Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Boot Camp: Soccer in Japan

Pictured: Himeji Castle, courtesy of Fuji Film staff

At a Japanese professional baseball game:"...every time I saw ten thousand fans filling the air in unison with black-and-yellow bullhorns, I found myself shuddering a little at the militarism of the display--and at its beauty."--Pico Iyer, "Japan,Perfect Stangers,Video Night in Kathmandu

Things aren`t always this bad in Japan, and often they are quite good, but days like this, do occur unfortunately...

He couldn`t tie his soccer boots. He as only six years old afterall and young for his age. He proudly wore his new boots though. His parents hoped they wouldn`t give him a blister.

At boot camp creating one star out of all the players is what is important. It isn`t the enjoyment of soccer. It isn`t to teach the players that being fair is important--the star players play the most. The journeyman or in this case, (boys who aren`t as good as the others) sit on the bench.

When they had kindergarten soccer enjoyment day, the four year olds spent most of the tournament warming the bench. The five year olds played. This was enjoying soccer apparently.

We teach our children that it is important to be fair, that we need to take turns. Then when we lead them, we do just the opposite. We show them that if you are good, you play. If you are not, you sit.

Each coach gets a free hand to try out their own philosophy on the soccer pitch. They devote their time, in the humid heat of the Japanese summer and in the cold of the winter. Their reward is to experiment with their test tube of soccer philosophy, and their guinea pigs are their players.

The team the Water Pythons rarely win. The coach encourages individual initiative in his bid to create one star. One person who will go on to the J-League. Then he will say. "I coached that boy. Taught him everything he knows." Today the score is 5-1 in favor of the other team. The opponents are not great, but they play as a team. One star cannot compete with a group that plays together. This last sentence sounds so Japanese, it is amazing to realize that the coach of the Water Pythons and the whole team of course is Japanese too. It seems like a contradiction.

The Water Pythons are really an FC or football club. There isn`t one team, but many teams for different age groups.

One of the coaches routinely berated his players. This went on for several years. Finally the manager scolded him and it stopped. Hopefully before permanent psychological damage. Telling his players every practice and game "You are so stupid!" The parents quietly stood by and listened. Few quit.

One day a father, worried about his son`s boots being untied, talked to the coach at the bench to alert him to this fact. The Kantoku or manager yelled at the father for talking to a coach at the bench. It was against the rules. Safety does not come first. Etiquette does at boot camp.

The mistake the kantoku made was, this particular father wasn`t Japanese and wouldn`t meekly listen to such abuse coming from an old man. He told him to "shut up!" and "Why are you always so rude!?" To which the kantoku stood up and started to push him out of the bench area. The father told him to take his hands off. The father was big. Bigger than any man at the pitch. He was also from abroad--an unknown quantity.

They glared. The two coaches at the bench went red, not knowing what to do. They perspired. Arms were grabbed, words were exchanged and the temperature noticeably increased. Veins protruded and heart rates raced. Adrenalin pumped; off the pitch.

The father would not back down. To him it was a matter of safety. To the kantoku, a matter of etiquette and standards. The father was breaking them and he wouldn`t stand for it. Everyone stood by. Held their breath. Would the father sock the old man?

The father now understood why it was dangerous to own a gun. He tried to pry himself away from the bench. He was afraid he would physically attack the kantoku. He didn`t want to end up in a Japanese prison. The kantoku taunted him a couple of times. Didn`t he know this was dangerous?

He moved away, over to the fence enclosing the field and tried to calm down. He felt alone. No one else would stand up to the kantoku, even if they knew he was a jerk.

The game was over. Now the Shinto customs took the fore. The players on each team bowed to each team bench then bowed to the field, expressing thanks.

The father went home, had a beer. Tried to relax, but couldn`t. All he could think about was boot camp.

On baseball: "The single great problem with the Japanese game, I was told by Robert Whiting, the longtime American expat who has become the foremost Western expert on Japanese baseball, was that, in truth, everything--absolutely everything--was deadly serious. Everything was pitched at the exalted, almost dizzying heights inhabited by Oh. (a Japanese Star-ed.)...Teams above all were managed like Marine camps, in which players had to run endless, mindless exercises in order to toughen their `fightingspirit.`" Pico Iyer, "Japan, Perfect Strangers", Video Night in Kathmandu

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