Saturday, July 28, 2012

Basketball Dialect

Thursday night was the most exhausted I've felt since coming to Japan... at the fifth and sixth grade girls basketball practice haha.

When I first arrived in Japan I remember one of the AET's telling us the basketball kids would be the most in shape of all the athletes. It didn't hit me until after I was drenched in sweat and trying to pretend I wasn't all that tired why. They run them to the brink.

I first got involved with the basketball team a few weeks ago when a mother of a girl I had met just the day before noticed me leaving school for home and asked if I'd want to join them in the gym, when I saw they were playing basketball my interest peaked. That first day I just rebounded for a really shy 3rd grader named Aira on the other side of the court from the rest of the older girls playing five on five (at the end of the practice I found out she is one of my students, I had assumed she came from the 3rd elementary school I don't teach at haha). I knew she was having fun based on her occasional smile that would leak out. I don't think she said anything though.

Other than having a difficult time communicating with the moms after practice I felt really good about it all.

As a foreigner I'm learning to realize that when you feel good about everything, everything starts to change (fortunately it works both ways).

I came back to practice the next week and little Aira wasn't there. I teach at two schools, at one school the older girls (the fifth and sixth graders) seem to love English and me while at the other I'm not sure if they could care less about either of us. The basketball team is mostly comprised of the latter (one of the best players on the team has tried to hide on a couple occasions when I've seen her in the neighborhood, it would be a whole less awkward if she did a better job hiding haha). So while the mom's were happy to have me there the older kids didn't see it the same way, at best they were acting shy. And who can blame them? A foreigner who doesn't speak your language and is just thrown into your practice can create a pretty awkward situation. And how does a guy my age play basketball with 5th and 6th grade girls anyways? A handful of them are really good but still, they're in the sixth grade and 5'8 white guards aren't used to being the biggest and fastest on the court.

It's a difficult situation. I find myself backing off and acting shy myself when others don't reciprocate the encouragement. It's a very conditional love and I'm really good at it; I think most of us are. Those tendencies are magnified when you're an alien, no one speaks your language and you wish all the locals understood how difficult it can be.

I went home feeling like such a failure, knowing my efforts to encourage my students was so stunted by my inability to stretch myself and put myself out there. So guarded. The mother who invited me into the gym the first time even said she thought I looked nervous (she was right). That next week at school, this same mother wrote me a really nice note in English telling me she understood the difficulties but that I should keep coming and things would get better. It said many of the mothers were shy with their bad English but that she wasn't shy! I loved that.

I came back Thursday determined to be more encouraging and uplifting even if it was returned with shyness or rejection. I was also able to participate in more of the drills, which mostly consisted of running. The head coach was there for the first time and he told me he doesn't like to slow it down, I thought it went without saying as one of his better players was dry heaving (I think they should watch some Steve Nash tape, but then again I think everyone should watch some Steve Nash tape). After one drill of sprinting up the length of the court for a layup and back for a layup for 15 straight minutes the girls were dead tired. I was tired but alright enough to encourage the girls with every opportunity I had during the drills. (Due to some lingering injuries I'm not in the shape I want to be in). At first, the encouragement seemed too much on the shy Japanese girls but after a while they warmed up to it. I think it means a lot to do the workouts with the kids, especially when the vocal communication is so lacking. There is a lot I can offer and teach the kids about basketball. It's really neat that all around the globe kids are playing a game I love with such strong American origins.

This Thursday went a lot better, mostly because I was able to learn from my mistakes of being too guarded and too worried about failing. Generous smiles and simple encouragement goes a long way. Next week I'm planning to watch them play a game, we'll see how that goes. I'm hoping to make meaningful connections with these girls. Without the simple game of basketball I don't think it would be possible.

I know this whole post isn't the tourist type of post many of you want to read about but it's small advances like these that really make the experience what it is for me.

On Monday I will be going to Nagano (site of the '98 winter olympics) for several days to hike, mountain bike and relax. I should have some really good pictures and experiences to tell you about. I want to blog more but life gets pretty busy and I've been trying to study more Japanese in the last month. I hope to have another post up next week though.

On a completely random note, today I bought some curry for my chicken and rice dinner. Usually the Japanese employee at the register is really professional and will offer you a polite smile. Today for the first time, the girl (who happened to be really cute) said "Arigato Gozaimasu" (thank you very much) I answered the same and then the girl couldn't hold it in and laughed at me, it really caught me off guard. She made me laugh because it was funny but I'm still not sure what I did to make her laugh exactly. I think I just look really out of place, it's like me in America multiplied by about 100. I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. The Japanese are very gracious people.

There are a lot of pretty girls here but they are all entirely unattainable haha. I've been studying Japanese at Starbucks and in all my time studying there has been one attractive girl that has talked to me and a handful of really nice older people. The one girl did speak really good English. It's too bad that Starbucks is across town haha.

Here are some random pictures. This one is in Tokyo at a famous Buddhist shrine.

This is Tokyo's only skyscraper (okay, maybe not the only one).

These are a few of my male teachers from the Teachers trip we took last weekend to Tokyo. The one on the left is pretty hilarious as you can probably tell. All of them are great!

And this is a picture from the Tokyo Skytree. The tallest building in the world.

Thanks for reading! I miss you all and would love to answer any questions you have, related or completely unrelated to my post.