Publications Monthly Keidanren 2018 February  School Sports and Engaging the Elderly

Tsuyoshi OKAMOTO
Vice Chair, Keidanren
Chairman, Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.

How are we to respond to the continuing aging of Japanese society and the decline in the nation's birthrate? As debate about this issue rages on, there is one emerging trend that to me seems all but inevitable: we will have to call upon Japan's elderly to do even more than they have already done and are doing today. It is my belief that as we address this critical issue we should also be thinking in terms of how to make it easier for those older Japanese who are still in their mental, spiritual, and physical prime to live more active, fulfilling and rewarding lives.

I have heard that in many of Japan's junior high schools and high schools it is becoming increasingly difficult to effectively manage and supervise the students' extracurricular activities, and in particular the activities of the school sports clubs. The principle reason for this are the excessive demands that the supervision of these clubs, which often meet outside of regular school hours and on weekends, place on already overburdened teachers. I understand that even teachers with no personal experience of participating in competitive sports themselves are being asked to step in and serve as advisors to their school sports clubs.

Yet considering the question of student sports in particular, I wonder if this is one area that could actually prove an excellent opportunity to open the door for elderly Japanese with personal knowledge and experience playing in competitive sports to step up and play an active role. Be it baseball, soccer, tennis, kendo traditional Japanese fencing, or any other sport, I am sure that we would find a surprising number of elder Japanese who would be more than delighted to use their experiences from days past to help guide and instruct today's children and young people in sports.

By making it possible for these willing individuals to participate in school club activities, we can both enrich sports education in the schools while at the same time lessening the burdens that we place upon our teachers. The participating elders, too, will experience the satisfaction of contributing more actively to society and in the process find greater meaning in their lives through their interaction with young people.

In April of last year, the Japan Sports Agency within the Ministry of Education launched a new system for school sports club activity advisors. The system is designed to enable qualified individuals from outside the school, operating under school rules and the supervision of the school principal, to provide technical coaching and guidance to students engaged in school sports club activities, accompany them to competitive events away from school, and otherwise support club activities. If we could put in place a structure that combines this new system with--to take but one example--the various programs run by Japan's Silver Human Resource Centers and similar organizations promoting and supporting the activities of Japan's elders, I believe we could achieve remarkable results.

Of course, it will take time and effort to put such a system into place. There are difficult issues that must be addressed, including what would constitute appropriate remuneration for elder advisors, how to determine appropriate cost-sharing between the relevant parties, establishing where legal responsibility lies in the case of any accidents or injuries that might occur during club activities, and, of course, how to bring such an innovative new system into compliance with the many preexisting related rules and regulations, both public and private.

However, what is most important for Japan today is not to tick off lists of reasons why we cannot put innovative proposals like this one into place. Rather, it is to ask how—in the face of the vast transformations being wrought to Japan's social structure by todays falling birthrate and the aging of our population—we can move forward in addressing the great challenges we face.

It is time for all of us to pool our wisdom and ideas to meet this important moment. The question of how Japan's elders can contribute to improving school sports education is just one positive example highlighting the issues confronting Japan today.