[From July Issue 2013]
Have you heard of rafting? It is an outdoor sport involving teams of six riding in a rubber raft and paddling skillfully as they are pulled down rivers on strong currents. River currents are not always gentle; sometimes there are big surges and rapids with steep drops. Sometimes, rafts can flip over, or members can be thrown out.
ASANO Shigeto, an athlete who became interested in this competitive sport, formed Japan’s national team in 1999. The first time he participated as a coach and athlete in an international event, his team came 15th out of 16 teams, but in 2010 and 2011, his team won the championship. What was the secret behind the team’s sudden ascent to the position of best in the world?
Rafting is popular in countries such as Brazil, the Czech Republic, the United States, and Italy. There was a big difference in experience and physical strength between Japanese athletes and athletes from other countries. That is why it was said that: “It will take 50 years for Japan to become best in the world.” Asano overturned such conventional wisdom; he surprised people in the industry both at a domestic and international level, by becoming world champion eight years after putting together a professional team – just ten years after he made his debut.
Asano cites “the power of teamwork” as one of the reasons for the team becoming world champions. “During the race, team members become both rudder and engine. Therefore, we cannot reach our full potential unless the feelings of our team members are united.” Since the condition of the river, which sets the stage for the competition, changes from moment to moment, “it is important to always be of one mind in order to make decisions in an instant.”
During the actual race, “when the current flows against us around rocks, we intentionally do not fight against it, but instead just drift along with it. On the other hand, if there is a chance to advance, we aggressively take full advantage of it,” Asano divulges. “For this reason, there is no substitute for the sense of accomplishment that comes with adapting to a situation that can vary from moment to moment. This excitement buoyed me up, allowing me to become world champion.”
The World Championships are held once every two years, but the location and date varies. The next championships will be held in New Zealand in November this year. “Team Japan will attempt to win their third consecutive victory, however, I will not participate, but rather work on supporting the team,” says Asano. After withdrawing from the front line, by making use of his experiences, Asano has energetically put his energies into teaching through workshops and lectures.
The attraction of rafting lies in being thrown into violent currents, traversing dangerous ground time after time through great effort, and adapting to a variety of changes; a skill set that can be applied to work or study. Attitudes developed through rafting, such as “proactively adapting to change, “at times going with the flow,” and “valuing teamwork,” might also be useful skills for people to apply to their own lives.
Text: ITO Koichi