Like so many families around the world, we spend most weekends on the sidelines of the soccer pitch, cheering on our child. This is such a normal activity that most parents don’t agonize over the decision for their children to participate. For us, though, participating in league sports while living out in Changping has been a challenge.
Two years ago during our first summer in Beijing, I chanced upon a copy of beijingkids that had a promotion for Sports Beijing’s fall registration.
Up until then, I was unaware of the existence of these kinds of programs in Beijing as they were scarce in our previous home in Shenzhen. Because of that, my son Myles, had always expressed hope to play soccer or baseball when “we moved back to America.” The problem, though, was that we did not (and still do not) know when that might happen.
One of our concerns with raising our children in China has been the lack of extracurricular activities that we believe are beneficial – for it’s those activities that teach our children teamwork, commitment and discipline. While I had discovered that there were indeed activities available in Beijing, there were none near our home. Ironically, my husband and I had to ask ourselves how much we valued these important lessons about discipline and hard work when they weren’t terribly convenient.
Before we committed to soccer in the Eastern suburbs, I wanted to confirm with some of our friends in Changping that there really wasn’t any possibility to participate in extracurricular sports, particularly soccer, closer to home. With the exception of the NGOs coaching at the migrant schools, there was nothing. What was available, though, were ample opportunities to learn ping pong.
All around Changping are gyms that offer professional ping pong coaching. In the afternoons we often see children engaged in group or one-on-one lessons. I’m certainly not one to dismiss ping pong as an athletic activity – just watching the kids do countless frog-jumps during their warm-ups makes my thigh muscles hurt. The abundant public tables all over town certainly provide plenty of places to play near our apartment. In the absence of public soccer pitches, or a grassy space that isn’t treated as sacred, ping pong would be a wise choice.
However, Myles hadn’t spent years watching his older cousins suit up for ping pong matches, dreaming of the day he would also get his turn. While it would have been possible to sell him on ping pong, his heart was set on soccer. So soccer it was.
The very first morning, any reservations we had about the drive not being worth the experience for Myles evaporated. Even after an hour in the car, he excitedly donned his first new uniform and hit the pitch bursting with enthusiasm.
Now two years later, we are all so incredibly appreciative that an organization like Sports Beijing exists. As a parent, I am grateful my son has had the opportunity to learn from such dedicated coaches and play with some great kids. I can’t believe I would have let something as insignificant as an hour-long drive deprive my son (and next year my daughter) this chance.
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing. Her blog can be found at http://jenambrose.blogspot.com.