Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chinese Sports Schools

My professional life in Oz has come incredibly far since our arrival over two years ago, and to be honest, it just keeps getting better! A few days ago, I returned from a week in China for work, where my manager (boss), myself, and 3 of my coworkers visited Chinese Sports Schools in hopes of bringing back ideas to implement at our government-funded sports school in Melbourne. Not only was this a wonderful professional opportunity, but a chance to see a new country and to be thrown into a non-English-speaking culture. I have traveled to many different countries over the last 10 years, but this was my first experience in a country where only a few people spoke English. In addition, my coworkers and I were fortunate enough to have free time to explore Beijing and also to spend a day hiking on the Great Wall.
The boys are ready to go!
In order to immerse ourselves directly into the culture of Chinese Sports Schools, we actually stayed on-site at one of the schools. Basing ourselves at the Shichahai Sports School, we were placed in "VIP" rooms. We were guided by Dominque, an employee of the school who spoke English well enough to translate for us... most of the time. Unfortunately, we happened to be visiting the school during a holiday period, so not all sports were training while we were there. However, we did get to watch a few training sessions for various sports, and these were located right down the hall from our rooms.

In addition to Shichahai, we visited several other sports schools in the area to watch training sessions. Of all of the sports we saw, the sport with the most participants seemed to be table tennis (ping pong). Starting at a very young age, some of these students train for as many as 7 to 8 hours a day. What was most striking was the repetitiveness of the drills, and the fact that students never seemed to lose focus or get tired like I might expect a young "Western" student to do. Other sessions that we had the opportunity to watch included badminton, golf, wushu (a martial arts-type sport), tennis, and taekwondo.

One of the more unique experiences we had was visiting a farm owned by Shichahai Sports School, about an hour and a half from the city. The school uses the farm to fuel the top level athletes, and whatever food is left after that gets fed to guests, lower level athletes, coaches, and staff at the school. Since we were staying at the school (with 3 meals/day included), we think that most of what we were eating came from the farm that we visited. There are training facilities at the farm and also accommodation, so athletes could go into "camp" at the farm when preparing for a big competition. The farm also serves as an Outward Bound center, for corporate groups to rent for retreats and workshops, which I'm sure helps to fund the operation of the farm and school.
Free range chickens
Outward Bound apparatus in the background

Testing one of the challenges. These guys would have gotten wet if they had fallen!
Free range piglets!
On our last full day in China, we were able to visit a sports university, perhaps forging a partnership where we could sent students for short exchange programs. At Capital University of Physical Education and Sports, we were treated like kings (and a queen!) for the day. In addition to touring the facilities, many of which were used for the 2008 Olympic Games, we indulged in perhaps the best lunch of our entire trip, feasting on many different types of Chinese food. In China, food is served on a round turntable, which is moved around so that everyone can try various dishes. At this meal, we were provided with about 20 different dishes, including some traditional Chinese foods like pig's ear (which I did not try but the boys did) and lotus flower (which I did try and was quite tasty). Overall, our group was adventurous with eating over the course of our trip (more details on that in an upcoming post!), which apparently is not always the case with Western travelers.
This pool was built for use before the 2008 Olympics.
An entire section on Sports Medicine in the Olympic Games library.
Prentice's books are everywhere! I taught Sports Medicine using this book.
Our staff and our gracious hosts
The only negative about our trip was that we did not get to watch any weightlifting. At every school we visited, we asked about lifting, but it seems that there are specialized schools for lifting and we could not get access into those schools. Since we are teaching Olympic lifts from year 8 at our school, we were hoping to get some insight on how the Chinese approach Olympic lifting, as they have been very successful in that sport. However, it seems that the Chinese did not want to give away their secrets as to what makes them good at Olympic lifting! One thing that we observed without visiting any lifting schools is that Chinese people are very comfortable sitting in a deep squat, and it is often their "default" or resting position. This improves mobility and allows for better weight lifting technique compared to Western cultures who struggle to get in that deep squat position. If you have ever visited China, you would know that it is hard to find a traditional toilet, at least in Beijing, so in order to use the bathroom you better have decent squatting skills!
Impressive flexibility
This identifies a Western toilet versus a Chinese toilet!
The thing that perhaps stood out the most for me on our tour of these schools was the presence of a Chinese flag at each and every venue where athletes train. While the Chinese might not show a lot of emotion, they most certainly have pride in their country and aspire to one day compete for their nation. The difference between China and countries such as the USA or Australia might be that the Chinese are more willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the top from a young age, even if that means 30 minutes of shadow drills without a ping pong ball at the age of 5!

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