Sportsmanship gone awry

Details of the brutal physical and verbal abuse by the basketball coach of an Osaka high school boy who committed suicide have finally been released. The external independent panel found that coach Hajime Komura repeatedly and consistently used corporal punishment and verbal abuse on the boy before the boy killed himself. Clearly, the unjustified abuse contributed to the boy’s suffering and death.

The details make for grim reading, even more so because such methods are not confined to one coach, one high school or one sport. Reports that the head coach of the women’s national judo team used violence against athletes are just as disturbing.

Perhaps these coaches believe their abusive training methods get results. If so, they are mistaken.

Such coaches are willing to use cruelty to achieve their own selfish goals, not work toward what is in the best interests of competitive young people. The best that could be said is that they tragically misunderstand the nature of motivation.

No great athlete ever proclaims thanks for being beaten or expresses gratitude for being yelled at. Great athletes realize their achievements through means other than oppressive mental intimidation and brutal physical punishment.

The greatest athletes and winning teams achieve their results through a combination of positive reinforcement, focused practice and dedicated support. The coaches who are most successful over long periods know that training for sports is training for life.

What did the other basketball players at Sakuranomiya Senior High School learn from that coach that would help them in later life? Nothing positive.

Famed basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA was the master of short, simple messages that inspired athletes to rise to higher levels of performance. From him, many of basketball’s greatest players learned how to live life, not just win games.

Wooden was famous for his “pyramid of success,” which helped athletes obtain the discipline and focus to achieve greatness. He would never have thought of striking one of his athletes. He did not even use swear words.

Nowadays, the science of training and the psychology of motivation have greatly advanced around the world. Unfortunately, the message did not make it to these Japanese coaches.

One young boy’s life has been lost, but the lessons should be remembered: The use of force never works for long; the means do not justify the ends; and it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Hopefully, other coaches throughout Japan will learn these basic rules and remember these lessons before another tragedy happens.