WANG Hong is in a dilemma: whether to allow her son to join a football academy, or send him to middle school? Wang’s son has practiced football for three years and will finish primary school this summer in Qingdao, eastern China’s Shandong Province.
Wang says her worries center around what options her son will have if he does not make it in the world of professional football. “My son is fond of football and plays well, and a football club has invited him to join their U-13 team. But if he were not cut out to be a professional player, what would he do for a living in the future?”
Most Chinese football clubs and academies don’t or rarely offer general knowledge courses for young trainees. If they can’t get into professional teams before reaching adult age, getting a job could be a big problem for them.
Only about 30 percent of trainees end up becoming professional footballers, and Cai Jun, head coach of the youth teams for Qingdao Jonoon Football Club, says it’s a major gamble. “It is like betting on your children giving up study to practice football.”
China kicked off a soccer reform plan in 2015 to popularize the sport across the country in an effort to meet the demands of the public and upgrade the playing level of the national teams.
In the plan, the development of campus football is seen as a powerful driving force to enlarge the football-playing population and produce excellent young football professionals.
China will have 20,000 schools characterized by football at the end of this year and will add 30,000 more by 2025, according to a newly released report by the Ministry of Education.
“Football development in primary schools has been pretty good in the past two years. But facing pressure of high school and college entrance examinations, many parents have doubts about continuing training,” says Qi Xiaoxuan, head of the campus football division at Qingdao Jonoon.
Qu Kefu, president of Qingdao Finance School, says that if junior footballers have to undergo training along with studying, it will be very difficult for them to pass high school entrance examinations, let alone college, as they have to spend several months out of school every year in training and games.
Jonoon and other schools are trying to solve this problem. After the young trainees graduated from primary schools, the club gathered them in two middle schools.
The trainees study in schools, and club coaches organize training there. “Regular students in our school have two hours to take music, sports and painting courses from Monday through Friday, so young players can have training in this period and won’t be absent from core lessons,” says Zhang Wei, president of Qingdao Cangkou School, one of the partner schools of Jonoon.
When training and games take them out of school, they still complete lessons through homework assigned by teachers, Zhang says.
Qingdao Cangkou School reorganizes classes according to students’ scores every month, and teachers will slow down teaching progress for the classes with lower marks. In this way, when trainees fall behind, they still have chances to bounce back.
But what happens if students are still unable to pass the high school entrance examination? Qingdao Finances School, another partner of Jonoon, set up a special major called Sports Facility Management, specifically for such trainees.
“If young trainees can’t get into a professional team or college after graduation, they can get a job in sports clubs, stadiums and sports enterprises, as they will have learned related major courses and have developed special knowledge in the field of football,” says Qu.
“We also have courses for football coaches and referees, and this will help trainees find work as well,” Qu says. “But parents still have prejudice about vocational schools, and they don’t like to send children there.”
Given the administrative pressures of enrollment rates, only a few schools have willing to cooperate with the club. Huang Jian, spokesperson for Jonoon, says that is why a long-lasting solution is still needed.