Chinese volleyball, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Hollywood show positivity is best path for players to thrive
- Chinese volleyball coach Chen Fang sparked online debate after post-game punishment of player
- Contrast between Old Trafford side under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and sacked Jose Mourinho shows power of positivity
Coaches can be inspirational, just think of all of the times that Hollywood has put such a coach on the big screen.
Life can on occasion imitate art. Look at legendary Danish handball coach Ulrik Wilbek. He took the women’s national team from the verge of being shut down to second best in the world in 1993 before golds at the European Championships, 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 1997 Worlds.
Then he went and dominated with the Danish men, winning a long list of medals ending with gold at the European Championships in 2012.
While there’s a movie in that story, that is not the case for volleyball coach Chen Fang.
Video of the Bayi trainer punishing one of his players after a loss to Beijing blew up in mainland media and sparked online debate.
Volleyball incident in China pic.twitter.com/ggLDaONCGc
— Kin-wa Chan (@Kinwachan1024) 27 December 2018
Chen made 22-year-old Yuan Dangyi do extra training on the court after the loss. Whenever the player fell, the coach threw a volleyball at him. This happened three times.
Authorities were quick to react to the incident – or at least the negative coverage of it.
Chen was dealt with swiftly. A paltry 4,000 yuan fine for the coach and a three game suspension. Because Bayi is the army team Chen will also receive criticism from the PLA.
Some saw that as a slap in the face for Yuan, who it transpired had actually been slapped in the face by Chen during a team talk in an earlier game.
Shanghai media outlets pointed out that there had been no public apology from the coach nor the club while editorials wondered why anyone seeing this would allow their children to play volleyball.
Online reaction was mixed.
The majority of commenters agreed that there is no place for corporal punishment in modern sport, that it is an antiquated coaching methodology and one with no evidence of working.
Others think the coach should be allowed to do this, “what has the world come to?” they asked, it’s no wonder modern athletes are so quick to dive to the floor.
And then there were those who demanded Chen be given a job with the Chinese Football Association to kick them into shape.
China’s men’s volleyball team, for which Yuan also plays, share similarities with their men’s football team.
Both punch below their weight on the regional circuit and both are overshadowed by the achievements of their female counterparts.
While China’s men barely make the top 20, China’s women’s volleyballers are among the best in the world.
They are the reigning Olympic and Asian Games champions, and among the favourites for Tokyo 2020.
Furthermore, they also look like they are having fun when they take to the court.
Enjoying elite sport is an odd concept for many of us who play only recreationally.
The words of many a Super Bowl winning coach concentrate on just that: winning is everything.
That’s not an attitude that has been unique to American football.
But as Bob Dylan warned back in the 1960s, the times they are a changing. Though it’s no surprise that it has taken longer for the old boys network in sport to get that message.
The English FA has got it loud and clear. From Gareth Southgate at the very top and the coaches of the winning youth teams below to the thousands of coaches going through the FA’s Level One introductory coaching programme, there is a message of positivity.
That can be as simple as not punishing players with push-ups if they get a drill wrong or make an error. What message does punishment send out to young players? What effect will that have? Is there a place for negativity?
A look at what’s gone on at Old Trafford in recent weeks seems to prove the point.
The improvement in results from Jose Mourinho’s time to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival as interim has been stark.
Former United player Solskjaer has freed up his young charges to play, to take risks, to enjoy themselves. He has already got the best out of Paul Pogba, a player who you might well want to slap in the face as his manager but are better served by finding a way to motivate.
Somewhat paradoxically, Solskjaer while 10 years younger and less experienced is in many ways more traditional than Mourinho.
The Norwegian played for 11 years under Alex Ferguson and then coached the reserve team under him.
Solskjaer’s message to his players has been one that served the Scot for 25 years. “Go out there and enjoy yourselves”. It was an order that served the great Scottish coaches before him: Matt Busby at United, Jock Stein at Celtic and Liverpool’s Bill Shankly.
Mourinho is a man who asked his Chelsea players whether they wanted to enjoy the game or after the game ahead of one cup final.
Chinese football faces a decision with Marcello Lippi leaving after next month’s Asian Cup, when they have an opportunity to hire a positive, modern, maybe even young coach.
Then again Mourinho is available and maybe Chinese players would respond to him in a way that his Chelsea, Inter Milan and Porto players did.
Inspirational or otherwise, that would make for a good film.