Danketsu has officially gotten off to a great start. After participating with these athletes for the last year and finally being able to actively help them, under the Danketsu Project, I feel more welcomed amongst the communities. Teams are learning more every day, this virtual exchange is certainly turning out to be everything I hoped it would.
Over the last two weeks, I traveled back to America to begin an important part of Danketsu. Solidifying connections. I traveled to Garrison Forest where I connected with Kim Marlor, the tennis coach for Garrison Forest High School, located in Owings Mills, Maryland. Kim Marlor and her tennis team will be connecting with the Notre Dame Seishin tennis team located in Kurashiki, Japan. Garrison Forest has a strong tradition of utilizing sports to help students develop a strong sense of integrity, self-esteem, cooperation, sportsmanship, responsibility, loyalty and a sense of contribution to a group effort through athletics. This sentiment was shared when I sat down and spoke with Kim Marlor. She is an incredible coach, and person who believes that sports have the ability to develop the building blocks of good global citizens.
I also traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to study under Head Coach John Troxell and his staff. At Franklin and Marshall, I was equipped with plays, drills, advice and an incredible donation of jerseys. All of this information, as well as the jerseys, will be used to develop the Kibi International University football team into a local beacon of football information and a source for younger players within rural Okayama to learn from. The Franklin and Marshall Diplomats have been playing football in Lancaster for 129 years, and are currently poised to begin their 12th season under Coach John Troxell. The staff at Franklin and Marshall are known for pushing their players, creating student-athletes with strong self-discipline, and a bond that lasts even after graduation. Explaining the program’s motto: “Not four years, but a lifetime.”
Thank you to Garrison Forrest Athletics and Kim Marlor, as well as Franklin and Marshall College Athletics, Coach Troxell, and his staff.
There are four main goals of Danketsu. But first, I want to generally speak about this project’s base and where I hope for it to go.
Here in Kurashiki, I have gravitated towards sports teams, whether it’s at Notre Dame Seishin, Kibi Kokusai or even the greater football community. I’ve been extremely lucky to be welcomed.
Danketsu started off as a dream, something I didn’t think I would be able to begin until after graduate school. My dream was to create an international community for student athletes to exchange not only workouts, tips, and film, but to exchange cultural difference while exposing each other to a different way of life. Below you will find goals of Danketsu, how they will be carried out and the importance of a program like this.
List of Goals:
- Create a cultural exchange for student athletes
- Connect schools and universities with the common goal of developing productive global citizens.
- Pique the international interests of students athletes, in both America and Japan.
- Document a sport in Japan that doesn’t often get attention (American Football).
- Students will be paired with a partner in America or Japan, who participates in the same sport.
- Students will be tasked with getting to know their counterpart, using simple questions to get to know each other. However, questions will be provided if students get stuck.
- Coaches and team managers will be encouraged to provide game film, workouts, drills, or anything utilized to develop athletes.
- The creation of a 10-15 minute video to document football and sports in Japan, and the work that goes into various sports.
The mission of Danketsu, as stated on the “About” page, is to provide a virtual in-depth cultural exchange through sports while connecting institutions with the common goal of growing global citizens.
The world is getting smaller, we now have the ability to communicate with our neighbors in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even 50 years ago. I believe that we should take advantage of this and reach out to our neighbors, to learn about a different culture.
But why through sports?
My love of sports is deep, to read reasons why check out my first blog post here. It explains why sports matter, and the power they have to change lives. But why choose sports as a medium for cultural exchange? The answer is simple, every four years the world comes together to celebrate the Olympics (which will be in Japan in 2020), we see world records being broken, and sportsmanship that wouldn’t happen anywhere else. Sports are something that we can all bond over and get to know each other through. For more check out my “Why Sports” post!
