July 9, 2010
The United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is sponsoring an exchange program that will bring youth soccer coaches from China to the United States for intensive training in coaching methodology and youth sports organization. The program, referred to as D.I.S.C.U.S.S. (Developing and Improving Synergies in Chinese and United States Soccer), will also include a second phase which will send American coaches and faculty to Shanghai, China, where they will work with their Chinese colleagues to conduct a series of clinics aimed at raising the level of youth coaching and soccer league organization. The program will create strategies for the design and implementation of effective sports programs that encourage leadership, team building, healthy lifestyles, and other life skills critical to the development of young people.
During the two weeks of their U.S. program, which officially begins on Monday, July 12th, twelve Chinese coaches will participate in a specially created on-field coaching course and classroom management component. The classroom component, which is offered through the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Sport Leadership focuses on best practices in program development, coaching, and youth mentoring through sports. The Richmond Strikers Soccer Club will offer their expertise to the on-field component, which prepares coaches for working with players ages 8 to 18 in developing technical and tactical skills. The Chinese delegation will have the opportunity to work with Richmond Strikers youth soccer teams, and they will be hosted in home stays with Richmond Striker families.
The U.S. and Chinese Women’s National Soccer Teams made history on July 10, 1999, when the two teams met in the final of the Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl, making it the most-attended women’s sporting event in history with an official attendance of 90,185.
However, women’s soccer in the U.S. and China have headed in two different directions in the ten years after that historic final match. U.S. Youth Soccer registers over 3,000,000 youth players between the ages of five and nineteen and has over 300,000 coaches nationwide. The participation of girls and women in soccer remains strong and is still growing in the U.S., with role models in the Women’s Professional League and on the U.S. National Team, who won Olympic Gold in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile, women’s soccer in China has remained stagnant in the years since 1999. The Chinese Women’s National Soccer Team has failed to reach the semi-finals of any major international women’s soccer tournament since 2003, and even though Shanghai is the largest city in China with more than 20 million people and the Shanghai Football Association (SFA) is one of biggest members of the Chinese Soccer Federation, SFA currently has only 1,764 registered youth soccer players under the age of 18, among which only 455 are girls. Factors contributing to this include a lack of funding for girls programs and the cultural stigma associated with recreational sports in China, as the focus is much stronger on education over sport participation.
Given this background, the DISCUSS project will provide a very rare but highly valuable opportunity for a delegation of Chinese youth women’s soccer coaches to gain first-hand experience on youth soccer development and the youth sports culture in the U.S. and learn from their U.S. counterparts through training and information sharing. This project will not only help youth soccer, especially youth women’s soccer, in Shanghai and China by improving Chinese youth soccer coaches’ coaching skills, but also potentially reshape Chinese culture about sports in the longer term by educating Chinese coaches and parents about the important educational values of soccer and sports.