When Yuhei Inoue was a high school freshman, he liked playing basketball a lot more than he liked studying. But he was lucky to have a coach whose lessons sent Dr. Inoue on the path that has become his career. “He taught me that if I wanted to be a better basketball player, I have to improve in other areas of my life,” says Dr. Inoue. “I realized that sport can be a powerful influence in changing behavior.”
Dr. Inoue joined the School of Kinesiology in the fall of 2014 as an assistant professor in Sport Management. His line of research focuses on the contribution of sport to positive social development in various settings such as professional sport organizations, spectator sport events, and participant sport programs. He also studies strategic management issues related to sport organizations, and specifically the implications of corporate social responsibility initiatives. His research is informed in part by his studies in Environmental Sociology as an undergraduate, when he discovered a key concept: In order to protect the environment, people must change their behavior. This concept could also be applied to sport, he believed, which could be used as a vehicle to influence behavior.
Growing up in Japan and playing sports, Dr. Inoue notes a relationship between sport and social development that, he observes, is different from that in America.
“In Japan, there is a clear connection between sport and social development,” he says. “There is a focus on winning in Japan, but winning is not enough. Players have to show sportsmanship and strategy—how they win is as important as winning.”
American sports is not the same, he says. “Winning is more important here. In America, often sports is about entertainment, fun, money.” He explains that his research is somewhat unique in this country because “back home, sport has always been an important part of the education process.”
Dr. Inoue relates an example of how sport can influence positive social development. In 2011, Japan was hit by the largest earthquake in its history. Help from all over the world poured in, but Dr. Inoue was particularly struck by how the country’s sports teams came together to provide aid and assistance to communities. “The professional and elite sports teams’ response gave us hope for recovery in the face of such a large disaster,” he says. His research has shown that people who have strong connections with their local professional sports teams actually experience an improvement in their well-being, which very likely came into play during the post-disaster period. “And then, Japan won the FIFA Women’s World Cup that year,” he notes with a grin.
Although he’s been at the U of M only a few months, Dr. Inoue has immersed himself in scholarly work. He is involved in a number of research activities, including a study on the health behaviors of people who attend sporting events, and the development of a project with Dr. Lisa Kihl, associate professor in Sport Management, and Dr. Daheia Barr-Anderson, assistant professor in Behavioral Aspects of Physical Activity, on the impact of a health promotion program supported by the National Football League. Dr. Inoue was also awarded a Grant-in-Aid from the Office of the Vice President for Research to study the social impact of a sporting event on the local residents of Siem Reap, Cambodia. He will be traveling there this summer to conduct the study.
In his spare time, Dr. Inoue likes to exercise. He is an avid runner and has completed in sixfull marathons. “I haven’t run the Twin Cities Marathon yet, but I want to try it,” he says. Running refreshes his mind and calms him. “When I visit a city I always go out for a run first. It’s a good way to see the people and experience the city.” He likes the Twin Cities, but “I’m still trying to get used to the cold,” he says.
After enduring last winter, Dr. Inoue, we all are.