On April 16th, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Urawa Reds Ladies held the "Reds Ladies Children Football Classes" in Saitama City. Through the training menu designed by the actual players, the event provided an opportunity for children to get to know the WE LEAGUERS.
Under clear skies following a rainfall, a total of 66 kids – 17 kindergarteners and 49 elementary school girls, participated from all over Japan. The event took place on Red’s Land – the banks of the Arakawa River, where it is rich in nature. It is a members-only sports land established by Urawa, to develop and promote the local sports culture.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first time in three years that the Reds Ladies were able to host a large-scale football class. Defender Saki Ueno, who has experience representing Japan as part of the national team, played the leading role in planning the content of the football class. A total of 26 players participated on the day of the event who also served as event facilitators.
In order to get the children to fully enjoy football and the activities, the participants were divided into three groups: kindergarten, lower elementary and upper elementary school students. The players used trial-and-error to come up with a menu that was appropriate for each age group.
The kindergarten group was led by seven players that included midfielder Akari Kurishima, who has played for Urawa from the youth level. The children enjoyed using their bodies through simple games such as "Tail Tag," in which the children try to take the tail of the opponent while protecting their own as well as ball-gathering games. The players made sure to keep their postures low in order to maintain eye contact with the children. They also communicated through their smiles.
The lower elementary school group, kicked off with a "〇×quiz (True or False)" to get them interested in the WE LEAGUE. When Moeka Minami, a defender who participated in the Tokyo Olympic Games, read out statements like "There are 11 teams participating in the WE LEAGUE" as everyone raised their hands and answered enthusiastically. After that, the students did drills that included football techniques such as juggling. While the elementary school students were amazed at the skills of the professionals, they were bold enough to take on the challenge as well.
In the upper elementary school group, there were many girls with advanced skills. Therefore, the menu consisted more of practical activities using the ball, such as passing. In the drill of dribbling and kicking towards cones, many super plays were made, where the participants hit the cones perfectly. The players were amazed and could not hold back as they shouted “Nice!”
The final part was a match within each group. The players also joined the children's teams. In the upper grade group, Yuika Sugasawa, forward player and the current top scorer, joined the game. She ran towards a pass that was made by one of the participants in front of the goal and took a shot while sliding. She stunningly makes the score; fist bumps and celebrates with her teammates as she shows off her talented skill.
The football class concluded with a group photo session. The children enjoyed interacting with the WE LEAGUERS until the very end. After everything was completed, the players formed two lines to see off the children. They high-fived each child with a souvenir and said their goodbyes.
The code of conduct for players in the WE LEAGUE – the WE LEAGUE CREDO, states "We create a future where people can freely dream and aspire.” This football class was an event that exactly embodied the WE LEAGUE CREDO.
A fourth-grade girl who participated said, "The players were good and impressive. It made me want to become a better player. " She was so impressed by the players' plays and smiles that it made her want to go watch Urawa's games, which she had never done before.
Hana Takahashi, a defender and member of the Nadeshiko Japan team, smiled and waved to the children until the very end. “I believe we are in the business of giving hopes and dreams. I would like to keep taking part in activities that give back to different people.” On the other hand, Ueno, who served as the leader of the group said, "I want to spread the joy of football first and foremost,” so that the girls will be able to thrive in football in the future. She also mentioned that she hopes to continue these interactions with the next generation of WE LEAGUERS.