JVDA Trip to Japan: Youth Volleyball Training Journal


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by Rich Zeciski, Club Director Team Z, and Tim Hardt, Club Director Indy Juniors 


From the inception of the Junior Volleyball Directors Association (JVDA,) one of the goals was to expand coaching education to further the development of youth and junior volleyball in the United States. The JVDA Board of Directors determined that exploring other training methods and philosophies from outside the United States would add value that club directors and coaches might not have access to due to time and cost constraints. As a result two of it's members, Tim Hardt and President Rich Zeciski, were selected to travel to Japan for six days in late July to study youth and junior volleyball in that country.


According to Zeciski, "The JVDA started to look at other countries and what they might offer American coaches in coaching education. The trip to Japan was the first step in that direction  I think that it is something that we can expand upon and include additional training methods in the future."


The JVDA will present their findings from the trip at the AVCA Convention this December in Omaha, Neb. In addition, a study program will be put together, which will be made available to members of the JVDA for future training.


The following is a journal kept by Hardt and Zeciski during their six-day trip:


Day One


The flight to Japan was pretty much an uneventful travel experience for both Tim Hardt and myself. Tim was supposed to arrive at Narita airport 10 minutes ahead of me and was actually 30 minutes early on his non-stop flight from Detroit. I had a change of planes in Los Angeles and arrived on time. We arranged for bus transportation to our hotel, which was the Grand Prince Akasaka. Check in was efficient, but our room temperature was elevated and the front desk aided us with a new room location.


We met with Nobuatsu Tanaka. Tanaka-san would be the person that would be assisting us while we are in Tokyo. With help of some other local volleyball people, he has arranged for us to attend, tape and question the staff of the training sessions, and the teams on our schedule. After going over the schedule and seeing a gap, we asked if there was anything else we could attend. He arranged for us to attend a high school session of one of the top high school teams in Tokyo, Kyoei Gakuen High School. They were National Champions in 2005. (They actually have two national championships, spring and fall, and Kyoei Gakuen High School won them both that year.)


After we met with Tanaka-san, we took a short walking tour of the area. The hotel is nice and above average in room amenities and in central Tokyo. There are several convenient rail stations near the hotel.


Day Two


We took the train to Kyoei Gakuen High School (40 minutes east). It became very evident that Tanaka-san was essential to our trip. We may have found our way on the train, but I doubt that we would have found the high school without his help.


Kyoei Gakuen is a private school. Like many of the top programs, they train year round, six days a week. They attend school from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and train from 4-7:30 p.m. They get one week off a year vacation. 


Today they had 19 athletes on the floor. This was different than usual as they usually share the court with their junior varsity team. The training gym is an adequate size, with a wood floor that has two courts with a dividing net, but today, as usual, they shared it with the other activities. (Today badminton and cheerleading.


Outside of the coach taking the time out to introduce us as guests, the training session was almost non stop. Today the coach was primarily on the sidelines (sitting mostly). He would verbally comment on technique and choices in competition, but did not take an active role in coach centered drills.


Several of his graduating seniors physically ran all the drills. They had very good training techniques in arm swings and inputting balls into play. They did not take team water breaks, players took drinks while they were not shagging or not in drills.


During heavy play or defensive drills, there were not only shaggers, but floor wipers. (There were never any loose balls on the floor during drills.) The senior athletes running the drills went from one drill to another seamlessly. There was a very high sense of cooperation during the drills and a lot of verbal encouragement. This was a somewhat heavy practice, always, always active and physical.


There are some very good high school teams in the USA that could not maintain this level of activity and intensity in a similar situation. As with most Japanese volleyball teams, the level of ball control skills were exceptional.


After Kyoei, we made a couple of transfers on Japan Rail to the Koiwa Club. As with most clubs, they have connections with schools and run their programs from those facilities. This was mostly 5th and 6th grade on one side of the net, and younger players (some as young as 3rd grade) on the other side of the net.


As we will find out, they have 20+ athletes on the floor. They use the #4 ball (smaller than the regular ball in America, which is a #5),  the net is 2 meters, and they will use Lion's Cup rules when they do go 6 vs. 6. These coaches are more active with the younger players than the older players. (At least from what we can observe tonight...they are also not near a competition date)


This club accepts athletes from other elementary schools in the area. They pay a fee that is equal to about $35.00 a month. As with most clubs in this age group, if they are not in a heavy competition schedule, everyone plays. But, when a major championship is on the line, only those that are producing play. They serve tough and play defense just like you would expect. After the training session, we go to dinner with Tanaka-san, Mr. Kimoto and Mr. Hideto.


Day Three


On day three, we got to see a combination of boy's and girl's to start the day. Some of them are in school, so players are filtering in and run to give the obligatory bow to all coaches and guests. This session is being run by the head coach of the boy's program, Mr. Niaitoa (Nigh Toe), even though it would be a mixed gender group. It became clearer as the session went along that this would be more of a results-monitored training session, especially when it came to anything to do with ball control elements. The only thing that seemed opposite of that style was the music that was allowed to accompany this training time.


The facility that the Beavers Volleyball Club used was a nice (un-air conditioned...two court wood) school facility. I should mention that all of the facilities we saw were very well maintained, especially when it came to taking care of the floor. No one was allowed to wear the shoes they wore on the streets onto the gym floor. If you did not have an extra pair of shoes, you either wore a pair of slippers that you brought or were supplied for you. None of the training sessions or competitions were held on anything but wood flooring. There were no sports courts or synthetic surfaces.


