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Korean Football Invests in the Future
Organization encourages elementary school children to participate in the beautiful game
Jeon Ji-eun (jjeon)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-25 14:30 (KST)   
Chan-jung, aged 7, practises his dribbling skills at a Seoul school, last weekend.
©2006 Jieun Jeon
Eight year old Chan-kyu was busy on the pitch concentrating on the movement of his soccer ball as I watched nearby, interviewing his father. His brother, Chan-jung, age seven, was on the other side, tackling his teammate.

"They played computer games all day long before joining the team, but now, they've reduced it to half that time and they spend the other half practising to dribble like Lee Young-pyo," said the boys' father, Kim Yong-ku.

With 20 other teammates, the boys are currently playing with the HyeHwa Eagles Football Team, one of the 500 teams in the MBC Youth Football Foundation, an organization that focuses on coaching elementary school kids.

Kim Chang-hwan, a member of the business public information team for the MBC Youth Football Foundation, expressed his concern for the lack of interest in Korean Youth Football compared to professional football. He said:

"The spotlight has always been on professional football; it needs to change and focus more on to youth football."

The MBC Youth Football Foundation, inspired by Korea reaching the semifinals for the first time in history during the 2002 World Cup, was created in July 2002 and began its first season in May 2003. It has received donations from across Korea, particularly from major Korean broadcaster MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation).

As there are many football programs provided for teenagers by the K-league, the MBC Youth Football Foundation is aimed at improving the basic skills of younger players.

"Splendid" was the answer of the boys' father when asked what he thought of the program. "They enjoy it so much that I don't need to worry about what they're doing. All they need is a ball."

In the past, youth players had to apply to a Korean Football Association team in order to play, and they had to pay an application fee of (US$100) 100,000 Korean won. In comparison, the MBC Youth Football Foundation encourages participation by allowing anybody to apply online for only ($30) 30,000 won. Parents like Kim Yong-ku appreciate this.

When at least 13 members and one instructor have been assigned to a team, it is then eligible to play against other teams. The teams use the Internet to make arrangements to play. However, Kim said that only 100 to 150 out of 500 teams are playing because the remaining do not yet have the minimum number of 13 players.

Despite this I was impressed by how much it has spread throughout the nation; there are teams in Jeju Island, in the far south, as well as in Gangwon province near the border with North Korea.

To encourage enthusiasm among the young players, the Foundation has prepared opportunities to travel to Germany and Brazil. The teams' scores are recorded on the Foundation's homepage. The top 32 teams will then compete in a final and players from the final 4 teams will be selected to receive this award.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them where they will have the chance to meet new people, make lasting friendships and gain experience playing in different leagues away from home," Kim said. The best news is that all costs are covered by the Foundation.

Chan-kyu and Chan-jung's father also added that "the program is very organized and focuses on improving the groundwork and basic skills of the children."

Replace Those Computer Games With Soccer Balls

Kim advised the young "Kkum Na-Mu" (a Korean name for the young players), to swap their computer games for soccer balls because this can improve their creativity and help them to play better.

He added that youth football hasn't improved much over the years so it is necessary to encourage the "Kkum Na-Mu" to make the most of the opportunities now provided.

Kim acknowledged that it is hard to compare European and Korean football because the two have very different cultures. He said:

"They have a long history with football and if we desire to play in that level, we need to develop a system that overcomes that history."

Kim is optimistic about the future of Korean football. He said that we shouldn't lack confidence. The tuition of instructors in Europe doesn't differ that much from that of instructors in Korea. It's simply the level of skill that needs to improve.

With the number of regional teams applying to the Foundation increasing daily, Kim is hoping to see their efforts produce good results in the future.

"If we're lucky, at least one player from our first season's league might play for the national team in the next World Cup."

The HyeHwa Eagles warm up by running around the field
©2006 Jieun Jeon
Jeon Ji-eun is an intern at OhmyNews International and will be a sophomore at the Missouri School of Journalism in the fall.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jeon Ji-eun

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