and after school for children
How do children spend their after school, weekend
and holiday time in this town?
Do children spend their spare time with the adults in Kamiyama?
Junior Sports Club Association- Baseball and Volleyball
October 1, 2021 release
Junior Sports Club Association- Baseball and Volleyball
Did you know, if you walk past Jinryo elementary school in the early evening, you can see the school yard and gymnasium buzzing with activity?
There are two Junior Sports Associations in Kamiyama. Head coach, Norimitsu Takahashi, and coach Tsuyoshi Abe, of “Kamiyama Rookies Youth Baseball Club” and head coach Yusuke Sasaki, and coach Kenji Abe, of “Jinryo volleyball club” (JVC), were all born in Kamiyama. I spoke to them at Jinryo elementary school where both team are based.
First of all, I visited them to watch their daily training!
If you learn something, you must pass it on
First, please tell us about your childhood memories.
Norimitsu I’m from Tani, southwest Jinryo. I used to enjoy doing all sorts with my friends in the neighborhood. Playing baseball in rice fields, catching insects in summer, sledging in the snow in the winter; we just entertained ourselves with what was available each season.
Tsuyoshi I’m from Ishido, also southwest Jinryo. I had great times walking back from school. If I was thirsty, I used to drink from a spring, when I was hungry, I picked nuts and fruits from trees on the way.
How did you get into the youth baseball club?
Norimitsu I first started helping the team as a parent when my eldest son joined. Then I got hooked on it even more than my son.
Tsuyoshi I played baseball from elementary school until I left university. One night when I was drinking after work with some senior friends in Kamiyama, they said to me “If you learn something, you must pass it on!”. That moment was like a switch being turned on and from then I got more serious about helping with the team. I became a team coach when my eldest son joined.
So, the team is run by parents?
Norimitsu That’s right. Parents have been taking a major role in the team for a long time.
Tsuyoshi Around the time when I started coaching, most of the parents were former youth baseball club members. It’s not the case anymore, but for a long time it was like that.
What is it like teaching children?
Norimitsu I noticed that now we adults tend to help children more than before. If they had a chance to be a little more independent, that would definitely help them to think ahead and be better baseball players.
Tsuyoshi It’s important for kids to realize they need to stand on their own two feet.
Norimitsu Yeah, I always ask them the same thing. I’ve been telling them “You make your own judgment and think about what’s best to do next”. Of course, I never give them the solution each time they ask so they try their hardest to find their own answers. This way of thinking leads to a better performance.
Tsuyoshi The thing is though, sometimes I can’t help myself interfering. Maybe they feel like I’m telling them what to do.
Norimitsu If they truly love playing baseball, they can make their own judgment no matter what.
Tsuyoshi In the old days, at least half of the teammates were seriously devoted to baseball. When it comes to baseball, their little faces lit up full of excitement and joy. Nowadays, we get one or two of those kids in the team if we are lucky.
Children have helped me many times
How long have you been a head coach?
Norimitsu I became the head coach when my eldest son was graduating. So, it’s been twelve years so far. Eighteen years in total since I started helping the team. Former head coach Mr. Shitakubo, he managed the team for 33 years so my experience is not even half of that.
I’m also a former student of Mr. Shitakubo from the same club. I remember he seemed so happy that I started helping when my eldest son joined the club. He said, “It’s been a while since the last time I was reunited with my student!”.
How do you manage to keep going for this long?
Norimitsu It is because every kid is different. Each one is unique and they are all lovely. I have met many kids and their parents over the years. Some years we have a really strong team, some years we lose every game. But it doesn’t matter whether the team is strong or not. They are all wonderful and actually they have helped me many times.
What do you mean children help you?
Norimitsu Even when it’s crazy at work, I know that when I come to the club, I can concentrate on just the kids for like 2 hours completely and I can clear my head. It has happened like this many times.
Tell us about the training.
Norimitsu First we teach them the rules and the technical skills. But I think they also learn the most important things like greetings and how to behave through their baseball training.
