Thursday, January 31, 2013

Coaching Sports

Recent news in Japan has been about the practice of strict sports trainers in the Japanese athletic world and even in schools.  In the past few weeks the newspapers and TV are swamped with stories of the militaristic training methods that border on or are actually abusive.

This is not really a surprise to anyone.  In fact Tetsu and I have had a running discussion about educating methods especially connected with sports.  I am the least sporty person there is.  But I have opinions on what I think is right and wrong.  Tetsu had trained throughout Jr. high, high school and college on judo teams and he is much more accepting of the traditional Japanese way of using physical punishment (in sports... not in our home!) to get a message across.

I remember as a child in the US watching a TV program (black and white TV) about the Japanese Olympic Women's Volleyball team in training.  I STILL remember watching the coach slam balls into the women's faces from a short distance, the team members sobbing and falling to the floor and taking the slaps and verbal abuse.

"What is wrong with those girls that they would take any of that?  Why doesn't someone stop that coach?"

It seems that the accepted way of training at that time was to yell and insult and hit and kick until the team could get the moves right.  Strange way of building team relationships... I had always heard that praise and positive input was the best way to boost morale and form teamwork.  But it seemed to work for Japan.

I continued to stay out of the sport scene until my children hit grade school and Jr. high school.  Takumi joined the Jr. high school judo team.  (Tetsu had already been teaching him judo.) But Takumi didn't last very long on the judo team.  He claimed the volunteer coach was too strict.  I never did understand what was too strict... there might have been verbal abuse, there might have been so much running and practices that Takumi got fed up.  Tetsu explained and explained that the coach was obviously earnest in his commitment to help the Jr. high students just because the man was a volunteer... taking time from his own life to coach judo.  Sure, he might be strict, but strict was necessary in sports.  Takumi was not about to listen to any of that and quit judo.  Tetsu was very disappointed and still claims that one day Takumi will think back on the strict coach and recognize his dedication.

When Leiya was in elementary school there was a girl's basketball team.  And Leiya wanted to join and be with her friends who were joining.  So I went to watch a practice and was horrified.  The coach (another volunteer) shouted abuse calling individual girls "stupid" and "no good".  There was a slap or two, there was a lot of anger directed at the team who "couldn't get anything right!"  I consulted the mother of one of the team members about the coach's training methods.

"We just accept the abuse.  She's a good coach.  Under her instruction the team wins a lot of games.  Sometimes her language is bad.. and I've seen slaps too but that is part of sports.  I'm sorry, but if you won't be able to accept any of that then it is best if Leiya doesn't join the basketball team."

You can be sure I wasn't letting Leiya near that team!  My goodness, not that abuse is good at any time but the coach is not training an Olympic team!  These are 10 and 11 year olds!

In Jr. High, Leiya did join the kendo (bamboo sword fighting) team.  And in its way, the training methods did seem very militaristic at times...  If one person makes a mistake then whole team is responsible and receives the same punishment...  At an intensive training weekend Leiya reported that there were buckets available for anyone who needed to vomit!  Well!  But I never heard of physical abuse and Leiya was quite happy with her kendo team.

The world and Japanese society is changing.  What was acceptable 10 years ago in the sports world, physical and verbal abuse, is now being openly challenged.  I think all Japanese agree that the abusive coaches need to be removed from the educational scene...that praise and encouragement make for better results...but nearly everyone I've talked too will add,

"but it USED to be the norm."  

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