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The 12-year trap that upsets many soccer goals

China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-10 08:16

Youngsters show off their skills at the CFA junior training center in Hainan province. New CFA President Song Kai says the governing body will focus on investing in youth development as it looks to revive soccer at all levels in China. LI TIANPING/FOR CHINA DAILY

A soccer commentator in Beijing said of an ongoing annual youth soccer tournament of the city that "Many 10- and 11-year-old children play well, but when they reach 12, more than half of them would have to choose to 'retire' under mounting pressure urging them to focus on study." He told the media that "If the situation continues, the youth training of Chinese soccer will remain difficult, as it is almost a mission impossible to reinvigorate the sport without the participation of young players."

The number of children playing soccer in primary school has increased significantly in recent years, but it stops abruptly once the children turn 12 after they go to middle school.

As early as 2018, organizers of the aforementioned tournament had published data showing 229 teams of players aged 9 and below participated in the event, while there were only 70 teams of players aged from 10 to 15 taking part in the event.

A main reason for this gap, which is even larger today, is because children find it hard to balance studies with soccer. They, and especially their parents, think it makes more sense to focus on studies when they are 12.

In recent years, the Chinese Football Association has taken some measures to improve the youth training environment of the country, including introducing competitions for those aged 10 to 15 in big cities.

However, even if the youth training environment improves, it is far from enough to change people's mindset on the matter. As a coach said, few parents are certain that their children's future in soccer is secure. That's why many talented players bid farewell to the pitch long before their talents are shown.

The dilemma Chinese soccer faces in its youth training is an epitome of the problems the Chinese youth face with the overall development environment.


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