Tsuyoshi It may sound old-fashioned but once you join the club, people think of you as a “Kamiyama Rookie”. If one kid gets caught misbehaving, for many people it means that the “Rookies” were messing around. I don’t want that to happen. So, I teach them politeness and courtesy first before anything else.
Norimitsu I also want kids to experience what we used to do in nature as a child between the training. We haven’t been able to do so since the outbreak of coronavirus but in summer we always went to the river for a swim after the training. I want kids to see what they have and the environment around them.
What is the origin of the team name “Kamiyama Rookies”?
Norimitsu We gave the club its name twelve years ago. It was called “Jinryo Porcupines” at first, then it was changed to “Jinryo Junior Sports Club Association Baseball team”.
When I took over as head coach, Mr. Shitakubo suggested that we should change the team name as we were starting a new chapter. Parents at the time came up with a slogan “Keep the rookies in your heart. Be humble and don’t forget the original intention”, and so we named the new team “Kamiyama Rookies Youth Baseball Club”.
Tell us about the parents. How do they take part?
Norimitsu Above all, it’s about loving your kids. Parents love seeing their child take part in any sporting events, so they enjoy coming to watch their children and help out. More and more people have moved to Kamiyama recently, so I guess it is working as a communication base for both locals and newcomers, too.
Tsuyoshi Actually, it could also be a burden for parents. We have training schedules and tournaments on weekends. Sometimes entire weekends are centered around baseball events. Driving kids to wherever they need to be and watching them while they practice or compete all day long so when you finally come home it’s too late to do anything else. But I believe it’s well worth the effort.
Norimitsu Watching kids play baseball, you can see them making progress every week. Of course, there are good times and bad times.
If the team is strong, we would have fun trying to win. On the other hand, if it’s a weak team then the smallest of things like batting one hit or catching a simple fly ball would make us super happy and shout with joy.
Tsuyoshi People don’t cheer for you like that in everyday life. It’s the great thing about baseball. Everyone has a chance to stand in the batter’s box. Compared to other team sports, you have your moment in the spotlight. It is like an individual sport, too.
Finally, are there any message for the children?
Norimitsu First and foremost, let’s have fun together. Simply I want them to love baseball, otherwise there is no point. I hope their parents enjoy it together with us too.
Tsuyoshi Don’t be scared to challenge yourself. The world is overflowing with digital information right now and maybe children have more knowledge about that than adults, but it’s very important to take on a challenge and experiencing it. I hope that all children learn through different, interesting experiences.
Next, we visit the volleyball club. I see everyone is practicing eagerly in the gymnasium.
I want to play well but don’t know how
Tell us about your childhood.
Yusuke I’m from Ichinosaka, Orono, in the northeast of Kamiyama. I went to the Ichinosaka branch of Orono elementary school, then from my 3rd year I cycled to Orono elementary school. I learned kendo and after I started middle school I did track and field until I left high school.
Kenji I’m from Kawamata, Kamibun, in the west of Kamiyama. There was no youth sports club in Kamibun so I joined the elementary school mini-basketball team (basketball for under 12 year olds, different rules apply). After school, I went out fishing in the river in front of my house. Actually, I wanted to go to the youth baseball club but I didn’t have any transportation back then.
What first led you to become involved in the volleyball club?
Yusuke When my eldest daughter, who is now in the 3rd year of middle school, entered elementary school, Hirono volleyball club had just been abolished.
She told me she still wanted to play volleyball when she was in her 3rd year of elementary school. So, I started driving her to Jinryo every time but it was hard for us. I suggested that it might be a good idea to transfer to Jinryo elementary school if she wants to continue volleyball.
And so, when my second daughter, who is now in the 6th grade and captain of Jinryo Volleyball Club (JVC), started elementary school, they both became Jinryo students.
Kenji For me it was my eldest daughter. I used to go to play in an adults volleyball team after work so it was quite natural for me to start coaching kids. My youngest daughter is now in the 3rd year of middle school and both of my daughters joined JVC.
