…It wasn’t my time yet…‘Yung experience ko with football was not that advanced yet,” she recounted.

Eventually making her debut with the senior PWNT roster in 2017, the Lady Booter added that training under the Lasallian program had helped her find her footing. “[Being] recruited in La Salle [was a] big opportunity that was given to me to improve more…to show that I can play,” she said. “From times of doubting myself, it’s really a big leap for me na mapunta sa level na [national team player].”

(It was a big leap for me to meet the standards of being a national team player.)

For Rodriguez, any setback that arises is “not a reason to quit”, but instead prompts her to reevaluate her own performance to rise up in the face of such obstacles. “It’s okay to feel bad about [difficulties],” the striker assured as she expressed shifting to a more determined mindset. “Laban lang.”

(Keep fighting.)

This dedication has also translated off the pitch, despite football matches and other sports tournaments getting called off in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The players have continued to find ways to keep up their level of fitness with home training programs provided by their respective teams—part and parcel of the “responsibilities as an athlete to make time to commit”, according to Rodriguez. 

Although maintaining her goalkeeping skills has been “difficult” without a field to work with, Palacios similarly underlined the importance of continuing to practice, pointing out, “At the end of the day, we’re [still] going to come back as athletes.”


Consistency

The PWNT’s recent performances have seen a marked improvement, achieving historic semi-final berths in both the AFF Women’s Championship and the Southeast Asian Games in 2019, in addition to garnering their best-ever FIFA World Ranking at 67th. But it had not always been this way. For several years, the roster had been hampered by “inconsistencies”, as Alquiros narrated, with a revolving door of players and coaching staff. Consequently, the team had not built a concrete identity, evident in their game which lacked proactiveness in the past. 

“Before, we would not even make it past the halfway line. We’d kick the ball as far as we could, then sit back in our compact defense,” recalled Impelido, who had captained the national team for four years and experienced firsthand the changes that emerged over time.

On the rebuilding process, the veteran midfielder revealed, “We were able to keep a core group of [players] for three years [with] good coaches.” She also affirmed that playing together consistently has helped the national athletes become “confident to keep the ball, keep possession, and create chances that allowed [the team] to score.” Deviating from a purely defensive mindset, the PWNT has gradually begun crafting their own playing style.

“The future for Philippine women’s football is very bright,” Impelido asserted.

Continuity

The women’s division has, however, remained largely under the radar compared to their male counterparts, and is often glossed over in favor of other sports. Despite the challenges, these football players have continued to press on—pulling through with remarkable discipline and passion, as well as “sacrificing a lot to play for the national team,” recognized Alquiros.

Calling on stakeholders to “invest in the sport”, Rodriguez urged, “We can’t expect progress if there’s no commitment to make it happen…Ito ‘yung team na pwedeng magdala sa atin to many places. Let’s maximize it, really, the possibilities are endless.”

(This could be the team that lifts us to great places.)

“There’s a lot of talent here, but just not enough opportunities [to develop them],” Palacios reasoned, explaining that she has been exploring ways to pay it forward to help young athletes flourish. 

Even greater support will be required to further empower the next generations of Philippine footballers to carry the flag, sustainably pursue their passions, and realize their full potential.

Del Campo, meanwhile, had a simple yet resounding message: “Dream.”

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