••• The International Writers Magazine: Training Techniques
China vs US Olympic Sports Training Compared
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China MBA
China’s inability to top the Olympic medal charts in all but the 2008 games, which they hosted, demonstrates the limitations of the Soviet sport school system. And the continued dominance of the US demonstrates the advantages of the US scholastic/collegiate athletics system. In the US scholastic/collegiate sports system millions and millions of American young people have the opportunity to train and compete in organized sport.
In the Soviet system, the one used in China, only students at sports schools and sport universities are training and competing. As a result, China’s total pool of athletes is less than half a million. The US has almost that many just for wrestling, which is only the 8th most popular sport for boys. When you look at more popular sports like track and field or basketball, the numbers run into the millions. US scholastic sports teams train every day with professional coaches. They compete on an established circuit of inter-school, dual and triple meets, leading to conference, state, regional and national competitions. Universities have a similar program, however the athletes train more than once per day, while also attending a full complement of academic classes, and maintaining their grades.
Under the Soviet style system the athletes live in sports schools from an early age and a very small percentage of them will go on to sports universities. Along the way, they will receive minimal education. As there is no sports culture in the general population the young children are often unaware of more obscure sports, such as fencing or lacrosse, which they may be chosen to play. The US system is more natural in the sense that kids choose the sport and the training themselves. They live with their parents, and live “normal” kid lives in addition to training. When my teammates from the sports university went to test into the special police they told me that there were applicants who did not come from a sports university and they absolutely knew that non-sports applicants would have higher levels of education. So, the sports university guys had to make up points in the physical portion of the selections to compensate for their lower written scores. In the US system there would not necessarily be a direct correlation between low academic level and sports training. The best place to train is a university where athletes are required to select an academic major and pass all of their classes. This means that a much higher percentage of US athletes graduate with degrees in subjects apart from sport or physical education.
While healthier for the athletes, the US system also results in the athletes acquiring an incredible amount of competition experience. At the sports university in China, I was told the athletes compete a maximum of 4 times per year. In The US, I have had wrestling coaches tell me there are kids who graduate high school with a record of 100 wins. That is more than double the number of competitions a Chinese athlete will have in his entire career. But in US, the best wrestlers go on to compete in college and world championships, so the experience grows beyond the 100 wins.
The US scholastic/collegiate sports system isn’t even the end of the story. There is a parallel system called American Athletic Union (AAU) which regulates amateur sports and holds competitions, including national level championships, outside of schools and universities. For some sports, like boxing, nearly 100% of amateur athletes come from this AAU system, because there is very little scholastic/collegiate boxing. But for other sports, like wrestling, baseball, basketball, tennis, and on, there is both a scholastic/collegiate circuit and an AAU circuit, which for some sports more than doubles the numbers of athletes and competitions. The AAU claims to have over 600,000 athletes. AAU also oversees the Junior Olympics which enjoys participation by 15,000 athletes. Some sports such as baseball/softball have both AAU, scholastic/collegiate, as well as association teams and training. As a result, there are an estimated 15 Million Americans playing in competitive baseball/softball leagues. The AAU system is probably the system closest to what is used in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, whereby facilities and availability of competitions will vary dramatically from region to region and where athletes generally have to see after their own training through clubs and schools which may in some cases be self-funded and in some cases, funded by government programs.
Depending on the sport, scholastic/collegiate athletes may compete in AAU or other amateur league and federation events during the off season as a way of gaining experience and continuing training. Athletes that have graduated out of or resigned from collegiate sports will often train and compete in AAU events with the hopes of going to the Pan Am Games, World Championships, or even the Olympics. It is not uncommon at universities to find older athlete training alongside the team, often into their thirties and forties, who compete as independents.
The Soviet Style sports system does not provide citizens with the number of options the US system does. It also doesn’t produce well-rounded, educated athletes who can support themselves in jobs apart from sport. Finally, it does not teach athletes to be independent thinkers who see after their own training and competitions. Once athletes in countries like China, leave the sports university, they normally don’t train and compete anymore because they are simply not conditioned to take their training into their own hands.
Now, shifting to the 2016 Olympics, the Chinese Olympic team had 410 members. The US had 558. Why didn’t China send a full complement of athletes? This would seem like the first step toward winning the total medal count. Was this because fewer Chinese athletes qualified for Olympic competition? If so, then wouldn’t it make sense to broaden the pool? If China would implement the US system of scholastic/collegiate sports, not only would it be better for the athletes, but it would increase the number and experience of athletes, increasing China’s chances of winning gold medals in the Olympics. Also, with the current unemployment problem in China, it would be a way of creating millions of jobs, country wide, for coaches, officials, and administrators.
Schools in China, including the sports university, do not have stadia for the purpose of holding events, as US schools and universities do, but towns and even districts of larger cities have public stadia. So, instead of the US system where schools play home and away games, hosted at the school’s own stadium, China could have the schools and universities compete in the municipal stadiums which could also be a way of generating public interest in sport as well as revenue in the form of ticket sales and TV coverage for the local governments.
About the Author
Dr. Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He holds a PhD from Shanghai University of Sport, where he wrote his dissertation, in Chinese. He received his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and is currently writing a series of economic research papers about the Chinese economy.
Twitter: Brooklynmonk: http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk
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