GUIYANG, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Wang Die is running hard on the football field with a sunflower hairpin pinned to her head. The dazzling sun has tanned her skin.
"We are the Green Pepper football team," said Wang, 14, with a big smile lighting up her face.
Green peppers are not only spicy but also sturdy, just as what we want to grow into, added Wang, a student from Shimen Minzu Middle School in the Yi, Hui and Miao Autonomous County of Weining, southwest China's Guizhou Province, a remote and rural place with an average altitude of over 2,000 meters.
Over 40 local students formed the football team and devoted themselves to football training during this summer vacation.
NEW CAMPUS, NEW COACHES
As part of a project to support youth football in Guizhou's ethnic minority areas, 24-year-old Zheng Ping, a youth trainer from Guizhou Hengfeng Football Club, was dispatched to Weining with a colleague last year.
Even before Zheng and his colleague arrived, football was popular among local children.
"I have been playing football for two years," said Wang. "I play as a striker because I want to give excellent performances."
But before the professional trainers arrived, Wang mostly ran aimlessly around the pitch and didn't know where to pass the ball.
"All I knew was to kick the ball away as soon as it came to me," she said.
Things soon started to look different.
"We offered the students training sessions including personal tactics, physical training, personal endurance, speed, and team cooperation," said Zheng.
The young footballers trained for an hour and a half in the morning and afternoon, and they read books or watched football training videos during night lessons.
"They taught us to play as professionals, which has given me a new understanding of football," said Wang. "After they came, we exercised, became stronger and healthier, and now we are stronger and more confident."
INSPIRATION FROM FOOTBALL
"Be more confident" became a catchphrase among the young players after the coaches arrived.
"I used to be very shy, but football has lifted my spirit," said Luo Tianyang, a 14-year-old boy.
The coaches were surprised by how the children kept their thoughts to themselves and spoke little at first.
Compared with kids in big cities, the children here in the mountain are more introverted, said Zheng. "The most important thing is to encourage them to be more outgoing and more confident."
"Show me your attitude and courage," the coach told the children, encouraging them to cultivate new habits and build stronger willpower.
The students were asked to participate in running training every morning and stick to their training long-term. "This can not only build our bodies, but also helps us strengthen perseverance," said 13-year-old Duan Tiankuan.
In addition to improving physical qualities and willpower, the coaches have also opened the door for the children to understand the world.
Luo had never heard of Cristiano Ronaldo until this summer's training. "I wish I could be a football star like him," Luo said.
"I learned about many big cities from the videos our coaches showed us. I want to travel around the world and see how big the world is in the future," he added.
RUNNING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Football is a sport that makes people happy, Zheng said. "All we want is for the kids to be happy."
The coaches had not expected much from the students in terms of football skills, as their campus had barely any adequate facilities for after-school activities just a few years ago.
"The school was nothing but shabby tile houses," said its headmaster Li Zhengdong.
In 2015, as part of the country's efforts to eliminate poverty, the school was renovated and equipped with not only new teaching buildings and laboratories but also artificial football pitches, basketball courts and badminton fields.
The school then set up seven hobby clubs, covering football, batik and calligraphy, enriching students' extracurricular lives.
Despite loose requirements from the coaches, the players themselves aim high. "We will play in our 'peppery' style and build a robust team," they said.
"I like the feeling of running, the feeling of scoring goals, and the feeling of sweating," said Wang. Enditem