Consul General’s Corner: The Sporting Life
January 17, 2011
One of the biggest differences in Asian and American schools is sports.
In my tours in Hong Kong, mainland China and Thailand, I found that the emphasis on studies discourages participation in extracurricular activities. During a webchat on sports in Beijing, Chinese netizens told me that their parents wouldn't let them consider playing sports as it would leave them less time for homework. In fact, sports and academics are even separated into different schools, with promising athletes identified early and sent to sports academies.
In the U.S., sports are an integral part of our education. Our first taste of teamwork is on the playing field, with children as young as 4 and 5 playing soccer or baseball. Team sports become even more important in high school and college, pulling together schools and even communities behind their “home team,” especially in American football or basketball. We are taught from a young age that sports teaches us how to cooperate, how to handle adversity, and how to play by the rules. Many high-level managers played sports at school or university.
Sports are thus more than a diversion for Americans. They are a training ground for life. My husband, who grew up in the United Kingdom, is forever telling our children the importance of team sports. He's even coaching at their school.
I participated in sports in high school and college, running track and cross country. Juggling a busy schedule, having the discipline to train every day, and supporting my teammates taught me important organizational and leadership skills. A 2002 survey by MassMutual Financial Group asked over 400 senior business leaders about their careers and experience with sports growing up. A whopping 80 percent of the female executives said they played team sports while growing up. A significant majority of them played team sports in high school, like I did, either on an intramural or school-sponsored team. Nearly a quarter of them played baseball, a fifth played volleyball, 15 percent played tennis, and 10 percent ran track. (Only 8 percent of them played soccer, which I know confounds the rest of the world. When I was younger, there were few opportunities to play soccer, though this has changed in the last two decades.) Moreover, two-thirds of the women surveyed continue to play sports or exercise at least three times a week.
A 2005 study is a further indication that playing sports tends to lead to future success. Athletes surveyed were more likely than those that didn’t participate to earn a four-year degree or higher (78 percent for athletes versus 64 percent for nonparticipants) (Ingels, 2005, 71). Sports is such an important part of American life that it’s protected by law. Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972 stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal assistance.” The amendment didn’t even mention sports, but the application of “Title IX” (as it’s known) meant that for every football or basketball program, a corresponding volleyball or lacrosse program for girls must be offered. As a result, many more women have participated in sports. A 2006 study (“Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal National Study Twenty-Nine Year Update 1977-2006” by Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta) showed that the number of women in high school sports had increased nine-fold, while the number of women in college sports had increased over 450%.
Given the importance of sports in American life, it should be of no surprise that the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai is hosting our annual tri-post soccer match on January 15. Participants from the U.S. Embassies in Bangkok and Vientiane, as well as our Consulate here, will play a match (Thailand versus Laos) before enjoying Lanna hospitality on the Consulate grounds. Our Ambassador in Laos, Karen Stewart -- who was also the last U.S. Consul General in Udorn Thani before we closed our consulate there -- will come for the match, as will the Deputy Chief of Mission from Bangkok. Many of our families will be there to participate as well.
We work together every day, but you don't really know a person until you play sports with them. Our annual match is therefore the ultimate team-building experience.
And we hope to resume our friendly soccer matches with our Thai colleagues here in town. Are you ready?