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UPDATED: December 12, 2014 Web Exclusive
Underdogs Score Big
One underdeveloped county turns playing football into a lifestyle
Edited by Li Fangfang

PRACTICE: Jin Qiaoqiao (first left), a member of Zhidan Junior Football Team's girls club, practices football with her friends in Zhidan County on April 13 (XU RUI)

Challenges ahead

Several problems stand in the way of nurturing football in Zhidan, such as a lack of professional coaches and parental support, as well as outdated infrastructure facilities and limited funding.

The association has had to "borrow" local school's field for practice. Players even trained on mud before 2007.

But for Ding, the fact that parents are unable or unwilling to fulfill their child's football dream, makes  him frustrated most. Some parents even suspect that Ding is taking advantage of their kids to make money.

"We have never asked students to pay for anything over the past decade. All our funding has come from sponsorships," Ding explained.

Ding tries to persuade parents to support their kids. Some of the parents tell him their children must look after their grandfather or younger siblings, and some say they should focus on their studies.

"Some parents don't support their kids because they think they can't make a living playing football," Ding said.

TALENTED FOOTBALLER: Wang Maomao (first right), 11, and her siblings (DENG XIAOWEI)

Wang Maomao, 11, is a rising talent among female footballers. She should have received professional training in Evergrande Football School in Guangzhou, 2,000 km away from Zhidan, which is a professional football school for young players.

But her parents could not afford the tuition fee. "It's a good opportunity, but I can't even tell her father that the tuition fee is 30,000 yuan ($4,830) a year," said Wang Yan, the girl's mother. The family of eight struggles to live on the father's earnings as a driver.

Jin Haigui, 14, is regarded as a naturally gifted player. His parents are both farmers with little education. They just hope that Jin can study well.

Jin lost the opportunity to be coached by the Shaanxi provincial team in 2012 because his parents thought playing football is a waste of time.

In Ding's opinion, promoting school football aims at not only nurturing potential talents which is of low probability but also increasing the population quality of the youth.

Moreover, playing football has become a trend and an opportunity for these kids to understand teamwork and see the outside world.

"I believe that football will inspire a new generation in Zhidan, one that is physically and mentally strong. These are the best results we can hope for from promoting football," Ding said.

(Source: Southern People Weekly, Huashang Daily)

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