Yusuke I never played volleyball before. When my kids first joined JVC, the way they were playing didn’t make sense and I used to get mad at them. But one day I had a change of heart after listening to my eldest daughter. That was when I was quite furious about how they were practicing, she told me “I want to play well, but don't know how”. It hit me so hard and made me realize that I was wrong about my teaching method all along. So, I apologized and promised her that I’d try my best to learn everything about volleyball so I could teach her to be a great player.
And then after that, together we worked on it so hard. Coincidentally I am distantly related to the former head coach, Mr. Sakanishi, and so for other reasons I officially started coaching the team.
After a while, Mr. Sakanishi passed away following a battle with illness.
He was such an aspirational person. Him and JVC go back a long way, he built and shaped the team. I was nervous about taking over the team but I was determined to focus and go the whole nine yards. Then Kenji and I studied together and became qualified as volleyball coaches.
As head coach and coach, what are your plans for building the team?
Kenji I want them to focus on being polite and well organized as a team before they even think about winning games. This would be the most important foundation to improve the quality of their training.
I believe that using your own head and trying to truly understand what’s been said by coaches and figure out what this training is for, is also key. If they could work on this, better results will follow naturally.
Learning technical skills is also important but I value the basics the most. It is crucial. Kids can get quite bored of repetitive basic training so it is our job to make them focus. If I ask them what they fancy doing, they’d say they want to play a match. It’s good on some occasions but I want them to be patient and work on the basics more so that they can play high-level matches.
Yusuke It’s been 3 years since I became the head coach. I’m still busting my chops. Each student is at a different stage of their learning curve so I am constantly thinking about ways to develop skills and bring out their unique strengths. As well as volleyball skills, I want this training to be a fun activity for them.
Having said that, sport is also about pursuing challenges and winning, so sometimes I can’t help raising my voice even when I try not to. But their parents tell me that they are enjoying volleyball so I suppose I’m on the right track.
There’s something special about being the same age and competing with each other
Do you get new members?
Yusuke Well actually this year, 9 kids joined. In just half a year, the team membership increased to 11.
Because most of the team is new, we have not matured yet as team. It’s amazing that 5 out of 11 are the same age so I’m planning appropriate approaches to hard and complex training. I’m hundred percent sure that we can become a strong team.
Kenji More than half of our team is younger than 10 years old so the older kids may feel that the current practice schedule is too easy. But we are on the way to slowly build a good team so I’m looking forward to it in few years’ time.
Yusuke Being competitive gives you strength to be motivated and ambitious. There are a few of them like that in the team and some are so confident that no one can beat them at a particular technique. Kids inspire each other to reach new heights but at the same time they fight together as teammates.
I think this is wonderful. There’s also something special about being the same age and competing with each other. They are lucky to have each other.
Kenji Right now we have 5 students from the 3rd grade. I hope that more younger kids will follow and join us. Ideally, we want at least 3 kids from each grade to keep the team going.
What do you think about when you look at these children?
Yusuke It’s really exciting to see kids achieving something they couldn’t manage to do before. They display their full potential especially during official matches. The other day this one kid got an ace in the last few minutes. He has only practiced serving overhead for less than a week.
Kenji They’re all adorable. When I drop by the school for errands, kids always find me and run up to me to say “Hello coach!”. I don’t know why but it makes me tearful. I enjoy being around them and I can keep going because of these lovely kids.
Any message to parents whose children are interested in volleyball?
Yusuke I think that the period between the 1st year and the 6th year in elementary school is the only time parents can be fully involved with their child’s life and watch them grow up closely. It is only 6 years of their life. If you join us to play volleyball, I promise it will be an unforgettable time for both you and your children. Let’s have fun together!
Interview: July 8, 2021
Interviewer: Chigusa Akiyama,
Photography: Nao Kondo, Masataka Namazu, Masahiko Kanemura
Production cooperation: Eri Itoi, Yoshiaki Nishimura
Planning and production: Kamiyama Tsunagu Corporation