Young girls in remote mountainous region strive to realize their soccer dreams
Amid huge efforts to promote the development of soccer in China, a group of ethnic minority girls from a remote township in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province are working hard to realize their dream of becoming professional players.
Among them is Yan Lin (pseudonym), a 16-year-old goalkeeper, who told the Global Times that soccer has vitalized her life and transformed her from an introvert person into a confident and happy girl.
“Whenever I watch soccer games, I feel boundless excitement,” said Yan.
Yan added that she often imitated the tricks of professional players she saw in competitions aired on TV, though most of the time she struggled to learn the tricks on her own.
Yan is one of 14 girls from the soccer team of Yangliujing Township Middle School in Yunnan, a place close to the border between China and Vietnam and featuring karst landscape, which makes it hard to find large enough flat land for a standard soccer field.
According to team coach Dou Kui, the school only has a ground with weeds and stones, and the girls did not see a real soccer field until they played in their first competition.
The team’s best achievement so far was winning a soccer competition held last year in the Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, which administers the township, after beating teams from all eight middle schools in the prefecture. But the coach and players said they are confident of doing better.
Despite the tough training environment, the enthusiasm and love for soccer is vividly displayed on the faces of the girls, who just finished a program in Beijing last week that included training by coaches from a leading British soccer club.
However, girls sharing the same level of excitement as Lu are rare, as most of them are often exhausted from doing household chores such as feeding pigs and cows, or just hiding their passion from their parents who are still not supportive of their choice.
Volunteers from International Plan, the NGO that organized the Beijing program, said that some parents in the township even banned their daughters from taking part in the sport as they thought it might jeopardize the girls’ chances of getting pregnant in the future.
Despite the strong desire and love for the game, Yan also has her concerns, as her family is not rich and she also needs to take care of her younger brother and sister, a common situation in the region where nearly 80 percent of the parents are working in cities to support the family.
The school’s teachers told the Global Times that most of the girls are from a family with around three children, and the elder one is actually taking the “parenting role” in the family while the parents labor in cities.
The soccer team is one of the several efforts from the local government and the International Plan to help local young girls break the stereotype of what they can do, and help them become more confident.
“For ethnic minority people in the region, they tend to get married at a very young age, and most of the teenage girls work in factories after finishing high schools,” said Lu Defang, a teacher from the Yangliujing school.
They should know there are more possibilities for their future, and their identity could go beyond just being a good wife and mother, said Lu.
With the mission, International Plan and local government have established a course in 26 schools in Guangnan county in Wenshan since 2014, to encourage local young girls to fight for diverse careers.
In the course, students are taught how to tackle the pressure from their peers, get prepared for working in cities and better manage their money.
Pressure from their peers, especially those who have earned enough money to support their families after quitting school, also drives away some children from class, said Lu.
Children in the middle school are also encouraged to get in contact with people and learn about different careers.
At a workshop in Beijing in midJuly, the 14 girls pictured their ideal careers, including dancer, artist, soccer player or coach, soldier, white collar worker, actor or actress, nurse, lawyer, accountant, and teacher.
The children are also learning to plan periodically for their future. “Five years later I will be studying in college. Ten years later I will be a professional soccer player and 15 years later, I could be a coach,” read a girl’s plan.