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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: 'Fun' not 'strength' should be watchword in university sports

Rika Kayama

There is a major issue unfolding now in collegiate sports, as we learn more details around a dirty tackle in an American football game between two Japanese universities. As someone who teaches at university, it pains me to see what is happening.

I can see the university baseball club's practice field from the building where my office is. I like baseball, so in the late afternoon I often watch the many players go through their drills from the staircase landing in my building with the best view of the field.

On hot days or rainy days, the club members are out there, sometimes talking and calling out to each other, sometimes practicing in silence. I get tired just from teaching multiple class hours in a day, so I'm very impressed that the players can do these grueling hours of practice even after a day of classes that start bright and early.

One year, I had a baseball club member in a seminar class with a small number of students. That year, the club had one fantastically talented player, so much so he was drafted and was set to go on to play professional ball. After one class, I mentioned this news to my baseball-playing student, to which he replied with a giant grin, "He's really amazing. I'm happy, too."

I was perhaps expecting my student to say he was envious, and I was a little embarrassed this had even occurred to me after he expressed such frank delight at his club mate's success. It was then I realized that university sports are not so much about technique, but are more a space where the students can learn about young friendship and having a generous heart.

The offending player in the dangerous tackle case, too, likely sought to maintain an honest, sportsmanlike character while building bonds with his teammates in the midst of tough training, and be successful both in competition and in school despite any hardships. When this young man held a news conference to apologize for the tackle, he appeared before the bright camera lights with a sincere expression on his face and chose his words with honest care. In other words, he showed us all what might be called the "assets of the heart" he gained from sports.

Even with this, however, he was trapped in situational dynamics that made it impossible for players to oppose their coaches in any way, and he committed the dangerous foul that started the current controversy. At the news conference, the player said, "Up to high school I liked competition, but I didn't like it anymore after I entered university." Can such sadness truly spring from playing sports?

Some days ago, I spent some long moments watching the baseball club from my building. I thought to myself, "Wow, you're great. You're trying so hard. But don't forget that you're doing this to enjoy yourselves and give yourselves a generous heart." In other words, remember that "having fun" is more important than "strength." If I said that out loud to anyone from a university sports club, I wonder, would they get angry and call me soft? (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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