Dozens of coaches visit ASU to study basketball, swimming, track and field.
September 16, 2016

Pac-12 initiative teaches US system of collegiate sports to strengthen ties

The American system of encouraging students to pursue athletics at an elite level while they earn a degree is unique in the world, and a group of coaches from China is here to see how Arizona State University does it.

The 96 coaches arrived Saturday and will spend three months on the Tempe campus, observing how a Division 1 athletics program works. The visit is jointly coordinated by Sun Devil Athletics and Global Launch, ASU’s English-teaching and cultural program for international students and professionals. The coaches are from Federation University Sport China, the governing body for university athletics in China, which is much less developed there than in the U.S.

The program is part of a global-outreach initiative by the Pac-12 ConferenceThe University of Utah also is hosting 89 Chinese coaches this semester. to strengthen ties with China, according to Jamie Zaninovich, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the conference. Since 2011, the conference has sent all-star volleyball and basketball teams to play in China and held a regular-season basketball game there, but has never before hosted coaches.

“This program is the first of its kind,” Zaninovich said. “Just as our institutions are focused on research and academic exchanges, we manage the athletic contests and we hope we can also play a role in helping the Chinese develop their coaches.”

The Chinese will learn tactics and strategy while attending practices of the men’s and women’s basketball, swimming and track and field teams, as well learn about sports medicine, nutrition, sports psychology and academic support.

“They’re here to see the American student-athlete experience, from practice to academics and how it culminates in a game-day experience,” said Jean Boyd, senior associate athletic director at ASU.

The collaboration between the nations and among the departments is truly interdisciplinary and an example of ASU's innovation, according to Ray Anderson, vice president for university athletics at ASU.

“Our current Sun Devil coaches and staff will share their experiences and expertise in a classroom setting as well as practice demonstration,” he said.

The coaches' visit will include a trip to the Grand Canyon, meetings with coaches from professional teams in the Valley and cultural activities.

An important component of the Chinese team’s stay will be English lessons, taught by Majenica Rupe, an international educator with Global Launch who developed the entire curriculum for the coaches' visit.

The chance to work with the Chinese is especially meaningful for Rupe, who played professional basketball for several years around the world, including the 2001 season in China.

“I got to see a lot of the world form a sports perspective, which is nice because then you can’t be arrogant and say ‘Our way is the only way to get it done.’" 

In other countries, young people who excel at sports either play at a club or go to special schools devoted to athletics, and most universities don’t have sports teams.

“In China, when you’re a child and they see that you have elite talent they put you on a sports track and you go to a sports school where they do sports all day long, every day.

“The problem with that model is that when they’re done being a professional and an Olympian, they have to go back and get an academic degree if they want to do anything other than coaching.

“So I think they realize they can emulate different models and that there is enough time in the day to be both a student and an athlete.”

Rupe saw firsthand the changes in China when she returned there to teach English in 2011.

“When I played there, we had to do a lot of promotion for basketball because soccer was the national sport. The school that I taught at 10 years later had 23 basketball courts.”

Top photo: A group of 96 coaches from Federation University Sport China arrived at ASU on Saturday to spend the semester learning about the American collegiate athletic experience. Photo by Linda Hill/ASU Global Launch

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News

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