I have always been tentative to express my love of athletics. Especially my love of football, given its consistent problems regarding race, domestic violence, and general sexism throughout America’s National Football League. I often keep my passion to myself, worried about being perceived as a part of the issue. I’ve certainly seen these darker sides of the sport, but throughout my life, I’ve been a part of more positive situations through sports than the negative ones I so often see. Growing up and playing teams within Baltimore county and city, I have seen football offer a way out of negative situations for student athletes. I have even seen it provide a way to break stereotypes in a big way.
Instead of being a complicit bystander to the issues that plague sports, it is my personal goal to shine the spotlight on the positives that sports can offer. Specifically, how it can break through barriers such as race, religion, and culture to unite us through a common love; sports. A manifestation of this unification will be hosted right here in Japan during the 2020 Olympics. Every four years the world comes together and tunes into the Olympics, usually cheering for their country, but ultimately these countries come together. The hard work and passion of the athletes often leads to camaraderie. We see this with little things every Olympics cycle. For example when Usain Bolt stopped speaking during his interview as to respect the United States National Anthem, little things like this lead to athletes everywhere respecting different cultures.
I remember my little brother running into the living room of my parent’s home from his Randallstown Panther’s practice one day, exclaiming that he had a female teammate. He was ecstatic, and it both shocked and amazed me. My brother and I played on the same team but within different age groups, so word about an amazing player in the 7-9 age group had spread quickly, even reaching my own teammates. She not only dominated but did it humbly. Eventually, within our league, it became normal to see other girls playing on different teams. This one athlete had the ability to carve her own version of success using sports. This would prove to change my perspective going forward with sports and the impact one can have.
As I fast forward to college, I remember being faced with a particularly difficult situation in my Junior year. I was forced to take financial leave. Within this moment the many statistics that my parents and siblings had fought against were about to mean nothing. The dropout rate for African-American high school students was only about 13 percent, but that number skyrockets at the level of higher education. It would have been very easy to fall into this and never return to class at Franklin and Marshall, adding to the number of black students who never get to graduate. However with the help of my parents and working myself, I eventually re-enrolled and graduated on time, with a completed research project to boot.
When I look back on that time, nothing motivated me more than football. It’s not that I had any particular aspiration of playing professionally, but when things were hardest, it motivated me to get up, go workout, study Japanese, stay fresh on what parts of Psychology I was interested in, go fill out numerous job applications and keep moving towards completing the goal of re-enrollment. It forced me to find a better outlet than me wallowing in self-pity. I just used it to work harder. If it wasn’t for football, I don’t know if I would have graduated.
When I returned to college the following semester, I was inspired to change my major. I wanted to incorporate all facets of my experience into a working model for research as well as my future. I combined Psychology, Japanese and International Studies to create my major, which I named “Culture and Cognition.” With this Culture and Cognition major, I set out to study the manifestations of culture within sports. I wanted to establish if culture affects how any given basketball player plays the game. For example, does a subject from a collectivist culture (a culture in which the group is more important than the individual) pass the ball more often than a subject from an individualistic culture (a culture in which the individual outweighs the group). I was awarded a grant during the spring of my senior year to take this project head on. I ventured to Milwaukee for a week, where I worked face-to-face with athletes, coaches, and officials from the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and the Memphis Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association.
To this day, I’m driven to use sports as a positive form of development for student-athletes. Sports can teach inclusion. Sports can teach hard work. In my case, sports inspired me, the child of Liberian immigrants, to forge my own path to success, and mold my own academic experience using sports as a medium, avoiding ominous dropout statistics along the way.
So, why sports?
Sports have always been a beacon of light, always offered hope to me and countless others when attempting to find a way out of a bad situation. Sports also acts as an outlet, sometimes for something as simple as staying in shape and working out. However, sometimes it becomes a part of a student-athletes identity, affecting every aspect of their life. Just as sports have changed my life, I want to be able to help students from around the world understand that playing sports has the power to allow them to reach their potentials, not just athletically but also academically and socially. Danketsu is a manifestation of this to me, a program to help students develop something they care about while developing the building blocks of good global citizens.