by Wong Lok-yee, Liu Xin
BEIJING, June 20 (Xinhua) -- While footballers from 32 countries show off their skills at the World Cup in Brazil, a group of children have also been practicing their footwork in a park about 20,000 km away in Beijing.
They are too young to know the legendary Messi or Ronaldo, and school kids in China are generally too busy to watch the World Cup. But in a sign of China's appetite for the beautiful game, that does not stop them from enjoying an hour of football training per week, which costs their parents 100 yuan per class.
China Club Football has hired 12 foreign coaches who are qualified by the Football Association or the Union of European Football Associations to train 4,500 children in Beijing's Chaoyang Park.
"Chinese footballers are very eager to learn," says Andy Scott, a coach in the program. "Whether they're in the professional league or in a school team, they want to learn about more advanced football theories."
"I love to share my experience with them," adds the Englishman, who chose China over South Africa when he decided to teach abroad.
Two hundred children, ranging from 8 to 15 years old, go to the park every weekend, when football classes are arranged according to their ability.
Ma Tianlang, an 8-year-old boy who has been in the program for two years, is like most schoolchildren in China in that he participates in many extra-curricular activities but has little time for sports.
"The concepts of teamwork and determination are too complex for children to understand," Ma's father says. "I just want him to stretch his legs and stay healthy."
He adds that it is up to his son's interest and ability whether he will become a professional player one day.
Ma stayed on the pitch dribbling a football after his class had ended. His father says he seems to be more attracted to football than English, painting, and piano, the other things that he learns during weekends.
Although most children in the club do not speak English, communication is not a problem as each coach is accompanied by a Chinese assistant and many coaches speak "football Chinese."
Scott can often be heard shouting "Great kick! Pass the ball!" in Mandarin.
Apart from the routine training, the club co-organizes matches with the Beijing Football Association, so that children can improve and compete with their peers, he explains.
Coaches at the club are experienced members of the football arena. Scott used to work at West Ham United doing development work, while his colleague Alex Arnold trained professionally at Liverpool, but missed the chance of appearing for the historic club because of his knee injury.
Arnold has forgotten his disappointment at not playing in the English Premier League, and now finds excitement and satisfaction in teaching children football in China.
"I love to see their smiling faces on the field," he says.
China's football development lags behind the world, and it is time to correct that, according to the foreign coaches.
According to Arnold, Chinese kids are generally introduced to football too late to have much chance of high-level success. "In England, children play football practically before they can even walk," he notes. "But here in China, they seldom touch a ball before the age of four."
China is not short of football training schools. However, Arnold believes they need to be standardized and improved as quality coaching is vital for young players, who internalize moves and maneuvers at a very young age.
China Club Football has developed a seven-step program to progress the kids through various levels. "They qualify to join the higher level after being evaluated by the coaches," Scott says.
Many football schools, training sessions and camps are offered across China. But the coaches are generally far from professional.
China has about 10,000 certified football coaches while England has over 35,000. Meanwhile, China has fewer than 7,000 registered teenage football players, equivalent to 1.4 percent of those in neighboring Japan.
Beijing recently issued a new policy to include ballgames in the middle school curriculum from 2016, when students will be examined on football, basketball or volleyball.
The policy is expected to push students to spend more time on outdoor sports. But it is still hard to judge whether it will bring them more love of football.