LU YUCHEN / AIPS Young Reporters* / BAKU: Living his life as a fan of ice hockey Matthew Sheridan, like many Canadians, had never watched soccer.

However, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon this past week, he spent 4,500 Canadian dollars to fly 13 hours away from home, sitting inside a stadium in Azerbaijan, cheering and shouting out in a local crowd speaking a language of which he did not understand a single word.

Sheridan is father of Canadian U-17 women’s goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan who is only 17 but has already travelled to more countries and regions than her Dad; all thanks to soccer.

The prize at the end of the journey . . .

Matthew and his wife took their shy daughter to a soccer field 12 years ago, to encourage her to grow in strength and confidence. On the pitch, they found themselves watching something remarkable and new:  “Soccer changed her totally.”

In Canada’s 1-0 victory over Colombia in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Kailen was confident and sharp-minded as she made decisive saves under the glaring Caspian sun in Group A.

“It’s my first time travelling outside Canada and United States,” said the manager of a children mental care centre in Whitby, Ontario, and who had to save long and hard for his “very expensive” vacation: “We couldn’t afford it but this one, I couldn’t say No.”

Dancing and discipline

Matthew’s wife is at home with their second daughter, a 14-year-old competitive dancer. To Matthew, soccer and dancing have more in common than people might  think: both demand money, hours, discipline and commitment.

Apart from that, keeping balance between training and study was the most challenging issue for Kailen and her sister.

Kailen needed to travel a lot, so she missed a lot of school and she had to work extra hard. Fortunately her school was “very helpful, flexible and understanding”. Canad also had a tutor on the team to help with the class and homework, two hours a day. Last semester, Kailen missed six weeks of school because of soccer but she got all four courses A in the end. After returning home, Kailen will soon be off again – to a university in theUS.

“It was very hard. Believe me. But she did it. It can be done. You just need to be focus,” says one proud father. “It’s just about watching your daughter growing up and doing things that she loves. What’s important to us is that she did her best and she had fun.”

** AIPS, the international sports media association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with the co-operation of FIFA and supported by the Azeri Ministry of Youth & Sport

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