Camp encourages soccer dreams

Updated: 2016-02-29 08:08

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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School holidays provide opportunity to build skills, teamwork and confidence

More than 100 children enthusiastically chasing soccer balls earlier this month in Beijing highlighted a fun and healthy way to spend school holidays - signing up for winter soccer camps that unleashed their vigorous energy on the pitch.

The winter soccer camp at Zhongke Sunshine Sports City, organized by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education and the Beijing Sports Bureau, was the first of its kind to provide selected students advanced soccer training as well as science, art and English lessons.

Children lived and played together at the camp for 10 days, from Jan 25 to Feb 3.

A high-profile coaching crew, including former national women's team head coach Ma Yuan'an and former Chinese top-flight league club manager Pei Encai, provided theoretical and practical training during practice games for students, who were divided into six squads by age and gender.

Nine trainers from Spain, Germany and the United States, headed by Spaniard Rafael Gil Sanchez, a former assistant coach with La Liga club Malaga, were hired by Beijing-based Ray Sports, which operated the program, to provide foreign expertise in youth soccer and supplement the Chinese system.

As China aims to develop into a world soccer power, highlighted in a national plan issued last year, such camps work well to promote the game at the entry level, said Wang Jun, director of the commission's physical education, health and art department.

"Through the camp, we can expose children to an advanced soccer training atmosphere that they'd never experience in ordinary PE classes on campus. Meanwhile, it's a positive way to spend their holidays physically and mentally," Wang said.

Inspired by President Xi Jinping's fervent wish to see China qualify, host and eventually win the prestigious FIFA World Cup, the Chinese government issued a blueprint plan last March to boost the game's development at all levels. Mandatory soccer training in PE courses at 50,000 selected schools by 2025 was identified as a key step to achieving the goal.

According to Wang, 200 Beijing schools will offer soccer classes on a weekly basis, while camps will continue to be organized in the city and abroad during summer vacations.

Despite the short length of the course, improvements in individual skills, teamwork and self-care, as well as social abilities, were obvious in the children. Leng Ruixi, a 9-year-old from an elementary school affiliated to Communication University of China, arrived at the camp as a shy boy, who barely talked, but left as a confident and active player in his age group. "My favorite player is Lionel Messi and I want to become a player like him," Leng said.

With soccer's popularity increasing in schools, the participation of female students impressed camp trainer Wang Liping, who formerly played on the national women's team and was a key member of the World Cup runner-up squad in 1999.

"It's really a surprise to see so many girls interested in the game nowadays as they usually signed up for art courses like piano and painting in the past," Wang said.

Gong Shenyi, one of the dozens of avid girls enrolled in the camp, said she feels more comfortable at the camp than at school.

"I am probably the only girl playing soccer in my school, but here I found so many like-minded girls. We became friends and encouraged each other to continue," said the fifth-grader from Beijing Yonghegong Primary School.

As the camp concluded with exhibition games between students and invited amateur teams, the sounds of progress delighted the foreign coaches.

"You can see their improvement every day in their attitude, individual skills and teamwork awareness. I am more than satisfied to see our hard work pay off," Sanchez said.

 Camp encourages soccer dreams

Participants at the winter soccer camp play a match at Zhongke Sunshine Sports City. Photos provided to China Daily

 Camp encourages soccer dreams

A boy hones his soccer skills at the winter camp.