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A New Face for Coaches and Instructors of athletic clubs:
Fostering Self-reliance in Young People through Sport

Eiichiro Fukami
Associate Professor, Faculty of Sports Sciences, Waseda University

A Survey on Corporal Punishment in athletic clubs

Every year for the past ten years, I have conducted a survey to find out how many of my students have personal experience of "corporal punishment at the hands of a athletic clubs coach or manager" in the first class of the year. A considerable number of the students answering my survey usually have experience of participating in high level or even national sports competitions at junior high or high school level. It is only an impression, but I am sure that the number of students who say that they have experienced corporal punishment has been getting smaller year by year, over these ten years. However, sad to say, there has never been a year when no one has said they had experienced corporal punishment. When I conducted my survey in 2012, the results were that about 20% of the male and female students in the class said that they had experienced corporal punishment. The content of the corporal punishment was "being hit (slapped around the face)," "being made to shave my hair off," and "being made to get down on my knees and apologize," etc., when they had "made a mistake during a match," or "been goofing around." Moreover, the results when students were asked "What was your reaction when you received the corporal punishment?" was that, except for one student (who said they thought "Get off my back!"), in almost all cases the students, far from contradicting their coaches, were quite affirmative about their coaches' decision to punish them, saying such as "I was in the wrong," "I regretted what I'd done," "I thought 'I'll try harder next time!'" or "I was angry with myself."

What is more, when asked whether they thought corporal punishment was necessary, about 30% of the students who had experienced it themselves (as well as about 10% of students who had not experienced it), said that for the purpose of "maintaining discipline in the athletic clubs" or "becoming Number One in Japan," to some degree it was "necessary" and that "people don't always understand things when you tell them just with words," etc.

It appears that these students accept the fact that they are receiving corporal punishment affirmatively, by telling themselves "I got stronger (or will get stronger) as a result of receiving the corporal punishment." They also have a peculiar sense of self-confidence in that "I'm strong because I did not give up and give in as a result of the corporal punishment." According to neuroscientist Nariyuki Hayashi, this is close in principle to "brainwashing." After something unreasonable occurs repeatedly, the brain has a tendency to begin to like or prefer more of the same thing, and so the person starts to think that the unreasonable thing is in fact correct and legitimate. This is also related to a human instinct that does not want to criticize a past self, and that wants others to recognize the significance and meaning of the self.

Of course, the remaining majority of students responded that "There is no way that corporal punishment improves the atmosphere or performance in competition of a athletic clubs," "People understand perfectly well enough if you just tell them in words," "When a situation deteriorates into one where the strong has to pin down the weak by force, it essentially means that the coach or instructor has lost and failed," etc. However, a portion of the students who received corporal punishment themselves considered corporal punishment as acceptable from the point of view that "if an athlete buckles in the face of a little bit of corporal punishment, they have little chance of making it as an athlete anyway," etc., and thus there is a possibility that these students will themselves repeat corporal punishment on others in the future.

The Role of a "Coach" as Gleaned from its Etymology

A person who teaches and offers guidance in sport is called a coach. As you will be aware, the word "coach" has its origins from a horse-drawn carriage (from A Recommendation of Intellectual Coaching [Chiteki Kochingu no Susume] published by Taishukan Shoten; the symbol of the American fashion brand "Coach" also features a horse and carriage). In Britain, a long-distance bus or bus used for tourism is referred to as a "coach" or "motor coach." Why do we refer to people who teach sport using a word that originates from a "horse-drawn carriage"? It is because the role of the driver of a horse-drawn carriage (a Coach) is to safely and securely transport a passenger (an Athlete) to their destination (Goal). From this we can see that the role of a sports coach demands that they respect the goal of the athlete and do everything in their power to help them achieve that goal. There is clearly no way that the driver of the horse-drawn carriage (Coach) should ever decide on or change the destination (Goal) themselves without consulting with the passenger (Athlete). Of course, one important role of the driver of the horse-drawn carriage (Coach) is to inform the passenger (Athlete) of their current location (Situation) and gently guide them in the appropriate direction at times when they (the Athlete) get lost or become unable to see the way forward to their destination (Goal). The role of a sports coach can be said to be one of assisting the athlete to unleash the best of their potential capabilities while respecting their independence and autonomy.

