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    Men's Health: Younghusbands on what it takes to stay at the top of their game

    Nov 27, 2013

    (The article first appeared in the Men’s Health, July 2013 issue. For more click on:

    THE day after our photo shoot, James Younghusband walks off the Emperador Stadium in the middle of the second half, subbing out as his team, the Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, bows quietly out of United Football League (UFL) title contention.

    His younger brother Phil keeps playing, but the Sparks never break out of the 1-1 scorecard. It wasn’t an auspicious start for Phil — within seconds of the starting whistle, he’d been hit straight in the groin and spent minutes kneeling on the sidelines, head bent on the astroturf, grimacing in pain. Another kind of pain is evident on every Sparks player deep in the second half, too. Frustration is running high, and the referee’s whistle seems to blow every five minutes. At the final tweet, they settle for a draw — the latest disappointment in the team’s frustrating month in the UFL.

    Negatives into positives. To wit: Despite all their troubles on the local stage, the Sparks are poised to charge into the quarterfinals of the Singapore Cup. On May 23rd, they hammered Harimau Muda B, 3-nil, with Phil booting in the knockout blow at the 81st minute. The Younghusbands are also doing well on the Azkals front. Their record last April: an 8-0 rout over Cambodia, and a hard-fought 1-0 win over tough rivals Turkmenistan. The Cambodia match, in particular, was quite a show — random power outage, heavy rain, Rizal Memorial Stadium crew shoveling out floodwater with buckets, and of course, Phil Younghusband’s hat trick.

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    These two wins secured for the national team a berth in next year’s AFC Challenge Cup, good news for a lineup that some pundits are calling the best yet. “You have players like Javier Patiño, who came from La Liga in Spain, [Stephan] Schrock, who’s with the [German] Bundesliga,” comments James. “It’s good to have that mix of different playing experiences.” As we go to press, news trickles in of a 1-0 Azkals victory over Hong Kong — the first time ever for any Filipino squad, with James heading in the winner.

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    Of course, all that worldwide talent comes with its own disadvantage — namely, a team that only really gets together a few times a year. For their June 4th friendly against Hong Kong, James notes they had only one Saturday to practice together, because the internationals had arrived only the day before. It’s a managerial nightmare. “We’re not just flying in two or three guys,” Phil adds. “We’re flying a whole lot of people. It’s very hard to prepare when you only have a few days. With the level we’re playing at, we can still get through. But if we want to play at a higher level, we need to start playing more with each other.”

    They should know. All their lives, there have been two constants in the brothers’ existence: football and each other. “When we were younger, we would have school parties and whatever, and our dad would tell us, ‘No, no, no — you have to practice,’” recalls James. “We tried all kinds of sports. Phil was really good at track and field, I did swimming, galas and taekwondo. I even tried cricket, but then I got a cricket ball right to the face. Football? We would rather be doing this than anything else.”

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    “With football, we always surrounded ourselves with the right people,” says Phil. “We had our dad, we had our mom, but we also had each other. We were always motivating each other to get better and better. If you hang around someone long enough, you kind of know what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

    So they know each other’s weaknesses? “Nah,” James says. “Phil is the perfect player.”

    “That’s not what I’m going to say about you,” his brother responds, and James laughs. “His whole attitude is terrible,” Phil continues. “He has a bit of a temper, a bit of a short fuse.”

    “I want to be a winner. I don’t play sports to lose.”

    “Even if I don’t win, I stay calm,” Phil counters, smiling. “I bring in the fans, too.”

    Good-natured bickering is par for the course for any set of siblings, but there doesn’t seem to be any brotherly begrudging either. As a striker on the field, Phil naturally gets a bit more of the attention; in media blurbs, it’s mostly “Phil and James Younghusband” rather than the other way around. He even got to a Men’s Health cover before his brother did. When it’s time to have a picture of them together, they automatically assume positions: Phil in front, the taller James at the back.

