Mother, Nurse, and Coach
By Umerah Riyasat
This is a story of a strong, independent, successful lady coach. Leah Madrid has one main goal in life - and that is to give her children the best opportunities possible. Many parents may share the same objective as Leah, but her determined nature is second to none. Living in a deprived neighbourhood in Muntinlupa has been hard for Leah and her young children, and I had the privilege of speaking with her.
As a female, I was thoroughly inspired by her drive and determination for her young players to succeed in tough circumstances. Leah, originally from Manila, is a single mother and has four children, three boys and one girl. Besides being a mother, she is an on-call nurse working at a private hospital in Manila, and she is also a community football coach in Muntinlupa, Philippines. It was not hard to warm to Leah, and I could see her strong motherly nature coming through when I conversed with her.
So, how did it start for Leah as a football coach?
“We started playing when we were missing my husband – the father of my children, and we were a broken family. We went on to the field and saw a marine soldier playing football. They started asking me to teach them how to play football. I said I would go to the Philippine Football Federation and ask some coaches. For this to happen, I trained as a football coach, and I have been a coach since 2006 up to now.”
Seeing the marine soldier playing football was a turning point for Leah in her life. She was encouraged to pursue training and become a qualified football coach. At first, the team created and founded by Leah was called Muntinlupa FC, but she was encouraged by football coach Jojo Durian to call it Muntinlupa United FC due to the public-school children coming from all over Muntinlupa. Muntinlupa United FC was thus created to bring glory to the name of the city!
How tough has it been for Leah whilst raising
these children and suffering from a broken marriage?
“It’s really hard for me to be a single mum. I took care of my 4 children and sent them to school. Football is what brought us to a better life. Football allowed my children to enter college, and they have finished their courses. It was possible for me to raise money for their school fees because of football, and I am very thankful for it. I am thankful to God too. Each time that we go to church every Saturday, we keep trusting God and we do our best to live”.
Muntinlupa United FC (MUFC) helps its selected 26 players to receive a quarterly sports allowance through the assistance of the local barangay captain as being the first organised football club for the underprivileged, particularly the prisoners and prison guards’ children in this area of Muntinlupa.
Each player gets a £5 voucher from the council per month, and this is their budget to spend. With £5, they buy 4 kilos of rice for the family; the children generously give cash to their family to buy rice. The children’s reality is that they actually do not enjoy the allowance. Here in the UK, £5 is one takeaway meal that can be spent in a second. Another shock is they do not give an allowance to the community coaches. It is quite sad that Leah and many other community coaches in the Philippines give so much of their time and effort, yet they do not seem to be fairly rewarded for this.
Leah’s coaching has helped ease her financial burdens. Her children have also been rewarded athletic scholarships and have been able to finish college without paying tuition. She dedicates a lot of time to coaching, working and spending time with the players. Leah told me that, “Sometimes I go to the hospital for my patients cause I’m an on-call nurse. My coaching job is every other day, and the rest of the week, I go to the hospital to work as a nurse. It is really hard. I usually coach younger students in the morning and college students from 7 to 10 pm."
How has Football for Humanity helped Leah
and her team of young players enjoy football?
“Football for Humanity has helped us because they gave me so much confidence about being a football coach and inspired me a lot, especially our players. I have 90+ active players, and they provided my coaches and me with seminars and football gear, goalposts etc. Without Football for Humanity, we would not have had the confidence to expand. I am alone here managing these coaches and the team. It's so hard for me to think and get access to seminars, balls and some football gear. Coach Chris and Ma’am Belle have been very supportive."
Belle Tiongco, the co-founder of Football for Humanity said, “I admire Leah for what she does and how she disciplines the children. I am amazed because there are a lot of boys, and they are all well behaved! I have witnessed her frustrations, especially when she develops good players who then get recruited by other groups."
But then Leah also cites the Green Archers United Football Club (GAUFC) for helping expose her good players to regional tournaments and upgrade them to higher-level teams. So, there’s also a good side to letting go of her players.
As our conversation developed, we spoke about some social issues, in particular sexism and gender discrimination. Sexism and gender discrimination is a worldwide issue and something that has not quite gone away, even in 2021. It is especially common for a woman to experience sexism when working in football, a so called ‘macho’ sport. According to Women in Football’s biggest survey, at least two-thirds of women working in football have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace.
Leah openly admitted to me, "Before when I was getting started, I heard a 'macho' coach saying, "she's only a girl, don't mind her. She's weak." I showed them that even though I am a woman and not a football player, I still learned how to coach. We always go out to win. This is very challenging, and I am very competitive. I always tell my coaches and my players – do not put me down even if I am a girl! Do not let any coach or man bring me down because I can play and coach just like them! It was hard, especially when I took the licensing course! I'm the only girl in the camp, and I have to stay in a room with them!"
Leah continued to express with zeal that "here in MUFC, I always set a game of boys vs girls. I challenge the girls that if they can't beat the boys for strength and stamina, counter them using possible techniques and tactics to score a goal."
Leah described that "the body and mind must be connected in this war game. I told them that when you are able to beat the boys in football games, as with other situations, you will gain their confidence and respect. It's the same as playing against elite and wealthy teams. I told my MUFC players that rich players wear new and branded shoes and uniforms, but we are all equal in the game. The difference is that we play to make a change in our lives, to be better people and overcome the fear of not being accepted in the world and the world of football...
...my motivational shout for my players is, "Get yourselves in the game! FOCUS! Give your best shot. We came here to bring that trophy home! Make your mothers proud! I Love you, kids! Make me proud! Make your city proud!" And Leah said that "if we end at second or third or lose the game, it's ok, at least we had fun together, and then we eat and laugh. Honestly, though, we rarely play without bringing home a reward. My players are very competitive."
Dealing with everyday gender discrimination did not stop Leah from coaching. Instead, she strived to continue to help her young players by collaborating with Football for Humanity. Leah expressed that, “There's a lot of female coaches in the Philippines already, and they are well known. I always experienced being looked down on by professional ‘macho’ coaches until I joined Football for Humanity (FFH). Today, I don’t experience cruel words anymore, as they are all surprised...
I’m with FFH!”
Football for Humanity is an independent registered Charity in England & Wales (1174192) and the Philippines (CN201702832). We harness the power of play to educate, empower and protect children facing the threat of violence, exploitation and poverty. www.footballforhumanity.org.uk