Wed, 12 May 2021

SHANGHAI, April 19 (Xinhua) -- After China's national women's team made it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, winning 4-3 on aggregate following a 2-2 tie with South Korea, striker Tang Jiali was invited to speak on a video chat with teenage players from Jinshajiang Road Primary School in Shanghai.

"It is our tradition to give our students the chance to talk to their idols and be inspired by them. I feel that they have become more passionate in training after talking with their 'big sisters'," said school coach Qian Hui.

Qian, 52, is known as the godmother of women's football in China as she has trained 21 national team members so far. In addition to Tang, her teammates Zhang Xin and Fang Jie were also inspired by Qian to get interested in football in their childhood.

Retiring as a professional footballer in Henan Province in 1993, Qian started coaching football at Jinshajiang Road Primary School, where she set up the first football team for girls.

Qian only recruited eight girls at first. "Many parents were not willing to allow their children to learn football at that time, because they thought there was no prospect for professional football in China," she said.

Zhang Ying, another former national team player who was among Qian's early students, recalled the tough training environment. "We trained in a poor field surrounded by a cinder track with small stones on it," she said.

In Zhang's view, Qian not only acted as a strict coach, but also a beloved mother. "Coach Qian set high standards for us, but the foundation she laid for us benefited me during my whole career," she said. "On the other hand, she took very good care of all the young girls. We did not have dormitories for the team, so she took us to small hotels for baths and combed our hair."

An insightful coach, Qian cares about her students' futures after they graduate and does not want to lose any girl with footballing potential. Luckily, her husband Zhang Xiang, also a senior football coach, supported her career and volunteered to teach students at middle and high school stages.

However, finding a middle school willing to accept the football team became a problem facing the couple. The private Meilong Middle School offered admission to the girls, but the problem was not completely solved.

Many girls' families could not afford the high tuition fees of a private school and thus chose to quit the team. Qian knew that the girls truly loved football, as she was told they reviewed video recordings from their previous games at home.

Qian did not give up, contacting local authorities for education and finally persuaded the school to cut down tuition fees for the football team. She telephoned those families who were looking for a new school and reunited the team.

After enduring efforts for nearly three decades, the training base established by Qian and Zhang now extends to five schools in Shanghai's Putuo District. Nowadays, Qian and her coaching team have expanded their football activities to kindergartens.

What pleases Qian is that young parents have very different views from the older generation. "They cheer for their children when watching them play games, and regard football as one of the sports worthy of their children's participation," said Qian.

"This gave me a lot of confidence, making me believe our football career will have a brighter future," Qian added.

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