The love of soccer is prevalent around the world and the nostalgia of one’s first game, win or defeat, is etched in many minds. As children we learn a lot from playing sports: the importance of teamwork, exercise and forming relationships; how to cope with disappointment and be humble in glory. Former professional soccer player Atsuto Uchida understands these feelings all too well and has been given the opportunity to impart his wisdom by coaching a new age of goal-driven children with JFA Uniqlo Soccer Kids.

Uchida retired in 2020 due to a knee injury leaving behind a 14-year career filled with impressive accomplishments. Predominantly a defender, he played in the J1 League winning three titles with the Kashima Antlers. He played seven years for the German team, FC Schalke 04, before returning to the Antlers in 2018. He has appeared 74 times for the Japan national squad including in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2011 AFC Asian Cup. When he was younger, he aspired to be a soccer player or teacher. It seems both his dreams will come true as he begins coaching.

“Through soccer, I learned about having consideration for my teammates and striving to reach a goal. As captain of JFA UNIQLO Soccer Kids, I will do my best to popularize the event, instill a love of soccer in children throughout Japan, and share the fun of team play,” he says.

JFA Uniqlo Soccer Kids, under the umbrella of the JFA Kids Program, is a free small-scale soccer festival that began in 2003. Children don’t need any experience before joining an eight or six-player team and winners are not announced to dispel competitiveness. There have been 280,000 participants since its inception and each child receives a complimentary, snazzy t-shirt to kick about in. This year, the T-shirts’ designer and organization supporter Uniqlo will set up a recycling booth at every venue to collect unwanted clothes for those in need.

“Through this project [JFA Uniqlo Soccer Kids], which Uniqlo has sponsored for many years, we will further deepen our connections with Uchida and local communities, as well as provide a space for more children to enjoy sport,” says Koji Yanai, the Group Senior Executive Officer of Fast Retailing Co.

“Kids are feeling cooped up because of the coronavirus, and we want them to be able to run around freely”

Japan Football Association (JFA) and Uniqlo hope to give children aged below six a chance to develop skills found in team sports such as determination, cooperation and communication. The president of JFA, Kohzo Tashima, remarks, “Kids are feeling cooped up because of the coronavirus, and we want them to be able to run around freely on the green turf and experience the joy and fun of sport.”

Expectantly, they’ll get that wish with a year of scheduled games in 15 venues across Japan including Tokyo Dome, Yokohama Stadium and Sapporo Soccer Amusement Park.

“I look forward to meeting children around the country,” says Uchida.
* Information on pending venues, event details, and registration will be announced on the JFA official website.
*Schedule may change due to the Covid-19 situation.