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Japanese coaches soaking up NFL experience during Pro Bowl week

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Though the NFL players and coaches at the Pro Bowl are in relaxed mode with their season wrapped up, a pair of Japanese coaches are as serious as can be, trying to absorb every moment of this valuable opportunity.

Sojiro Kido and Ryoma Hagiyama have been invited by the NFL and the Hawaii Tourism Authority to participate in the Pro Bowl to gain experience from the game’s highest stage.

Both Kido and Hagiyama have been here since Monday and have been given access to coaches’ meetings, team practices and Sunday’s game at Aloha Stadium.

Both are established coaches back home. While serving as head coach at Tohoku University, Hagiyama also plays for the X League’s Obic Seagulls and was on the Japan squad for last summer’s IFAF World Championships in Austria. Kido has been part of the coaching staff of the under-19 and junior national teams.

But in Hawaii, they’ve assumed the role of students, hoping to take in everything they see and hear during the week’s activities.

Hagiyama, 26, said he was impressed by how the coaches ran practices effectively but not necessarily long.

“The assistant coaches were moving around, checking the players’ movements and so on,” Hagiyama said after Saturday’s practice session. “And they were talking to the players themselves. That made me think that you have to act from yourself to form a team instead of a bunch of individuals.”

From an Xs and Os standpoint, the sessions were perhaps not so beneficial for the two Japanese men, because the practices were very casual and the teams didn’t wear pads or helmets. Kido said it has been more meaningful to be able to share time with NFL coaches.

“It’s big for us to be able to get to know these NFL coaches,” said the 33-year-old Kido, defensive coordinator at Nagoya’s Meijo University.

“You don’t meet with them even once in your lifetime under normal circumstances. The coaches are relaxed, but they are really serious about teaching us. One coach told me, ‘Let’s keep in touch,’ saying come to the team’s training camp.”

Kido said that as much as he would like to bring something back to his own team, he would like this opportunity to benefit Japanese football in the long run.

“If this continues for five years, there will be 10 coaches with this experience,” Kido said. “That means it will give us more ties with this stage and it would be great for Japanese football in a long term.”

Both Kido and Hagiyama said they have been rejuvenated by such a precious experience.

“It’s certainly stimulated me, both as a player and coach,” said Hagiyama.

Kido said: “I’ve regained the feelings that I had when I started coaching.”