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Draughts opens new window on left-behind children' lives

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-07-16 16:06

TIANJIN - It was Wang Run's first time to board a bullet train as the boy from rural area was going to one of China's biggest metropolitan Tianjin to play draughts at the country's 13th National Games.

Seven months ago, Wang, 13, was only an ordinary pupil in the remote Yingshang County in East China's Anhui province. His parents are migrant workers who work in the city. Left behind at home with his grandparents, he has never traveled by plane or train.

"Draughts has changed the young man's life," says coach Shi Zhengbin, who brought four left-behind children, including Wang, to the Tianjin tournament.

Shi began to play draughts in 2007 when China's sport authority began to promote the sport. He ranked the sixth and eighth in the first two national intelligence competitions.

However, feeling "too old for the competition", Shi retired but always regrets never taking a national title. He decided to pin his dream on young players and began to promote the sport among students in his home province Anhui.

He gave up a well-paid job in the developed Guangdong province, south China, and moved to impoverished Yingshang County, where local education authority hopes to teach students to play draughts but has a shortage of coaches.

Yingshang is home to thousands of left-behind children. Local government hopes by playing draughts, these children feel less lonely and have more fun after school.

Shi began his coaching in Tianchi Primary School. There are 1,300 students in the school. He soon found that these left-behind students had few after-class activities while he was also impressed by their diligence and persistence.

"I give them training sessions at noon and in the evening. The sessions last for four and a half hours a day, but nobody will complain," he says.

"I see their passion and potential for draughts," Shi adds.

The training less than five months took effect. Four students of Shi entered the final round after the preliminaries of China's National Games in May.

"The result once again shows the great potential of these children. All they need is opportunities," Shi says.

To prepare the four young players for the national games, Shi decided to take them to some competitions across the country as warming up.

With the help of Yingshang government and the children's parents, Shi took more than 40 draughts players outside Anhui Province. Wang Run even snatched a national title in the U14 competition.

But Shi didn't expect too much in the Tianjin tournament. "My students are too young. I don't want to give them pressure. I just want to show them what the country's biggest games is like," he explains.

"Their opponents are much older and more experienced, so I didn't set impractical goals for them," Shi says. Instead he told his players that having two draws or one victory in all nine rounds would be satisfying enough.

But the four young players came out beyond Shi's expectation. Wang Run ranked 25th among 32 players in the tournament concluded on Saturday.

Their long-term goals are reaching the podium in the 14th National Games in 2021 in Xi'an City, Shi says.

Shi has set another goal of his own. Back to Yingshang, he is going to edit a textbook on draughts for local students. He will also train more players and coaches in other counties of Anhui Province.

Shi has never regretted abandoning his easy life in Guangdong. He is happy to see more young students playing draughts.

"Bringing the four left-behind children to the National Games is just the start of my grand plan," He says.

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