If you ask parents if they will support their child whatever they choose to be when they grow up, no one will ever answer with a “no.” whether But, admit it or not, a little push in the right direction is sometimes needed so kids can discover their true potential. The story of this young girl we met recently is the perfect example.
Jelena Soon, or Jelly for short, takes pride in being the only girl in the Philippine delegation that was sent to the Milo FC Barcelona Camp in Spain last November 4 to 12. She and nine other boys were handpicked from various schools and cities all over the Philippines to participate in a prestigious training camp where they were taught by coaches from the FC Barcelona Youth Academy, as well as an exclusive training session with former Brazil and Barca player Juliano Belletti.
To think this 11-year-old didn’t didn't even want to do football in the first place. “I didn’t want to do sports. When I was in first grade, I really liked singing. I was part of the glee club and I liked to play the piano,” the 11-year-old hailing from Cebu tells SmartParenting.com.ph.
But Jelly’s mom, Lotlot, felt differently. She saw how active her daughter was. She could run very fast and was always full of energy. She convinced Jelly to try out for the school’s football club, which was the only sport being offered by her school.
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The idea didn't set well with Jelly at all, but she went, and it sparked something in her. “When I got into the varsity, I started to play harder. I wanted to learn everything I could about football,” she shares.
Her father, John, reveals that her daughter is very competitive. “She would practice for four hours every week,” he tells Smart Parenting. “From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., she would train with the boys, then 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., she would train with the girls.”
Since Jelly’s school, Singapore School Cebu, is small, boys and girls competed as one team. It didn’t bother Jelly, but it was her dad who became worried that she would get bullied by her male teammates. “Nabu-bully siya kasi hindi na makapasok ‘yung boys. Magaling kasi si Jelly,” he shares. “Minsan ang boys takot lumaban [with other teams] pero si Jelly hindi.”
Other teams started taking notice of Jelly's skills. She was invited as a guest player for the University of Southern Philippines Foundation Panthers Football Club and also became a member of the Forza Giuseppe Football Club and the Cebu Elite Under 13 Girls football team, which consists of athletes from various schools and is the team that officially represents Cebu for football tournaments around the country.
Falling, tumbling, and roughing it out with other kids — John and Lotlot understand it’s all part of the game. And they are ever supportive of Jelly even when it feels like she’s pushing herself to her limits.
John recalled a time when Jelly suffered from a nosebleed because she played a total of 16 games for the Sun Star Cup tournament held in Cebu last year. She played as a member of the Forza Giuseppe FC.
“After playing five games with the under-15 girls in the morning, Jelly asked me if she could be done for the day. But I told her I don’t get to decide. If the coach wants her to play more games (for the mixed under-11 category and the under-13 category), she would have to play.”
Jelly was motivated to play for 11 more games. But they had to stop and let her rest in between games because she had a nosebleed. John says he asked his daughter over and over again if she wanted to stop playing, but Jelly would answer without hesitation that she could still do it.
John shares that because of Jelly’s talents, her teammates greatly depended on her and perhaps it was also the reason why Jelly was determined to play despite the exhaustion. “They know kahit si Jelly lang ‘yung babae sa team, siya ‘yung pinaka-matigas. Siya ‘yung heart and soul ng team,” he says.
“Jelly is tough. Every time they play against a strong team like Don Bosco, her teammates would sometimes get scared. It was Jelly who will stand up for her teammates,” John shares. “Even the other parents would take notice of her. They admired her.”
Of course, the nosebleed prompted a doctor’s visit where they were told it was a normal occurrence especially for athletes. “Dahil sa init ng katawan,” John says.
Since she started playing, Jelly and the teams she’s joined have won eight championships in total, the most recent being the Allianz National Futsal Girls Under-14 tournament, where her team became the national champions. More than her achievements in the sport, however, it’s the values she’s learned through playing that makes her parents even prouder.
“Our purpose for making her join the football varsity was to discipline her through sports. Kasi alam naman natin na ‘yung mga bata techie na. Sa bahay, more on cellphones and gadgets na lang. Masisira lang ‘yung mata,” John shares. “So, we were really happy kasi we were able to balance school and sports.”
Despite missing a number of school days due to tournaments, John shares Jelly is able to maintain her high grades. “Sometimes I get worried kasi baka ma-stress ‘yung bata — she goes home late because of football practice and has to wake up early,” John says. “But she is really an achiever in everything she does. Jelly still gets top scores.”
Jelly’s skills have led to amazing experiences and the best so far is the Milo FC Barcelona Camp. She tells Smart Parenting that she was scared at first because she was the only girl in the group, but at the same time, she was happy because of it. “I learned a lot and I think I’ve improved because of the special training,” she says.
During a friendly match against the Fundacion Marcet Footbal Academy, Jelly was ecstatic at the fact that she almost scored a goal. Though they didn’t win, she shares that the whole team was glad they got to play against an international team — it definitely felt surreal.
In that match, Jelly says perseverance and teamwork really makes a difference. “Without any teammates, you don’t really make progress, like scoring a goal. For example, Lionel Messi. He’s one of the best players in the world, but he can’t score a goal without his teammates. He can celebrate on his own, but it’s not really fun,” she says.
Because Jelly was the only girl in the Philippine delegation, it made her realize that more girls should try the sport. “I want to let other girls see that we can be really good at playing football even though we are girls,” she says.
And she intends to keep playing to make that happen.