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    In between takes, Phil is restless, constantly juggling a football. His brother is more relaxed, leaning back against a table and nodding his head to Daft Punk’s “Doin’ It Right.” It’s the midfielder, the Sparks team captain, and the kuya in him. In a UFL match against the Nomads last year, James was able to break away from the defenders for an open shot at the goal — but he flicked the ball back so his brother could nail a hat trick (that’s three goals in a single match for the uninitiated).

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    A day for the Younghusbands starts early — typically at 6 a.m., so they can arrive on time for training at 8 a.m. “We have two different teams with two different coaches that have two different approaches,” James explains. “They each have their own thing. [Azkals] Coach Hans [Weiss] is really keen on fitness, especially when everyone gets together. For [Sparks coach Joseph Vincent Santos], it’s more about tactics.”

    Michael Yamamoto, their strength and conditioning coach in the Loyola Sparks team, has one concern that stands out when it comes to the Younghusbands: No matter what their last name says, they’re not getting any younger. “We do have some older players. But whether you’re 26 or 32, you have to keep up with your age,” he says. “We’re only together for two hours a day. It’s up to you to discipline yourself outside of those two hours. It’s something I keep reminding them about.”

    It’s something that also pops up during our conversation with Phil. “Obviously, we’re getting older,” the 25-year-old admits. (“Speak for yourself!” interjects James, who is 11 months older.) “We’re watching what we’re eating more [closely] now compared to when we were like 18, 19, 20, 21. We’re asking for a bit more rest, especially now that we’re taking care of so many things.”

    What makes things even more tiring is there’s no established football season in the country yet — no clear off season, no long breaks. That’s when discipline kicks in. “Yung maganda kay Phil and James,” observes Yamamoto, “is that they never miss a training or gym session.”

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    More than drills and diets, though, it’s the mental game that has sustained the brothers all these years. Preparation is key. “If you’re playing against a new opponent, you don’t know what they’re like unless you study a video analysis of their games or have a scouting report of how they play,” says James. But as philosophers from Socrates to Sun Tzu have discovered, it’s not enough to know your enemy — one must also know thyself. “The more you play,” James stresses, “the more you know what your body needs and what it doesn’t need.

    For Phil, it’s a matter of being with good people. “You should always surround yourself with the right people that have similar goals and similar passions, so you’re always enjoying the path together."

    Good people supporting you, giving you confidence, letting you know how you played, being critical yet constructive.” He’s not just talking about friends, teammates, or even his brother. “If I have bad days,” he goes on, “I go home and I see Keri, our little sister, and [I] forget about those things.”

    Ever since they lost their mom last September 2011 — their father had already passed away when James was 17 and Phil was 16 — the brothers have become surrogate fathers to their younger sister. In fact, on the day of our shoot, they couldn’t take too long at the studio since they still had to attend their sister’s recital. They have become dad figures to another set of kids, too: the students at the Younghusband Football Academy. “We came [to the Philippines] with a mission,” states James. “We want to promote local football. We want to develop the local league. And we want to show young kids what they can aspire to be.”

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    The Academy is the centerpiece of that mission and is perhaps their biggest legacy to Philippine football ... not to mention themselves. “The enjoyment and smiles of these kids — it absolutely reminds [us of ourselves] when we were younger,” says Phil. His brother adds, “We’re learning that coaching is something we want to do when we’re no longer playing.”

    Intimations of mortality, maybe? After all, a career in sports is measured in single digits, not office-job decades (late-’90s national team star Freddy Gonzalez, who has come out of a five-year retirement to join the Sparks, would beg to disagree). Whatever the next few years throws at the Younghusbands, however, one thing will remain the same: their devotion to Philippine football, which has weathered trials, disappointments, showbiz, endorsements, and offers to play abroad.

    “The Philippines is our home,” Phil says simply. And football is their sport that has defined their bond and lives almost completely. “We’ve been playing together our whole lives,” James points out. “We know each other’s movements. We know where we’re each going to be on the field. He knows my strengths, he knows my weaknesses. That is what football has done for us.” It has made them truly brothers.


    In his book The Sibling Effect, Jeffrey Kluger has written extensively about the scientific research on the sibling bond. Here are some of the findings, and how they apply to the Younghusbands and to you.


