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Teikyo University men’s rugby team head coach Masayuki Iwade has a golden rule — never compete when you are carrying a serious injury.

It sounds simple but it has often been ignored in Japanese sports.

Of course, injuries are part of sports and especially in physical games like rugby. But Iwade and his team are keen to know everything about their players’ physical condition and are working closely with their school’s medical support group.

Teikyo, located in Tokyo, has its own sports medical center (Teikyo Institute of Sports Science and Medicine) to provide thorough medical support to its teams and the rugby squad is taking full advantage under Iwade’s safety-first philosophy.

Inside the medical center, doctors, athletic trainers, strength coaches and nutritionists work closely together to come up with better solutions to prevent injuries and suggest the best ways to improve the athletes’ performances.

“I often tell my players that injuries are the biggest enemy for you to get better as a player,” Iwade said at Saturday’s fifth annual Japan Coaches’ Awards ceremony in Tokyo. “We have to create a culture to compete safely. The most important thing is your life. Then your quality of life comes next and then your performance. When coaches push their players too hard, the players push themselves too hard.”

But when each division of the medical center works on its own, they do not provide the best, comprehensive assistance to the team and athletes.

Hajime Kato, an assistant professor and an athletic trainer for the center, insists each division has to communicate well with each other in order to find better ways to develop the players and give them better medical support.

“You can’t just be satisfied with having good support,” Kato said. “You need to establish better communication with each other (to make the support even better).”

Teikyo will soon have a new medical and training center for sports, which is currently under construction.

Iwade and his team also wants athletes to foster the ability to think on their own, not just be passive and do whatever they are told by the coaches and other staff.

So Iwade said that when a player is banged up, they let him assess his own injury, give him recommendations and let him choose what kind of treatment he wants to have.

Iwade added that it is important to build experience with a long-term mind set. For collegiate student-athletes, he said that you need four years to develop, giving them a chance to think about what they should do on their own.

“We have to let them fully understand why they do the things they are asked to do throughout the four years, with the upperclassmen supporting the underclassmen, who are relatively immature,” said Iwade, who serves as a professor at the Department of Sport and Medical Science at Teikyo. “It is not enough for the coaches to understand (what their team does). You have to make your players understand so they eventually become able to adjust to your current situation and to think for yourself.

“You grow up at Teikyo, but once you’re out, you have to adjust to new things. So it’s important to be independent and think on your own. I believe that coaches are going to eventually get the best performance out of their team, the best members and the best team.”

For a top collegiate coach, who has guided the Teikyo team to an unprecedented nine-straight national collegiate rugby championships, Iwade has been regarded as a role model in coaching circles, not just of rugby, in recent years.

The Japan Coaches’ Awards ceremony, which is run by the Japan Coaches Association, is actually meant to give coaches from different sports a chance to converse and exchange ideas.

Takashi Iwai, who received the best coach accolade at the award ceremony, led his Hanasaki Tokuharu High School (Saitama Prefecture) baseball team to the summer Koshien national championship title last year with his theoretical way of coaching, which is unconventional in the do-what-I-say culture of Japanese high school baseball.

Iwai, who played with Hanshin Tigers manager Tomoaki Kanemoto and former major league pitcher Takashi Saito at Sendai’s Tohoku Fukushi University, has been inspired by Iwade’s coaching methods. As for the medical environment in the high school baseball scene, Iwai said that doctors virtually do not exist and the game is “lagging behind.”

So Iwai, who was a recipient of the outstanding award last year at the same event, was pleased to be back to gather some inspiration and knowledge from other coaches.

“This place gives you a lot of reasons for you and your team to be able to win and develop,” he said. “You’ll see so many cutting-edge theories here.”

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