Play ball (or rather don’t)
Saw something in the news the other week which got me wondering, as these things often do. Apparently a few months ago, last summer perhaps, a couple of kids were in a park throwing a baseball to each other, the two kids in question were, I think, aged about 9 and 11, could even have been brothers, if I remember correctly.
Anyway at one point kid one throws to kid two but the throw is a wild one and goes off line and, unfortunately, the ball hits another kid square in the chest. Now, whether this was a deliberate throw at the younger kid, no one seems to know, but what happened next will not be appearing on Question of Sport anytime soon. There is a medical condition where if a something hits the chest of a young kid, there is a chance that the blow will act like an anti-defibrillator and actually stop the heart from beating (a bit like the experiment the docs used in the movie Flatliners to create near death experiences). This is exactly what happened to the younger kid and, as no one knew what was happening at the time, no one knew what to do and as a consequence the young kid tragically died.
I have every sympathy with the parents of the young kid as it was a terrible accident, to be sure, but the they decided that they weren’t happy with that and so sued the parents of the two kids playing ball for 65 million yen. Now I, of course, was not privy to the court case in full, but the other week the Judge found in favour of the parents of the young kid and ordered the parents of the others to pay the slightly lesser amount of 62 million yen in compensation.
Interestingly the Judge did not decide that the two boys had wilfully attacked the young kid or deliberately thrown the ball at him, no, he realised that it was a tragic mistake. But what he did decide was that the two boys should have realised what would have happened if they let their ball hit the younger kid and so should not have been playing ball in the park around other people. Now firstly they weren’t, apparently, breaking any park rules by playing ball, so no problem there. But secondly, how is a 9 ye old and an 11 year old meant to know about an extremely rare condition that affects a tiny fraction of the population? How are they meant to have known that a ball in the chest, at the right pace and the right angle, might stop someone’s heart from beating? I say they couldn’t. I didn’t know anything about it until reading about this case. I’m pretty sure that goes for the rest of the population as well. I wonder if the young kids parents knew about it either, until it was too late at least? But it is the Judge’s comments that really got me, as if it was common knowledge and the kids were knowingly and recklessly endangering other people in the park. All this serves to do, I feel sure, is make sure that playing catch in the park with your mates will now be outlawed throughout Japan, another nail in the coffin of childhood innocence and fun (although I feel sure it won’t stop wanker golfers hitting their silly little balls all over the show with blatant disregard to signs telling them not to).
From now on, I reckon, playing catch will be something that kids can only do under the auspices of a controlled school atmosphere and strict supervision that, as usual for Japan, takes all the fun out of it and destroys the whole concept of the playing for the love of the game. And then what happens if the same thing happens on the school practice field? Every year, it seems there are reports of a kid at so-and-so junior high school who collapses, or worse, through heat exhaustion and dehydration as their sadistic baseball coach has been making them run and run in the heat (and humidity) of a midday in August. It’s all to do with ideas like ‘chinonijimu yo na doryokuwo suru’ which can mean, for example, to practice so hard you piss blood. Now is that, I wonder, really a healthy way to approach sports for an 11-year-old junior high school kid? Again I think not as, at that sort of age, sports should be about enjoying yourself and having a laugh with your mates. Practice, yes; play against other schools, yes; be driven so hard by the coach that you pass out and are then admonished for doing so, no thanks.
But that is the culture of after school club activities in Japan, everyone does them and everyone does them everyday. I may have written this little anecdote before, but if I have, tough. I remember I used to teach a group of junior high school kids on a Wednesday evening, three kids, two girls and a boy, very nice, quiet as they usually are that age but more expressive as they came out of themselves a bit. Anyway, late one august we had a lesson and I remarked to one of the girls that she must be sad that the summer holiday was almost over. “Oh no”, she replied, she was looking forward to getting back to school. Why? I wondered. Well, during term time the law states that kids can only go to school for a maximum of six days a week, and at state schools only six days every other week. But, in holidays there is no such law as the law says the students should be on holiday. The law doesn’t, however, account for ‘voluntary’ attendance and club activities which was such that the girl was going to school every single day of the seven days in the week. Mad. But madder still was the teacher that turned up every day and demanded their attendance. Getting back to regular school, it would seem, meant the girl got a day off! Some holiday...
The girl was in the school band and there was a big competition in early September so all members had to spend all of their holiday practicing. If they didn’t they might not get a place in the band (pretty bad) or even might let the school down (infinitely worse). So that was it, for their entire holiday. And no one, except perhaps the kids, seemed to mind, not their parents, not the teacher, not the management of the school and not the organisers of the band competition, who just as easily have arranged the competition for later in the year. Mad, the lot of them. But they are not, I reckon, likely to foster a spirit of love and devotion to music, or any of the other activities they do, by flogging the kids to death. Far from it, but maybe it’s a cultural thing.