As more clubs venture into taking football to the grassroots and engaging more youth in the sport, the lack of facilities or quality playing grounds has hampered the progress of the programme.
Of the 13 Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) registered football clubs, grassroots football has become popular in four Asian Football Confederation (AFC) licensed clubs: Thimphu City FC, Paro FC, Transport United FC, and Tensung FC.
Thimphu City FC alone engages 70 children between the ages of 6 and 14 during the weekend, either in Changlimithang or the Changjiji grounds. The club charges a minimal fee of Nu 1,300 per month, per child, for about 50 children.
Thimphu City FC’s President Hishey Tshering said: “We would like to have regular training, but that is not possible, as the BFF has to share the grounds with many users. We get the ground only twice a week (Saturday and Sunday).”
He said many school grounds are unusable or not maintained. “If the government allows private parties like football clubs to develop and maintain the grounds on a Public-Private Model, everyone will benefit.”
Hishey Tshering said the use of grounds would depend on the memorandum of understanding signed between the school and the private party.
Dilip Subba, 14, gets coaching through Druk Lhayul FC for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays. He said the coach usually conducts training in a group where they learn basic skills.
“When the coach is busy, we do individual training. Through football, we can learn about teamwork, and it is important for sound health,” a class IX student of Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School said, adding that he would depend on football if he doesn’t get a job in the future.
Paro FC started its grassroots programme three years back.
Paro FC’s head coach Puspalal Sharma said the club is grooming 138 children by training them for two hours on weekends and government holidays.
During the summer and winter breaks, participants undergo rigorous training four days a week.
He said the club has created a unique model, blending international best practices suited to the progressive pattern of growth and development of children. “We have different tiers to our coaching, which now has specialised coaches for different levels.”
“Ball mastery, a key component in our training plan has progressive links to technique, skill, and a tactical framework to our coaching model. We have branched our academy out to Thimphu,” Puspalal Sharma said.
Paro FC engages children between the ages of 4 and 14 years. The club has 12 coaches looking after the grassroots activities, and the majority of coaches possess a Diploma in Physical Education and Sports Coaching and BFF C Certificate.
Puspalal Sharma said the club is working to increase the number of women participants beyond the current 15 participants.
“We have 63 children on scholarship. Out of these, 25 are on Paro FC scholarship for which they don’t pay the fees. We collect a nominal amount to pay our coaches and buy equipment,” Puspalal Sharma said.
Tensung FC has 98 students aged between 6-12 years in grassroots training, mostly children of army personnel.
Namgay Tshering, a coach with Tensung FC, said that the long-term goal of their grassroots activities was to groom future club players and curb the purchase of foreign players.
Namgay Tshering said that the increasing turn-out on the pitch reflects the support of parents, but it is a challenge to provide sufficient equipment and coaches.
BFF Grassroot development official said grassroots football is basically for children from 5 to 12 years old. He said the BFF focuses on schools and provide coaching to sports instructor.
The advanced grassroots programme stresses quality, according to an official. “In this category, we provide training to 13-14 years students, where we have sent a coach to 10 central schools.”
He said players from the grassroots will be selected and training will be given at BFF academy in Thimphu for boys, and the Women’s academy in Gelephu.