The Meaning of Sport for Young People

In August 2011, the "Basic Act on Sports" was established, guaranteeing the "Right of all people to enjoy sports." In the basic principles of its Chapter 1 "General Provisions," it clearly states that "Sport, in particular that for young people during the stage of their mental and physical development, has a significant impact on the formation of personality, by improving physical strength, developing an attitude of respect for discipline and fairness, and cultivating self-control, etc." From this one can say that the role of a sports coach or instructor of young people is one of cultivating the human values of taking part fairly, cooperating together and fulfilling one's own role, etc., in all children through the experience of doing sport and exercise, and making them feel from the heart that "This is fun!" and "I want to get better!" The etymology of "sport" is the Latin word "deportare" meaning diversion or recreation, or to enjoy or frolic (from The Sports Dictionary [Supotsu Dai Jiten], published by Taishukan Shoten). For this reason, the word "sport" encompasses meanings as varied as amusement and a cheery person, in addition to competitive sport and the playing of sports (Grand Concise English-Japanese Dictionary [Gurando Konsaisu Ei-wa Jiten], published by Sanseido). Thus, there are idioms which use the former meaning of sport, such as "What sport!" "Spoil sport!" and "Be a sport!" From this one can see that the original meaning of sport is to engage and engross young people, as well as being an activity that (to borrow the words of Dettmar Cramer, the German soccer coach who is known with affection in Japan as the "Father of Japanese football") "turns children into adults and men into gentlemen."

Fostering Independent Problem-Solving Abilities in Athletes

Only a tiny handful of young people who play sports will in the future be able to make their living from sport. Almost all the others will have to get a job in some area other than sport and become self-reliant members of society after graduating from high school or university. Even if someone is fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a glamorous heyday as a professional athlete, the period that they will be active in professional sport will be less than 10 years in most cases, and the period of their life after their retirement (their second career) will be far longer (the average age of retirement for professional baseball players is approx. 29 [Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, 2011] and for professional soccer players in the J-League is 26 [Japan Pro-Footballers Association, 2012)], respectively).

Therefore, it is necessary for sports coaches and instructors, who hold great influence over the athletes under their care, to also foster the ability in athletes to be able to look forward to find the next stage in their lives after retirement for themselves, while they are still active as sportspeople. For this purpose, it is important for a sports coach to carefully create an atmosphere where it is easy for both the coach and the athlete to freely say what they think and feel, which will create a better team environment, as well as at the same time encouraging the athlete to think things through for themselves on an everyday basis, by asking them as an individual or as a team, "What else do you think we needed to do to win?" "What sort of training do you think we need to do to improve the weakness?" so that they develop a habit of trying to solve problems for themselves. I believe that this is one important way in which coaches and instructors can foster people who can be self-reliant in society through sport.

Eiichiro Fukami
Associate Professor, Faculty of Sports Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Born in Saga Prefecture in 1971. Graduated from the Faculty of Education at Fukuoka University of Education.
Withdrew from the Doctoral Program in Physical Education, Health and Sports Sciences at Tsukuba University, at the full term, after completing the required course work. Obtained his PhD. in Exercise Sciences (Tsukuba University). After serving as Associate Professor in the Faculty of Budo and Sports Studies at Tenri University, he attained his current position.
His area of specialization is Sports Didactics. His published works include An Introduction to Physical Education Pedagogy [Taiiku-ka Kyoiku Nyumon] (co-authored; Taishukan Shoten) and Observing and Assessing Physical Education Classes [Taiiku Jugyo wo Kansatsu Hyoka suru] (co-authored, Meiwa Publishing).