National campaign gives millions of Chinese preschoolers a taste of soccer

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/23 18:56:26

A boy during soccer training at Beijing Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten on September 18 Photo: Li Hao/GT

China's massive campaign to promote soccer in campuses has spread to kindergartens, with more than 3,000 being included in the first trial

The country is also borrowing on the experience of other countries such as the UK in teaching young children to play soccer 

Campus soccer is expected to bring hope to lifting the overall standard of Chinese soccer

Wang Dengfeng, director of the Ministry of Education's department of physical education and art education, delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of national campus soccer summer camp for primary school students in August. Photo: Courtesy of the MOE

In 5-year-old Zhang Qinyu's eyes, his teacher Yu Guangjie is the biggest soccer star.

Although only in kindergarten, Zhang has already been playing soccer for two years.

The Beijing Liuyi Kindergarten, located under Yuquan Mountain in Northwest Beijing, is one of the most reputable kindergartens in the capital, and takes pride in being part of a national campaign to revolutionize the country's soccer infrastructure.

The kindergarten decided to launch a soccer course in 2015 in response to a national campaign to develop campus soccer as part of the country's overall soccer reform.

Yu became a soccer teacher two years ago after graduating from a preschool education course in university. 

After four years of developing the course, all the children from the three grades at the kindergarten are able to take a 50-minute class every week and have some time to play soccer every day.

The kindergarten's pioneering attempt is backed up by official policy this year.

In March, China launched a nationwide trial run of football-focused kindergartens to practically promote campus soccer, with the Ministry of Education releasing a directive on the project.

In August, the ministry unveiled a list of pilot kindergartens under the project. A total of 3,570 schools have become soccer-focused kindergartens, according to the statement on the website of the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The Liuyi Kindergarten was also on the list.

A boy imitates Spiderman as he celebrates a goal during a soccer class in Beijing Liuyi Kindergarten. Photo: Li Hao/GT

"Soccer is a tool, a toy, for children to learn how to share and how to coordinate their bodies," Wang Dengfeng, director of the Ministry of Education's department of physical education and art education, told the Global Times on September 18.

The pilot program aims to cultivate interest in soccer in children through games and create an atmosphere favorable for soccer culture to grow, read a Xinhua News Agency report on kindergarten soccer.

The soccer-focused kindergarten project is a major part of a national campaign to promote campus soccer that started in 2015.

The country has named 24,126 primary and middle schools as specialist schools to spearhead youth soccer development, Wang, the MOE director, said in July, Xinhua reported. China aims to have 50,000 schools specializing in youth soccer by the end of 2025, said Wang, adding the ministry will take measures to realize the goal.

In the interview with the Global Times, Wang said that the campaign has already made some achievements and brought more hope to Chinese soccer.

Children play soccer in Beijing Liuyi Kindergarten. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Toughen up

The Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten in northern Beijing has already formed its soccer team, which consists of 16 boys in their last year of kindergarten. They practice together three days a week. The Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten soccer team has come top of northern Beijing's regional league for three years in a row.

In addition to those selected for the team, all the children in the kindergarten have a soccer class every week.

Unlike Liuyi, which followed official policy, Fuli kindergarten started the soccer program in 2015 because the headmaster wanted "boys to be boys."

"Nowadays many young boys are spoiled. They are more fragile than girls," a teacher from the Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten, surnamed Fan, told the Global Times. "They can become more manly through playing soccer."

On the day the Global Times visited, the boys were divided into three teams to play five-a-side games after practicing dribbling and shooting.

The coach, Pei Beituo, told the boys to pay attention to the position of their supporting leg when kicking the ball. Some boys paid attention, while several others at the end of the line were joking around.

Pei is a professional coach from nearby Jingbei soccer club. He has been teaching the children at Fuli kindergarten to play soccer for two years. He works at the kindergarten almost every weekday morning, and also gives classes at a primary school in the afternoons.

Pei, born in 1995, was named by his soccer-mad father after Bebeto, the legendary forward who helped Brazil win the World Cup in 1994. Pei has a background of youth training in Henan Jianye Soccer Club and majored in soccer at university.

"Every child can find their way playing soccer. The bigger kids could use their physical advantage, and the smaller ones are usually smarter on the field," he said.

In kindergarten, through playing soccer, children could build an awareness of how to share and obey rules. They do not need to pay much attention to skills, but can become familiar with soccer and love soccer, Wang said.

"They start from keeping the ball, and then passing to others, which is sharing," Wang said.

Playing soccer can also train children's coordination of feet, hands and eyes, Wang said.

Children play soccer in Beijing Liuyi Kindergarten on September 18. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Borrowing experience

At Beijing's Liuyi Kindergarten, Coach Yu teaches children to mimic animals while playing soccer. For instance, he tells them to walk like penguins when dribbling the ball between the insides of the feet and zigzag like a snake when using the outside of feet to keep the ball.

This method makes it easy for children to remember frequently used soccer actions.

According to Yu, the method was invented by a UK part-time soccer coach living in Beijing.

Promoting kindergarten soccer education requires experience from countries that have a mature youth training system.

To better cultivate soccer teachers for preschool children, in July 2019 the National Youth Campus Football Office under the MOE's administration hosted the first national training trials for these teachers. 

Lecturers from UK's Football Association (FA) held a one-day course for 400 kindergarten headmasters and teachers. The training will later be promoted around the country, Xinhua reported.

The core of the training aims to tell teachers how to creatively activate children's interests using soccer as a tool, Wang said. 

"The FA has had systematic youth training for many years, including for 3 to 6-year-olds," he said, "They could help our kindergartens get on the right track of soccer education."

Kindergarten soccer coaches do not have to be former soccer players, Wang noted. "An average teacher could lead children to play soccer after one day of training," he said.

"But of course with further training, their skills and abilities in teaching and organizing could be improved," he said.

The soccer team of Beijing Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten pose in front of the gate. 633 Children make crafts featuring soccer in Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Wider application

Out of the first 3,570 kindergartens on the trial list, 126 are in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and 17 are in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, according to the MOE statement.

Wang also implied that there would also be support for kindergartens in the less developed regions of China.

"We will not set a cap for the number of soccer kindergartens. For the first list, we encourage those that are capable," Wang said, "We hope there will be more and more in the future."

Children make crafts featuring soccer in Fuli Taoyuan Kindergarten. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The Chinese government in 2015 published a plan on the institutional reform of the Chinese Football Association (CFA). "The reform experience in soccer will be promoted to other sports administrations in China," Wang said.

As a result, the experience of campus soccer could also be promoted to other sports, he noted. "The next step is to have more sports on campus, such as basketball or winter games. That way, every student can master a kind of sport and enjoy it."

The MOE senior official also noted that they have noticed problems while researching and promoting soccer in kindergartens.

"The most significant one is athleticism," Wang said, "Actions such as kicking the ball hard or fighting for the ball intensely are not appropriate for children of a very young age. It will also harm their bone growth."

Wang also urged adults to make sure preschool children have more activity while playing soccer. "Let the child control the ball under his feet."

"It is just a game."

Even though kindergarten soccer is for beginners, the campus soccer project is expected to raise the Chinese soccer game in the long run.

Chinese soccer is in such a "passive situation" as it lacks a pool of talents, Wang said. With the campus soccer campaign, the country could build a soccer population of 25 million, of whom millions could become reserve soccer talents.

The system brings hope to Chinese soccer, he said.

Newspaper headline: Early kickoff


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