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    How It Works for You: Cherish your sibling relationships. When you were younger, you were probably getting on each other’s nerves all the time (if not socking each other outright in the face). Now that you’re more mature, it’s time to nurture your brotherhood more, especially if you’re not living under the same roof anymore. Get together for a beer sometime, and laugh about the time you gave him a black eye. It’ll be more fun than you think.

    “THE LOSS OF A PARENT CAN DRAW KIDS CLOSER TOGETHER.” In the Younghusbands’ case, they’ve lost both parents by their twenties. They now work together to raise and provide for their younger sister Keri.

    How It Works for You: Not to sound morbid, but losing a parent may possibly be the worst thing you’ll ever feel. And when it happens, only your siblings will understand you best. Not even your girlfriend or wife will know the pain quite like your brother (or sister) will. When it happens, it’s your chance to get together and rekindle old bonds. Think and talk about happy childhood memories. Better yet, take a vacation to a place that best reminds you of your parents.

    “IF YOU’RE AN OLDER SIBLING AND [YOU] HAVE A YOUNGER SIBLING WHO NEEDS MENTORING, YOU DEVELOP NURTURING AND EMPHATIC SKILLS.” While James is the acknowledged hothead, he’s also a team captain and a midfielder — both support roles that allow Phil to live up to his fullest striker game.

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    How It Works for You: If you weren’t the “caring older brother” type, it’s not too late to try. By default, you’re a mentor figure to your younger sibs, even if you feel undeserving. There’s still a lot those fresh-faced upstarts can learn from you, especially in the career department. For starters, tell them to avoid making the same dumb mistakes you did.

    Staying Young(husband)


    Plan your workouts

    A static workout does no good. In the Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, training is adjusted according to how close they are to a game. “We have a plan for the buildup of training,” shares Phil. “Earlier workouts are more about fitness, but the closer you get to a game, it becomes more tactical.” Whether you’re preparing for a triathlon or just aiming to build up muscle mass, consult your trainers on how you can smartly adjust your regimen.

    Avoid 'fast' carbs

    “We can actually see how eating bad food is weakening our performance,” reveals Phil. Non-bad foods include a lot of protein and vegetables, and an avoidance of fast carbs, which rate high in the glycemic index. “When you eat those [kinds of] food with high sugars, [your energy] can go high very quickly, but it can then go lower than what your original energy level was.” Opting for food items that have a more consistent glucose “burn” makes more fitness sense than taking in highglycemic fare like white bread.

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    Balance your training and your rest

    In these fast-paced times, it’s important to parcel out your schedule for both work and relaxation. “Rest is just as important as training,” says Phil. As idle days are a rarity in their busy schedules, the brothers catch power naps after their two-hour morning workout before they tackle the rest of the day’s business. Doctors Alan Hobson and Robert Stickgold, and their other colleagues at Harvard University reported in a 2002 study that learning a motor skill can be enhanced by a midday nap.

    Rehydrate often

    Water breaks come often during training sessions. “You have 15 minutes doing an intense drill, and then you have a drink. You do another drill, and then you get another drink. It’s important to stay hydrated,” James emphasizes. A study by L.E. Armstrong, D.L. Costill, and W.J. Fink has revealed that a decrease of as little as 2.1 percent in body weight due to reduced body water could increase running times by as much as 2.62 minutes.


    While most of Loyola Meralco Spark FC’s five-day weekly training is focused on tactical drills, Saturdays are scheduled exclusively for fitness. During these Saturday “gym days,” Phil, James, and the rest of the Sparks undergo circuit training and any necessary physical therapy. Michael Yamamoto, their head conditioning coach, walks us through a workout to make a Younghusband out of you.

    “Since we’re talking about a football team, we need to keep in mind two things. The first is the core. [The players] need to keep their balance during a game. This means kahit anong angle yun, they can kick the ball. So working on the core is very important.”

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    “Squats are the most basic and easiest exercises we do with the team.”

    “Second, we focus on their legs. At this point in time, inside the UFL, we don’t give them 'yung strengthening talaga na pampalaki ng muscles. We maintain lang, kasi di na sila pwedeng mapagod nang grabe during the circuit."


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