Cool sports for kids imply new business opportunities

September 1 marked the official beginning of the autumn semester in China. As the summer vacation came to an end, parents felt much relieved that their kids, or "shenshou" (literally meaning "mythical beasts," the kids' collective nickname popular among Chinese parents), were handed over to the teachers. Parents eventually got the chance to review the summer happenings.

“I mostly took my daughter to the climbing gym, and to my delight, I saw her having the biggest zest in this,” said Wang Jiapei, adding they visited the gym three times a week during the summer vacation, without even a single leave.

As the traditionally less-known sports came into the sight of the public, juveniles have been increasingly visible in the new fields of cool sports: climbing, skateboarding, ice hockey and others.

Insiders said the booming sports businesses in the just-concluded summer are attributed to the suspended Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as well as the new guidelines issued in July to ease burden on young students in China. Lesser sports may imply new businesses opportunities.

Chinese skateboarder Zeng Wenhui trains on July 22 for the Olympics in Tokyo. (Xinhua photo) 

Teenagers fall into fan circle of cool sports

Fifth grader Junran has been in love of climbing for over four years, and to ready herself for the climbing sessions in the evening, Junran tried all possible means to finish her homework in advance.

“At first, I signed up for climbing in the stead of Junran to make her stronger,” recalled Zhaojing, mother of Junran. “Four years on, she’s not only stronger, but also has made like-minded friends and become more willing to try something new.”

Zhaojing added climbing is also good for the children’s memory, calling for sound coordination of the fours limbs and allowing kids to be strong-willed in their persistent trying.

Siliang, manager of the Beijing-based Climb On Gym, held a similar view: “Climbing is a therapy for sensory integration, helping kids in thinking, brain growth and overcoming their fears.”

Liu Hong, a mother of two, said the daughter had enjoyed snow and she took her to an ice-hockey trial session that lasted for two plus hours. Unexpectedly, the daughter showed no sign of fatigue, extremely excited all the way.
“Well, I think my daughter was actually tired because she had to wear more and keep on moving, but it’s good for her will and tenacity anyway,” added Liu.

Zhang Jia, a single mom and professional business lady, signed up for a skateboarding training program, hoping to let her son learn to challenge himself since childhood. “To skateboard well, you need to keep on practice after falls and failures.”

Juveniles compete in the 2021 China Youth Ice Hockey Tournament Division U12 in the northwestern Qinghai  province on July 30.  (Xinhua photo)

Opportunities out of Olympics and new guidelines

The thriving sports business is not irrelevant to the summer Olympics in Tokyo and new policies by Beijing.

On Jul 24, Chinese authorities introduced a set of guidelines to ease the burden of excessive homework and off-campus tutoring for students undergoing compulsory education.

Jointly issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council, the document forbade subject trainings on weekends and holidays.

Then, the State Council issued a circular on Aug 3, to push forward a new five-year extensive mass fitness program, spanning from 2021 to 2025. “These national policies allowed teenagers to have more time for sports and hobbies, and will bring new opportunities for lesser-sports businesses,” said Siliang.

According to a report released by the Chinese Mountaineering Association, China had 382 climbing gyms in 2019. Less than five percent of them had 200 plus members, and 35 percent of the gyms have only 10 to 29 teenage members.

Siliang has been in the climbing trade for ten years, and he thinks that sport climbing will be recognized by more in the future. “Sport climbing was one of the new sports added to the Olympic events at Tokyo 2020, so more children and parents are expected to try the sport,” he said.

Skateboarding also entered the just-concluded Tokyo 2020, making it appealing to more teenagers. Data on AliExpress, an international online market place, show skateboards and buyers have increased by 50 percent year on year. Mr. Zhou, who runs a market place on Taobao, said sales of skateboards have been on the rise these years.”

Xu Yang, CEO of the Wangjing branch of the Beijing-based Yuanli Skateboarding Club, said the new policies and Tokyo Olympics fueled the skateboard-training programs in the summer vacation. “Participants ranged from four to 20 years old.”

Chinese climber Pan Yufei goes on a prelimilary contest in Tokyo on August 3. (Xinhua photo)

Cool-sports business calls for further regulation

Compared with other sports, skateboarding and climbing need more safety measures. Liu Hong said in choosing the ice-hockey training she would first consider the facility safety and coach qualification.

Siliang explained that one needs to apply for a certificate in running high-risk sports to open a climbing gym, whose internal walls and belay devices should meet the standards.

“All the coaches at my skateboarding club hold the national referee certificate granted by Chinese Extreme Sports Association, so that the participants can enjoy safe and professional training,” said Xu Yang.

However, Siliang pointed out certain climbing gyms in parks and shopping malls lacked in belays and professional coaches. “When gym owners focused on business revenues only, safety loopholes were here and there.”

Xu Yang said as skateboarding gained popularity, some skateboarders became trainers, but they actually did not go through professional training, let alone knowing how to teach the juveniles.
Skiing is even more risky. When waiting for her child at a skiing training venue in Chaoyang District, Beijing, Ms. Xu said the low temperature made it easier for children to be injured, especially on real tracks in winter.

Reporting by Zhang Min (China Youth Daily); Trans-editing by Wang Shixue

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