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Taiwan's kids embrace the "Beautiful Game"

-- By Douglas Habecker Translated by Vivian Yang

Some people call it soccer, while others call it football. However, a growing number of Taiwanese youngsters simply call it fun. Visit Taichung city's Chao Ma soccer fields any weekend morning and you'll see over 100 boys and girls of all ages scattered across the grass, kicking, dribbling and passing balls and scrimmaging in teams, under the watchful instruction of mostly-foreign coaches. On the sidelines, dozens of parents relax on the grass, chatting and watching.

Over the past two years, youth soccer club programs have started to explode across Taichung and Taiwan, as kids and parents alike have started to discover the sport. In Taichung, a pioneer and leader has been the Taichung International Football Academy (TIFA), led by Frenchman Laurent Beaudru and Canadian Chris Jones. Starting out small a couple years ago, their club--part of the Taichung Football Association--has grown to over 100 boys and girls (mostly Taiwanese but including Japanese and Western children) from 4 to 13 years old. These are organized into an under-7, under-9, under-11 and under-13 age groups and meet every Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. for training and games. Plans call for additional under-15 and under-17 categories soon.

"Personally, I think this explosion [of interest] came from Korea and Japan being in the World Cup. You could feel it in Taiwan," says Jones. "Taiwan is always striving to be part of the global community and soccer is a global game. However, in the end, it's just having good, safe fun for kids."

Beaudru notes that, while all public schools have soccer teams, those are exclusive to the schools. Many bilingual schools also lack programs and there is no school soccer on weekends. The clubs--open to all--allow experienced foreign coaches help kids improve, and have enjoyed the active involvement of "amazingly supportive" parents who stay to watch and cheer each week, he says.
"My son's an only child and this provides good exercise with other kids his age. He also gets to learn some English, too," says Mrs. Lin, whose 5-year-old just started a few weeks earlier.

"It's fun," succinctly states Yuta Morimoto, a promising 11-year-old Japanese player. More recently, TIFA has been joined by at least two other clubs, including the Taichung Soccer Academy, as the sport's popular steadily grows, with a city-wide youth league due to start next year. Beaudru is hopeful this new generation of players will lead Taiwan to greater things: "Of course, it takes some time, but I don't see why Taiwan can't reach the level of Japan, Korea and China."

For more information about TIFA, call 0952-466733 (English)

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