団結 [Danketsu] (Unity): Student-Athletes and International Cooperation in the wake of COVID-19 in the context of Hiroshima Japan

(Originally published on April 27, 2020)

“やばいね、これは…”

Recently it has become commonplace to vocalize this thought. The phrase above can be translated from Japanese as: “Man, this is bad, huh.”

The impact of this virus has crippled the global society. It has also forced us all to step back and become introspective, disciplined, and for some social media users: comedic. All utilized as coping mechanisms to push through during our various lockdown situations.

As for myself; it’s taken an interesting turn. For the past 3 and a half years, I have run a sports development program in rural sections of Japan; including Okayama and Hiroshima. The main goal of that project is to advance international cooperation utilizing sports as a medium. As of last year, I became a Master’s student at Hiroshima University and the Defensive Coordinator of the American Football team. For any of my colleagues that have played sports with me, it is no secret that the prospect of me running a defensive is quite terrifying and indeed laughable. However, in accordance with the cultural background of university teams here in Japan, there is considerably more cooperation and coordination with student-athletes than most athletes from America experience.

Students are able to create and manage their playbooks, workouts, and practice schedules, but have looked to Danketsu and its various international connections for support. The largest of that support came from Spartan Sports Health and Wellness, where a former trainer and mentor of mine; Bill Ackerman offered his expertise in strength and conditioning to support the team.

Group of players during a March workout

At the start of the global outbreak, Hiroshima seemed virtually untouched by the virus. Speed and conditioning training continued as normal well into March. However, as of April 16th, the country declared a state of emergency, which in turn impacted Hiroshima as cases here started to increase daily. After the declaration, Hiroshima University also set measures to stop the spread and “flatten the curve.”

Consequently, the University football team’s spring season was canceled, in addition to all practices, group workouts, and the all-important film sessions. We accepted this as our fate for the next 2-3 months with the understanding that if it is required of us to continue a lockdown we will do so without complaint. But, how does a team of 47 (small, we know) stay mentally sharp and in shape while adhering to the rules set in place?

Player doing sprinting drills

Re-enter Bill Ackerman; Bill has provided our team with full access to online training that he created for his athletes back in Maryland. This has allowed our athletes to continue working out, stay fit, and reduce stress while we virtually plan our next steps for another run at the regional championship (make sure to utilize your translators for this hyperlink).

Hiroshima University athlete working out

Although a strange and confusing time, it’s comforting and inspiring to see athletes in Japan utilizing their international connections and still competing even if it is alone. As for Danketsu, and the many other projects like it that connect students virtually and through exchanges, it bestows a sense of validation during a time when physical contact and in-person exchange is impossible. We’ve also come to understand that we are lucky as a football club, we are all healthy and hoping every day this comes to a close by doing our part. Although the cliche that “we are all in this together” has been thrown around a lot recently we will continually do our part to reduce transmissions at least within our small corner of the world. We will do so through Danketsu, and that mission will hopefully do our part for the larger global society.

Although outdated; this starting mini-documentary outlines Danketsu’s start here in Japan and inspiration. If you have some time, by all means, please watch.

 

Article by;

Alvin (AJ) Koikoi J.r.

Princeton in Asia Fellowship ’18 (Danketsu Project: Growing Global Citizens)

Hiroshima University Graduate School of International Development and Cooperation ’21

https://www.linkedin.com/in/alvin-koikoi-j-r-067ab610a/

https://danketsuproject.com/

Instagram: @danketsuproject

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