Friday, October 06, 2006

Joyless Practice

One of my private students called me this evening and asked me to watch channel 8 between 5:00 and 6:00 pm because her daughter's dance drill team (a precision cheerleading squad) was going to be featured on the news. Her daughter is 16 or 17 years old and her team went to the U.S. to compete earlier this year.

On more than one occasion, my student has expressed concern about her daughter's involvement in this sort of practice. While her daughter likes being a part of it, it's very time-consuming. In fact, my student has said that her daughter has not started to study for university entrance exams and sometimes practices in every free moment of a day at school and every weekend. The coach often pushes the girls to train through lunch so they don't get to eat for over 12 hours at times.

The T.V. program on Fuji TV tonight brought this home in a way my student couldn't express. There were many scenes of an old battle axe of a coach snapping and barking at the girls while they practiced. There were even more scenes of the girls standing in hallways out of view of the coach crying and sobbing in frustration. Except when they were putting on plastic smiles while performing, they rarely looked remotely happy. Even when they weren't sobbing, they were frowning deeply as the coach sternly talked to them.

The show pointed out how precise their movements have to be because their legs have to be in the air in the same position at all times or they have to jump and have their dance moves down pat but this was absurd. It reminds me of the way my husband told me Japanese baseball teams practiced according to "You Gotta Have Wa".

The whole show aside from a tearful speech, with lipstick-covered teeth, by the team leader and a rare smile by the old coach, made the experience look joyless and as if these girls were being pushed constantly to act like machines. While I'm sure coaches of these types of teams in other countries push their participants hard, I don't imagine they never offer a smile or encouragement, nor do they have to have meetings with concerned mothers who are afraid their daughters are being pushed too hard week after week. I think the non-demonstrative nature of Japanese people and the value of stoicism in the culture makes this sort of situation much harder on them than their western counterparts who probably get a hug, a pat on the back or a kind word along with the coaches commands.

The worst part is that it doesn't necessarily make them better at what they do. While my student's daughter's team fares well in Japan, they didn't win in international competition in the U.S. She desperately wants her daughter to quit but knows that she can't force her to do so.

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