Recovering Honor in Sport
By Mark Hull

Correlation is not causation. Still, there’s a correlation that’s got me thinking. It all started with an article on the National Public Radio website titled, “The Secret to Japan’s Little League Success – 10 Hour Practice.” Here are a few outtakes:

“This is the Japanese way of doing sports, the same in karate as in baseball,” team manager Masumi Omae told me. “It emphasizes what we call konjo, or grit and tenacity. Repetition is important. You’ve got to repeat movements until you master them.”

Team Captain Dia Okada says he aspires to lead his own team through humility and self-sacrifice. “It’s about the parts other than baseball,” he says. “As captain, I try hard to do whatever the other kids don’t want to do, like cleaning the field, picking up stray balls and cheering my teammates on.”

In the afternoon, the batting cages come out for hitting practice. Coach Kohji Ohno explains that a perfect swing is not the only thing that matters. “Beautiful form is important,” he says, “but so are good manners, such as greetings. For example, the kids bow to the field before the game. Perhaps American players don’t do that.”

Every practice session is a family affair. Parents make lunch and drinks for the kids and coaches. Everyone takes responsibility for meticulously grooming the infield, in the same focused and respectful way.

Two things stand out. The first is that they understand the “10,000 Hours Rule.” There is a determined focus on purposeful practice as the path toward mastery. When you figure out the time and expense we put toward traveling teams’ weekend tournaments I believe they may be spending less time (measured from the time you leave until the time you get home), less money and developing more skills than our athletes. They choose to master the craft before the incessant competition.

The second thing is even more instructive. Japan functions in what is called an “honor and shame” culture. Is it any wonder they honor the game, those who play and serve around the game, and even the field they play on? America is the quintessential “guilt and innocence” culture. Is it any wonder we would initially think bowing to the field weird or at best quaint?

Behavior arises out of what a culture honors. By now many of us have seen the video of the two high school football players from San Antonio who violently blind-sided an official. By now many of us have also seen the program “Friday Night Tykes” which also originates in San Antonio. It is an appalling view of what happens when adults take over children’s games. Child abuse, violence and lies of masculinity undergird the story line. See the correlation?


Clearly this environment doesn’t create eventual high school players who honor the game and all those connected to it. It is instructive to note that the Head Coach of these high school players was surprised because he says he never encouraged this kind of behavior. Here’s my response to all coaches: “Unless you have Level 3 strategies to counteract this type of behavior it is an incident waiting to happen. The self-absorbed, competitive environment of sport, especially contact sport, tends to fuel this behavior. If you don’t teach and model honor and respect for all then you are assuming that every home environment is teaching and modeling it for your athletes. If you don’t believe that then you better have a strategy to teach and model it when the pressure is off so that you will see the desired response when the pressure is on.”

I would add that a “guilt/innocence” culture can look at revenge as a form of justice. If revenge finds a place in your program and language then it’s a very small step to target all who you believe have taken something from you. As we learn more this thread is appearing in the story. Could the athletes have thought that they were only pursuing justice? I’ve done it. I’ve used payback as a form of justice. In so doing I only fuel the cycle of violence. Battlefields are terrible models and metaphors for fields of play.

Coach, you have the incredible power to make a difference in the lives of many. It requires intention. It requires level 2 and 3 strategies. The 3D Institute desires to be your ally. For “goodness sake” we’re here for you. Let’s work together to put honor into the sport experience.

2 thoughts on “Recovering Honor in Sport”

  1. Oh my, how many times in my coaching career did I make the opposition the ‘enemy’? Guilty! As I have questioned my coaching strategies in developing ‘winning’ attitudes of the mind & heart of adolescents…my heart has been changed…transformed! I now embrace the competition as an opportunity to ‘join’ with them to see how can compete in various situations. Always…ALWAYS great LIFE lessons are learned as we embrace competition as ‘us’ vs ‘them’. It has brought the beauty & joy back into the game. And oh, by the way, our kids PLAY hard! We compete at a very high level!

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