For student-athletes, cries are familiarThe other day I had to use an Internet cafe near my house. I was sitting in a corner fiddling with the computer when I heard some high school kids enter and then take seats close to me. This gang of four soon started to play an online game and as the game went on I couldn’t help but overhear pieces of their conversation.
Big Kid: “Man, I hate the coach. I am going to kill that jerk.”
Pimples: “Yeah. One day he is going to get it just the way he does it to us.”
Big Kid: “If it wasn’t for the championship, I would have quit already.”
Pimples: “Amen to that. Let’s play some games. We still have time till practice.”
There were two things I drew from that familiar exchange. One, they hated their coach for all the right and wrong reasons. Two, the system of breeding athletes in Korea has not changed a bit.
It was around 2 p.m. and these kids must have skipped classes, which is the norm for Korean student-athletes. Often athletes who participate in school sports are excused from many classes under the pretext of training. The athletes either practice or spend their time doing other things, without the coaches knowing.
The general rules say that if an athlete or the team earns at least a third place in any competition on the national level, advancing to the next educational level is guaranteed.
Naturally, in the case of a high school baseball team, the coach who has the power to select the players on the roster has god-like powers -- not only over the kids, but also over the parents as well.
If there is a star player on the team, usually the coach negotiates with the recruiting school for another couple of students to be taken along with the star.
Such power gives birth to incidents that simply should not happen.
Last year, an elementary school coach was sacked because he made kids run around a track naked. Recently, TV footage surfaced that showed coaches abusing young athletes ranging from middle school to college age. Students were beaten regularly by fellow athletes often with the consent of the coaches, and also beaten by the coaches themselves. Some parents were shocked and outraged, but all refused to act against the coach simply because they did not want to jeopardize their kid’s future by confronting the man in charge.
None of these actions is justifiable. But to understand the desire of Korean parents to send their kids to college, these incidents serve as good examples.
In the old days, this Soviet-style breeding system did not draw much criticism. The results were important, but not the process.
“It’s wrong, but without any centralized effort to change the whole system there won’t be any change soon,” says Yang Jin-bang, professor of taekwondo at Yong-In University. “What we need is a change from above.”
Mr. Yang adds, “The one-dimensional training hinders the development of a well-rounded individual, while physical punishment only adds to the negative effects.”
Some things never change, but some things have to change -- otherwise this vicious cycle will continue.
by Brian Lee
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