Consensus: Corporal punishment in sports misguided, demoralizing, backward

The following are some readers’ responses to the March 12 Foreign Element column by Richard Parker headlined “Right or wrong, corporal punishment can produce winners.” See many more in the comment section below the original article.

Coach endorses, defends violence

This is a shocking piece of writing. Shocking not because some aging Japanese male coach knows only violence as the way to motivate and get through to his student charges, but because of the total abdication of self-responsibility by the author.

You say that by not objecting to corporal punishment the former students effectively endorsed it? Well, so did you, sir, many, many times over. You had many opportunities to intervene in a culturally appropriate manner with an individual you boast of having an excellent rapport with. Yet you did nothing.

Before the incident, when you sensed something bad was going to happen? Nothing. After the incident, when you had the chance to speak in private with the coach? You didn’t even discuss what happened! The next day, when you “didn’t push the issue.” And later, when the next team took over and the coach reverted to his old coaching style.

In order to excuse and justify your inaction, you then attempt to argue that violence works and that this is Japanese “culture” and cannot be helped. To top it all, you brush over the unspeakable tragedy of a 17-year-old boy hanging himself and instead attempt to defend the monster that caused this heartbreak. Your actions and your words, sir, are truly reprehensible.


Punishment ‘psychopathic’

I am surprised that The Japan Times apparently endorses corporal punishment in sports by heading an article with “In sport, corporal punishment does produce winners” [original subheadline: “It’s not pretty but it can work, writes ex-high school basketball coach”] rather than accurately, “High-school coach claims corporal punishment produces winners.” There is also no caption on the misleading photo accompanying the article, which seems to imply that the members of a winning women’s team love their brutalizing coach. Shame on you for shoddy journalism!

This is a stupid article, written by someone who does not have the guts to attach his real name to it, and probably wisely, for he admits to taking bribes from parents. The “understanding” coach that the author describes angrily dragging a young woman around the basketball court by her hair is — let’s not mince words — a psychopath. He is also a criminal, as battery is against the law in Japan. So, why do some parents in Japan allow psychopathic criminals to coach their children? Perhaps they are willing to tolerate violence if they are poor and desperate, if their child is athletically gifted and relies on an athletic scholarship for advancement.

But brutality is not productive. What brutal coaches steal from athletes is self-respect, as demonstrated by the complaint from the Japan women’s judo team against violence by their coach. While some of those women won Olympic medals (in spite of rather than because of brutality), they remain scarred by anger and resentment at treatment they know was unnecessary, unproductive and, indeed, harmful.

A skilled coach realizes that the desire of an athlete to win must come from within, and knows how to cultivate this desire by means other than violence. The arguments that corporal punishment in sports in Japan is “cultural,” “normal” and “justified by results” do not hold up. Nothing “cultural” should contravene the laws of a nation.

As for brutality producing results, there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. In the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. won 104 medals, compared to Japan’s 38. Japan did almost as well; scaled to population size, the equivalent number of medals for Japan would be 42. But, despite a “tough love” approach in sports, Japan did not do better.

In high school and university around 45 years ago in the U.S., I engaged intensely in sports for seven years, and never encountered corporal punishment nor even heard of it. It is the same now.

Several things would happen if a coach in the U.S. attacked one of his athletes. First, he would immediately be fired. Second, he would be tried for assault and battery, and receive a hefty fine, go to jail, or both. Third, the students’ parents could sue him and the school for huge monetary compensation.

Just as doping is against the rules in all sports because it seeks an unfair advantage and is harmful to athletes, so is corporal punishment against the rules in sport, for exactly the same reasons. Besides the other damage it does, corporal punishment in Japanese sports is an attempt to cheat.


Positive feedback motivates

Richard Parker’s article in The Japan Times today on corporal punishment in the Japanese school sports system showed an interesting perspective on corporal punishment here.

There is a broader issue not addressed in the media about this subject, and that is the almost 100-percent dominance of negative feedback here.

I am a 5th Dan black belt and have trained in traditional Japanese shitō-ryū karate for the last 42 years. We instructors had an epiphany back in 1980s about producing excellence in people.

When we all started training karate in the 1970s, our Japanese teachers would just offer criticism of our techniques, etc. We thought this was normal because we didn’t know any better.

As it happened, after a miserable national performance in the Toronto Olympic Games (an important issue for a country that takes sports very seriously), the Australian government did a comprehensive study of what went wrong in our sports development.

One of the outcomes was that every person in Australia who was to coach any team, of any sport, had to have an Australian Coaching Council accreditation, which required a full course of classroom study.

As karate teachers, we also had to undertake this course of study and here we were introduced for the first time to the Olympic model of coaching.

What an eye-opener. Here is the some of the differences in the language:

• Japanese model: “Richard, that technique is way too slow and too weak. Your stance is much too high. Your hip action is too small,” etc., etc.

• Olympic model: “Richard, that technique is looking good. Now, if you can bend the front knee a little more forward in the stance, you will gain some great additional length on the punch. This is helpful because it means you can your opponent from further away, giving you a big distance advantage. Always a good thing to have! Let’s try it again with more knee bend.”

