An unlearned lesson: Good coaches don’t beat athletesImagine yourself getting ready for a pushup but instead you fold your arms behind your back and use your head to bear the whole weight of your body. Imagine yourself doing this for umm...let’s say 10 minutes, Okay, I guess even five minutes would do it.
I guarantee you that you’ll sweat buckets, and you’ll feel like your head is being pushed back into your body by a good finger’s length. Alas, I have just told you the secret training method of many young Korean athletes. O.K., I might have been exaggerating a bit, but this sort of physical punishment is just a standard procedure that is dealt by coaches freely.
There is even a name for this practice. It’s called wonsanpokgyeok. Don’t ask me what it means because all the friends that I asked didn’t know that either, although they surely knew what the word stands for.
One might wonder whether these old practices have changed, but after talking to a high school kid who is on a handball team at a high school in Gangnam, I found out that my hopes were too high.
After all, I still vividly remember last year seeing on national TV how coaches around the country punched and kicked their athletes for no other reason than losing a match to others. Young kids who deserved better had to endure what I would never let happen to my kid if I had one.
This week, parents of South Korean short track speed skating athletes held a press conference to protest the selection of a person by the Korea Skating Union to head the national team. In an interview with YTN, Ahn Ki-won, the father of one of the members of the national squad, said that he could not accept the appointment of a coach who fabricated the results of matches and who did nothing in the past to stop physical punishment of the athletes.
The union said that the coach was needed because he had experience in coaching international matches. In response, short track speed skating athletes are threatening to give up their hard-earned spot on the national team. This was not the first time the media highlighted sports alone unrelated to medals. And it surely won’t be the last.
In a survey conducted by Na Young-il, a professor at the Seoul National University, out of 1,600 athletes from the elementary school to the high school level, 78.1 percent said they had some experience with violence. Nevertheless, we have yet to see an investigation by responsible authorities looking into this matter.
So far, the Korea Sports Council has said it is taking measures to address the issue. A standing committee that deals in particular with these problems has been established but I can see little improvement in the current condition when coaches or those who exercise violence are merely reprimanded or fired from their jobs. They have to be dealt with like any other criminal and judged by the law. Because make no mistake, this is a C-R-I-M-E.
The common argument presented by coaches is that it’s all for the good of the athlete. One has to wonder when exactly these people will understand that it’s not the medals or victories but the interest of young athletes in sports that should be guarded.
by Brian Lee
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