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Okabayashi bridges communication gap for HeatDevils on, off court

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The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with figures in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which is in its second season. Kyoko Okabayashi of the Oita HeatDevils is the subject of this week’s profile.

News photoKyoko Okabayashi
OITA HEATDEVILS PHOTO

Position: Interpreter/Team Manager
Age: 31
Hometown: Ino, Kochi Pref.

Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job as Oita’s interpreter?

Okabayashi: I’m an interpreter, though, I didn’t study interpreting. So the players might be feeling unsatisfied.

During games, when the coach’s instructions are conveyed to the players smoothly, I feel satisfied.

Not only on the court, I have to be with the foreign players off the court, such as when they need to go to a hospital. I’d like the players to feel pleased with what I do for them.

What do you consider the most challenging aspect of your position?

I am the bridge between the Japanese and foreign players, and I try to make the players feel comfortable, like on road trips.

What have you done off the court to get familiar with the foreign players, so you can better communicate with them during practice and games?

I drive the players between places as well. I’m with the foreign players many hours.

So I talk with them about things away from the game and exchange e-mails, too. But there are only two staff — me and an athletic trainer — so the 14 players understand it and do things by themselves when we don’t have time to take care of them.

What is your background in athletics? Were you a former athlete?

I played basketball when I was in junior high school, and then stopped after that.

When I began working, I joined a club team and played for five years before coming here (to Oita). It wasn’t a team that trains really hard, though.

Have you worked for a team before? If so, how did you feel that prepared you for our job with the HeatDevils?

No. I worked for a trading company for nine years in Kobe, and it was a completely different field (from professional sports).

Where did you attend college? And what was your major?

I went to Kansai Gaidai (University) in Hirakata (Osaka Pref.), majoring in English. I also did a one-year exchange program at the University of Alabama.

Have you spoken with other interpreters around the bj-league to ask them for suggestions about ways to improve your job? Have others asked you for similar advice?

No. I wanted to do that kind of thing, but we’re always busy and I didn’t have a chance even when we’re on road.

I especially wanted to talk with Takamatsu’s (Mika) Okubo-san because she is the manager and interpreter for her team like me.

Is it harder to interpret during timeouts in overtime of a close game than, say, before the start of practice? Does your focus change a bit when conveying coach’s or player’s messages in a short period of time?

Basically it’s the same (in interpreting in games and practices), because practices lead to games.

Even during practices, I don’t have much time (to interpret). But during games, it’s noisier so I need to speak louder.

In the future, do you have a goal to be a basketball coach?

I don’t intend to become a coach, though (laughs), I find this interpreting job on a basketball team is special and would like to investigate this.

I’m learning basketball terminology, though, our (foreign) players are smart and even when I put words irregularly, they understand what I mean. Also, most of the terminology comes from English.

That may be helping them understand, as well.

Do you have personal satisfaction from being able to help bridge the communication gap between the foreign-speaking players and the Japanese? Can you give one or two examples?

Yes. I can give you a recent example.

When (Chris) Ayer was feeling down for not being able do well (on the court), one Japanese player told him “You’re going to be all right.”

He asked me to interpret the line at that time. Ayer was grateful about it. I was grateful that a Japanese player was aware (of foreign players), too.

Who, in your opinion, is the most exciting player in the bj-league? And why?

(Oita’s) Mikey Marshall, because he can do anything. (Teammate) Andy (Ellis) is, too, but in terms of being an exciting player to watch, I would pick Mikey.

Who’s the most talkative player on the HeatDevils?

Mikey. I spend more time with the foreign players and it may be why, too.

As a woman, do you look at yourself as being a positive role model for young girls who want to work in pro sports?

I’ve never looked at myself that way. I don’t consider myself as “female staff” much, either. The players seemingly don’t care about it, either.

What are some of your hobbies and interests away from the basketball court?

Touring on a motorcycle. I’ve not had a chance to do it since arriving here (in Oita).

I also like watching movies. My favorite is anything but science fiction and horror films.

Is there a book, training video or mentor who has helped you gain a greater knowledge of basketball terminology to use, words that make your job easier?

Not really. Honestly speaking, I wanted to work on that before joining the team, though.

At the beginning, I was taught by (ex-HeatDevil) Jo Kurino. Also, other foreign players have helped me understand what I should say in different situations.

The foreign players have recommended some movies to me, such as “Coach Carter.”

What I would like to know most is, what kind of English is used during a practice, not only basketball, but other sports like football.