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Japanese brothers’ dream of football training in China
By:Fan Yicheng, Wu Qiong  |  From:english.eastday.com  |  2020-09-10 12:34

Hailing from Kanagawa, Japan, Yasuhiro Chiba and his elder brother Masatomo Chiba set up SPORVA, a football training company, in Shanghai in 2009. This year, despite their business operation having been suspended for half a year until June due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Yasuhiro Chiba is still confident in the future. While committed to making contributions to China’s football environment, he hopes that the number of his students can increase from 2,000 to 20,000.

The football dream never ends

Yasuhiro Chiba came to Shanghai from Kanagawa in 1994, because of his father’s work. At that time, as he recalled, the Yan’an Road Viaduct hadn’t been finished yet. Since then, big changes have taken place in the city, which he sees as his second home.

In 2003, Yasuhiro’s elder brother Masatomo joined a third-tier football club in Shanghai. After retirement, Masatomo decided to start a football training career. Yasuhiro, who is three years younger, also used to be a professional football player. In 2008, he quit his job as a white-collar worker and returned to Shanghai to help Masatomo.

While recalling his past work experience, Yasuhiro said, “I worked very hard, and the salary and benefits were very good. But it was not the life I wanted. Then I started to think about what I really wanted to do.” At last, influenced by his brother, Yasuhiro decided to pick up his football career.

“Football is very popular in Japan. When I was young, my brother and I were studying in the kindergarten in front of our home. There was a football class. That was our first contact with the sport,” said Yasuhiro. “The football playing atmosphere in Japan is more developed. Even though you’re not going to be a professional player, you can still get professional training. At that time, people grew up in the same ‘bowl’. You could choose your career as a professional or not. It is up to each one’s own decision.”

A focus on the importance of values

In the beginning, SPORVA only recruited Japanese kids in Shanghai until 2009. It wasn’t easy for expats to start a football training career in China. In the initial years, the company was at a loss. Luckily in 2010, they received a capital injection from Japan. In 2012, the company finally became profitable.

In 2015, China issued a program for its football reform and development. Since then, youth football training represented by school football has sprung up, leading to a big blow to the Chiba brothers’ football company, with many of their coaches leaving for higher salaries. Despite that, they took the chance to redefine the company’s philosophy.

The classes SPORVA are now offering are divided into three types: “enjoy” class, “skill up” class and “select” class. It has over 2,000 students and 18 coaches, including three Japanese coaches. That is an obvious increase from 2015, when the student number was 900.

According to Yasuhiro Chiba, they were young when setting up the company, so they did not consider much. It wasn’t until 2015 when they met fierce market competition and were forced to consider seriously the company’s viability and future direction. Later, after redefining their philosophy and value, they saw stable development and an increase of student numbers.

Yasuhiro wants to level up all the values of sport. It is not just about improving young people’s football technique, but also improving people’s impression of the industry and of all those working in the industry. As he said, besides teaching children football, they also want to create a better environment and culture for the society. While honing children’s skills, they are also doing character building. That is the biggest difference between SPORVA and other football training institutions.

Coaching is laborious. While mastering football skills, coaches also need to know how to teach children. Yasuhiro said, “Sometimes you tell them the answer directly, while sometimes you need to be patient to give them reminders and guidance.”

“Football does not choose its players, but people can choose football or other sports. If children want to play football, we dedicate ourselves to training them, no matter at what level they play. Whenever they make a little change, we encourage and praise them, so that children like football more. Whatever they will be in the future, as long as they find what they love in their childhood, that will be a great help for their development.”

Recovery from the epidemic

The outbreak of COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020 has had a big impact on Yasuhiro’s life and work. When the epidemic had just broken out, the situation was not serious in Japan, so he came back to China alone. But later, there were cases in Japan. He and his family have been separated for about eight months. “I felt lonely. But I can keep in touch with my wife and kid via WeChat. Now with the opening of visa applications, I believe we will reunite soon.”

Regarding his work, Yasuhiro said the training class had been suspended since mid-January until mid-June. It had recovered to 30-40% and now it has reached 80-90%. However, there are still some difficulties, with the biggest being the training site.

Previously, most of the training classes were carried out in primary and middle schools across Shanghai, but were suspended due to the epidemic outbreak and rigid school management. “Now we train in a commercial football stadium. As there are so many football training organizations, we cannot always choose a perfect time slot to use the field. We still have difficulties in finding a stable training location. But as the epidemic eases, more venues will be open,” said Yasuhiro.

It has been 26 years since Yasuhiro first came to Shanghai, a city with vitality in his eyes. As he said, “My life is here in Shanghai and my family is also here. The life here is convenient though full of challenges. I have made many friends in China, who give me strength. While catching up with my dream here, I have also witnessed the development of Shanghai.”

Yasuhiro has a dream. He hopes his student number can rise to 20,000 or 50,000 someday and that he can continue his commitment to China’s football environment by expanding the company’s influence from Shanghai to all over the country.

Story/Fan Yicheng

Translation/Wu Qiong

Video Editor/Jiang Meiqing