Sometimes, or perhaps many times, the success of athletes and sports teams can be achieved with an enormous amount of effort provided by those who give them instructions and strategies — coaches.
Their presence is often overshadowed by athletes, and their devotion can also be overlooked. That may especially be the case in Japan.
So the concept of celebrating it here was almost unprecedented.
The Sports Promotion Japan, a general incorporated association, hosted the Japan Coaches’ Awards on Jan. 23 at a luxury hotel in Tokyo, assembling nearly a hundred coaches from a variety of different sports from around the nation.
The SPJ inaugurated the event last summer, and then it was held for a second time
“Our purpose is to put some light above the heads of coaches in order for the sports promotion in Japan,” said former Olympic volleyball player Kentaro Asahi, an SPJ board member and chairman of the selection committee of the awards. “Also, we would like them to have some exchange with those from other sports to get some inspiration.”
The coaches who attended the awards ceremony included some notable names: Kiyoichiro Ogura, a former manager of baseball powerhouse Yokohama High School; Koichi Nishitani, current manager of the reigning summer Koshien champion Osaka Toin High School baseball team; Taeko Utsugi, a former Japan national softball manager and Hall of Famer of the International Softball Federation; Shinichi Inoue, current head coach for the reigning national champion Oka Gakuen High School girls basketball team; and Satoshi Fujita, who led the Fujitsu Frontiers to their first Rice Bowl national football championship in early January.
In the United States and Europe, where coaches’ roles are perhaps more appreciated, there are more occasions when coaches are paid attention, as seen in the ESPY Awards (dubbed ESPYS), an annual sports award event run by American cable TV and sports media giant ESPN. Among the numerous accolades that are presented, the ESPYS has one for the best coach/manager of the year from the leagues in North America.
Yuichiro Fujita, who led the Higashi Fukuoka High School rugby team to the three major national championships (including the national rugby sevens) as head coach in the 2014 season, was given the best coach of the year award at the Japan Coaches’ Awards. The 43-year-old, dressed in a tuxedo, seemed to be astonished to receive such a prestigious trophy in his hands on the podium.
“This is absolutely great,” Fujita said of the event being held in Japan. “While all these specialists of different sports got together, I was the one that received the honorable award, so I’m so humbled. This is a great award ceremony and I’d like to work hard with this as my motivation.”
The award recipients weren’t just those who guided their own teams to national titles. But coaches that exhibited encouraging achievements were subjects to be applauded as well.
Seiko Gakuin High School soccer club’s Yoshiyuki Yamada was one of them. While he serves as head coach at the disaster-struck Fukushima Prefecture school, Yamada has also been involved in a goalkeeper developing project for the Fukushima Football Association. He received the special award for his contributions to the earthquake-suffered region.
“I’m humbled to have received such a glorious award,” said Yamada , who led Seiko Gakuin to a national high school championship berth in 2012. “But to be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve done all that much myself. It was just, the god of sports gave me a little reward as I’ve continued to work on things instead of running away from them.”
Shuichi Yasuda, president of Dome Corporation which has a license to sell Under Armour gear in Japan, insisted in his speech in front of the invited coaches that Japan’s sports circles needed something like the awards so it’d provide an occasion to talented coaches for “enlightenment and awareness (of new things).”
“In the U.S., there are a lot of sports conventions and ceremonies and they almost look like the Hollywood (ceremonies),” said Yasuda, who serves as a councilor for the SPJ. “I think that coaches are treasures. I would like to (recognize) their achievements.”
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