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,
"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
"It's fun," succinctly
states Yuta Morimoto, a promising 11-year-old
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
For more information
about TIFA, call 0952-466733 (English)