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‘It wasn’t like that in your day?’

Posted January. 11, 2020 09:21,   

Updated January. 11, 2020 09:21


Hur Jae, who had coached South Korea’s national basketball team and recently transitioned into an “entertainment hopeful,” had not always been blessed with fortune. Hur used to dominate the basketball court but spent increasingly more time sitting on the bench in his late 30s when he was contemplating retirement. He was a sixth man with no guarantee to play on any given day, but he said that such a personally unprecedented experience made him grow up. “I used to say, ‘This is all you can do after taking time off?’ to younger reserve players quite often. I was naturally feeling quite embarrassed when I found myself in their position.” He explained that shooting and balancing were both difficult because he wasn’t warmed up yet. He stopped saying that to younger players after this experience.

Hur as an entertainer seems a bit clumsy. He is well-known to enjoy drinks quite a lot – there used to be a joke that an opposing team’s defenders struggle with blocking Hur because of the smell of alcohol from him. Nowadays, he does not drink a single drop of alcohol the night before recording, but he still seems a bit sloppy in entertainment shows. Ridiculously missed kicks and a warm smile like a friendly neighbor’s make viewers laugh. His personality is far from being a maverick or running a one-man show. Two sons of the former national basketball team coach are also basketball stars. “I always say to my sons that they should put their teammates first and focus on listening, rather than talking,” Hur said. His non-authoritative behaviors in front of the camera may be his way of setting an example for his sons.

Shin Chi-yong, an excellent former volleyball player and the president of the Jincheon National Training Center, has become as busy as Hur this year as a lot of attention is pouring in with the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo in July. He has been coaching the hard-working national volleyball team for four years. While serving as the coach of the Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance team, Shin had been known for his skills to lead the team to a win. He had coached the team for whopping 20 years, during which the team won the championship 16 times with the records of 77 consecutive wins and eight wins in the V-League. His focus on effective communication with players and rigorous management was key.

Six out of seven teams in the men’s professional volleyball teams of the season had been coached by Shin. There is something Shin emphasizes over and over again when meeting with his former players who became coaches. “I tell them to be careful with their words. Saying stuff like, ‘You can’t even do that?’ or ‘I would do so much better than what you are doing,’ will only lead to antipathy in players. They may seem polite in agreement, but as soon as they turn their backs to you they say to themselves, ‘Yeah, right,’ with a snort.” It is his genuine advice that he had learned from a lifetime experience as a coach. “For younger generations, it is not all about making money. Respect and listening are the basis for coaching. You have to win players’ hearts to win games,” Shin added. Former coach Hur and president of the national training center Shin both were the icons of an era in basketball and volleyball, the highlights of winter sports. The two have a bit of resemblance as a long-time leader in each field – both on and off the court.

It is the time when lots of people make grand New Year’s resolutions. The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, much sooner than usual. There will be a lot of conversations among relatives as much as food prepared for the holiday. Mark Twain once said, “If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” I hope that South Korean proverb, “Three-inch long tongue kills a person,” happens less this year, regardless of generations.

Jong-Seok Kim kjs0123@donga.com