We found a tremendous lift in performance when we switched to positive reinforcement and our retention rates went right up.

Coaches belting young people under their care — using their authority, age seniority and physical power — is pathetic. It does get a certain degree of forced compliance, but there is very low real motivation.

Also, what are the life lessons these Japanese coaches are teaching? They probably don’t know, because they only think about the immediate outcome of the sports event and their own glory in the process.

We see extreme cases in sports being reported here now, but what is not seen are the daily tragedies of bosses killing the motivation of their staff. No wonder Japan has such a low average engagement score across all businesses.

The sad part of this story is that the “Japanese model” is still the mainstream of business coaching in this country: fault-finding and criticism.

The costs of this approach are suicide and trauma in youth sports and a huge business opportunity cost in white-collar worker efficiency.

Japan could do a lot better in sports and business if it did more Olympic-style coaching using positive reinforcement, rather than relying on the current questionable default methodology.


‘Dark ages’ coaching must evolve

What an interesting article. It provoked quite an emotional reaction and some disbelief.

I am certain that John Wooden, the famous basketball coach, would be very disappointed by what was written.

Sadly, the basis for the whole article lives somewhere back in the Dark Ages. The idea that using fear to create fear generates superior performance is rather sad. I thought these ideas were long lost in history.

Take the idea of fear producing better performance. If this was the case, then why is Japan not a serious world contender in all of the sports where fear is used to push? This is simply a baseless argument.

Secondly, as a father, the idea that my son would operate in an environment of fear to push him simply fills me with anger! I can only imagine that parents whose own fear of their kids failing would push them to want to put their kids in this situation.

Achievement, results and outcome are all admirable goals that I have striven for in my life. They create opportunities for us to learn, grow and become more than we are now. But, this can be achieved in a positive environment when high standards are expected and quality support is given.

Please join the 21st century where motivation is positive!

Makuhari, Chiba

The voice of experience

Holy Mary, is this article legit? This almighty basketball high school coach is highly respected for his style of coaching?

Seems like the ghost of [famous American football player and coach] Vince Lombardi is here in Japan. Winning decides what is good and what is bad. Absolute nonsense!

The coach may know the game of basketball but he certainly does not know the skill of teaching communication. What is pictured here is what I have seen numerous times in “American football in Japan.” Not even in Stateside pro ball does a coach kick or slap a player.

Maybe the worst of the worst is sumo, where wrestlers get killed, or judo, where women get beaten only for the coach to be reprimanded.

In 1982 there was a team called the Tokyo Cherokees which for six years was a regular loser in the Tokyo Football League. They brought in a new head coach who was an American. That year they were undefeated. The following year undefeated once again and not one league team scored even a point against them. The Cherokees defeated U.S. Navy in the Cherry Bowl in Yokosuka and also the Seibu team, which until that day had gone undefeated for three years.

The team started with less than 20 on the roster and finished with a waiting list of over 50. The word spread quickly that there was a team with a real football coach playing American football, American style. No senpai-kōhai nonsense. Starters were decided by skill, not by seniority.

The team practiced long and hard with lots of water breaks. Never at any time did the coach strike a player. Anger: yes. Punishment: no. Discipline: absolutely, in the form of push-ups or running laps.

It was mastery to put a team of losers together and bring them to the Tokyo championship undefeated two years running. Thirty years later and the players still come to the coach’s house for reunions. I know, because I was the head coach.


Send your comments to The Community Chest at community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Tanaka

    Richard Parker’s article was interesting and very real. I have to agree with him in his attitude and instance, and I believe he didn’t do wrong just because he just didn’t anything. It was susprising, though, how many people crucified him like he was the utmost villain. Those people are at lost. They are watching too many sports movies with happy endings. Hoosiers, maybe? When the punishment is warming the bench?… They arbitrarily put the responsibility of changing the world on Mr. Parker; a humongous task indeed, considering we’re talking about Japan.

    Why does ijime exist; children suicide and students beatings? Welcome to Japan. Does it look nice? No, but it’s the reality. Most people in these posts came from other countries with different realities. Probably they got frustrated when they have to face these idiossincrassies and then try to hammer their ideas of the perfect world.

    Japan did look perfect from outside, didn’t it?

    In some parts of my home country, if a student is yelled at or slapped by a teacher, well, the next day the teacher’s body may be found in the sewers. Does it look nice? I think it’s horrible.

    Japanese sometimes are passive and omissive, and I hate that. Maybe Richard Parker should’ve been more “active” when he had the chance, but all the bashing is unfair. Specially when people who criticised him look more pro-violence than anything, like one who said “True Americans have always stood up for those who are oppressed and powerless”, but by the next post is considering “I wish we could meet so I could give you a light slap!”. Or other guy who peacefully attests “I would have broken my U.S. Marine Corps veteran foot off in his pathetic backside…”.

    So, it seems that in America, violence against violence prevails, eh?
    Cut the macho bravado and go recycle your pet bottle.

    I hate violence and it took me a couple of years to understand but, hey. You don’t change the world. You may change your address.