Sum­mer sports camps are ideal for stressed Shang­hai stu­dents

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Annabel Ea­ton

In most West­ern so­ci­eties, sum­mer school is a kind of pun­ish­ment for naughty stu­dents who failed to make the grade dur­ing the school year. Well-be­haved Cau­casian kids are re­warded with sum­mer camp in the woods, while the dumb ones are stuck in a cam­pus bun­ga­low re­peat­ing their lessons. The 1987 com­edy movie Sum­mer School per­fectly sums up the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Mean­while in China, where West­ern-style sum­mer camps do not ex­ist due to the ab­sence of camp­ing cul­ture, sum­mer school is a fact of life for most Chi­nese chil­dren start­ing at kinder­garten. Pri­vate train­ing cen­ters and some lo­cal pub­lic schools hold back-to-back classes de­signed to keep kids pre­oc­cu­pied be­tween July and Septem­ber. Their par­ents, busy with work and de­sir­ing an aca­dem­i­cally com­pet­i­tive edge for their child, pay the fees.

As a for­eign ex­pat in Shang­hai, I sym­pa­thize with all the Chi­nese kids I see be­ing dragged to all-day lan­guage cen­ters in the mid­dle of sum­mer. I’ve of­ten been re­cruited to teach English at these so-called “sum­mer camps.” I used to think it meant go­ing camp­ing in a tent in Mo­gan­shan with a bunch of kids, which would be fun; now I know bet­ter – it means be­ing stuck in a hot class­room for two months!

Their West­ern coun­ter­parts, at this ex­act same mo­ment, are ei­ther out swim­ming at the neigh­bor­hood pool with their friends or camp­ing with their fam­ily in the woods. No won­der a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese stu­dents are ap­ply­ing to over­seas schools: they prob­a­bly do it just for the sum­mer va­ca­tions!

But this is chang­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Jiefang Daily, sports train­ing classes are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar among ur­ban Chi­nese par­ents, who are re­al­iz­ing that their chil­dren need some fun un­der the sun af­ter a year of in­tense stud­ies.

The ar­ti­cle said that ten­nis, swim­ming and soc­cer are among the most pop­u­lar classes, as they en­hance not only chil­dren’s phys­i­cal abil­i­ties but also their con­fi­dence­build­ing and team­work ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In this era of spoiled, soft “lit­tle em­per­ors,” that’s what they need.

The Global Times re­ported that China now has the largest over­weight pop­u­la­tion in the world – home to around 43 mil­lion obese men and 46 mil­lion obese women, ac­count­ing for 16 per­cent and 12 per­cent of obese men and women in the world – bump­ing the US to sec­ond, ac­cord­ing to Lancet Med­i­cal Jour­nal.

For chil­dren and teens, the num­bers are higher: the World Food Pro­gram noted that 23 per­cent of all Chi­nese boys and 14 per­cent of all Chi­nese girls un­der 20 are over­weight or obese, the Guardian re­ported in Jan­uary, 2017.

The rea­son for this, most peo­ple would agree, is that the av­er­age Chi­nese child to­day is sit­ting on their butt all day study­ing; any leisure time they might have is spent play­ing com­puter games. This self-iso­la­tion is ex­actly why so many Chi­nese youth are quite bad at team­work or get­ting along with oth­ers. Com­pet­i­tive team sports like soc­cer are the per­fect rem­edy for this prob­lem.

In 2015, China’s cen­tral re­form group, chaired by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, ap­proved a plan to boost the level of foot­ball through­out the coun­try. The mea­sures in­cluded es­tab­lish­ing 50,000 foot­ball schools within 10 years and mak­ing the game a com­pul­sory course at school, ac­cord­ing to the Global Times. District youth cen­ters, af­ter­school sports leagues and sum­mer camps are also em­pha­siz­ing soc­cer.

But sports camps are not cheap. One elite in­ter­na­tional “ac­tiv­i­ties club” for chil­dren aged 3-12 with branches all over Shang­hai charges 3,500 yuan ($522) per week for full-day camps. Many lo­cal fam­i­lies sim­ply can­not af­ford 28,000 yuan for an en­tire sum­mer.

Nor is drop­ping that kind of cash on a sports camp nec­es­sary. Just take a look around – Shang­hai is one big sports camp! There are empty, un­used sta­di­ums and sports are­nas in prac­ti­cally ev­ery district, where par­ents could po­ten­tially or­ga­nize and coach their own neigh­bor­hood soc­cer teams. And with the grow­ing num­ber of run­ning paths the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has been build­ing, such as the new 45-kilo­me­ter Huangpu river­front pub­lic space, there’s no ex­cuse not to stay in shape.

Chi­nese par­ents and stu­dents might be com­pet­i­tive when it comes to aca­demics, but what bet­ter out­let for all that men­tal stress than some good-old-fash­ioned com­pet­i­tive sports over the sum­mer?

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Chen Xia/GT

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