This session varied from the high school session that we attended in that there were more segments to the training session, and they were shorter and clipped into 12, 15 or 20 minutes in duration.


Saitama Elementary School


Next we boarded the train system again for the 45 minute trip to Saitama. When we arrived at the train station we were met by Satoshi Matsunaga, who is the head coach at Heisei University. Matsunaga-san is familiar with volleyball in the United States, as he coached in the short lived professional leagues that existed about six years ago. He drove us to the elementary school. (This was a further reminder of how it would have been very difficult for us to accomplish what we did without local help in all of the arrangements, including local travel)


This was similar to, but less intense as the earlier session in the day. Again, it was pretty hot in the gym and, as usual, we were supplied with drinks and a small snack at a table set up on the stage over the courts. One relief was a cold wet hand towel.


This particular club works out at this facility, but takes athletes from other area schools. There is a cost in the $30.00 per month range to participate. Mr. Misumi was the head coach and took time away from drills to answer any questions we needed answered. Mr. Ishigama, the club [resident was also present for our visit. They do not believe in weight training until high school.


At this session, there were mostly player-centered drills, but I am not sure that would always be the case. I think today was less intense because of the heat. They practice five to six times a week, year round. This evening they were practicing on a 2m + 8cm net height for some over training on arm extension for attacking. We have seen it earlier in the trip, but at this stop all the players wore elbow pads for defensive drills.


After this session, it was off to a local sushi bistro (traditional Japanese seating). Tim relishes in the increased opportunity for sushi. I am searching for things that I can work with, but I do recommend the sting ray tail and the plum wine. The food just kept coming and the conversation revolved around the game and its different styles in both countries.


The train ride home was a little more adventurous than before, as we had several changes, a fare addition and more appreciation for having Tanaka-san along, otherwise, I think we might have ended up in Hokaido (northern island) if we were by ourselves.


Day Four


We went to Club Tom this morning. The location would be in Shinigawa at Kohnan Junior High School. This is what I would call a community based group of volleyball players of varied ages.


Club Tom does not have teams that compete, they just train local enthusiasts. They attend on a "pay as you go" basis, so they are not always sure who will be attending. There was a court for older participants that ranged from high school players to adults (one American that had been living in Japan for about seven years was in the group), while the other court was for younger players. Some were very young, and some of their mothers went through the drills along with their daughters. Mr. Kimoto conducted the youth court along with Tanaka-san and Mr. Tomoyuki Kuwamori. Mr. Higeto ran the older court. This was the most relaxed session we would observe during the whole trip, as the main point of the whole two hours was that it had to be fun.


The afternoon consisted of a trip to Shinjuku to watch a friendly tournament, which was being used for preparation for the Tokyo City Championships. This was for teams that qualified for the city championships. Some of the guidelines:


  • Not mixed gender teams allowed.

  • No Libero tracking, some teams wore uniforms some just t-shirts.

  • One 21 point game.

  • 20 teams playing on two courts.

  • Some girls were as young as 1st and 2nd grade.

  • Not a lot of parents as there was not much room for spectators.

  • 2m net height, 8mx16m court, #4 ball was used.

  • Players officiated 1R, 2R, flip scorers and four linesman (almost no commentary from coaches on calls or non calls).

  • Room and board was available at the National Sports Center. $85.00/pp for the three days at the event.


  • Four of the top six teams in Japan were entered in the event. 


Mr. Sasaki was the tournament director and was very gracious for all that he had going on that day. He is the club director for Shingjuku/Kasniwagi. The level of play was very good, certainly superior to that in the United States. The individual skill and complexity of strategy was at a much higher level then corresponding grades in the United States as well. I doubt that with the current state of youth volleyball in America that it would ever float in the states. (Parents would never understand and I can hear the comments on positional playing time already. Also, I am not sure that club directors would be able to work it into the existing landscape)


One interesting item was that they allowed teams for the next playing time to warm up between the courts as matches were playing (no divider nets). In order to get a replay, a ball on the court really had to interfere with play. We almost did not get to video the event, but I believe Tanaka-san went to bat for us, and it loosened up more and more as the event went along. We even got to video much of the game between the top two teams entered in the tournament.


On the way back to the hotel we squeezed in (applicable with the size of the store we were in) some shopping. We got a look at some of those Mizuno and Asics things that you don't see in the states.


Day Five


Tim got up and made the 45 -minute train trip to the Tachikawa tournament. This was a tournament for teams that had not qualified for the Tokyo City Championships. I had been fighting a fever, sinus and throat infection most of yesterday, and it finally kicked me to the curb today. Outside of breakfast, I was attempting to get to this journal and the practice plans, but a lot of today I was out of commission.


The Tachikawa event was much the same as the friendly event yesterday, but with a decrease in the over all level of play. They did go two-out-of-three 21 point games and they had R1 and R2 officials in a more formal setting. There were players of the same quality as yesterday, but just not as many of them on each team. Kudos to all that played because it was extremely hot in that facility as Tim thought it had to approach 98 degrees.


Some general observations about the intensity level and types of practices and games:

  1. Almost all players wore elbow pads, pursued balls.

  2. Players always would dive for a ball, but never rolled as we do in the United States.

  3. The effort level and focus by the players on the court whether during practice or a game was incredible to see. The majority of players we saw were girls and their commitment to ball pursuit and hitting the floor was amazing.

  4. Players lead many drills, which allowed them to work on their arm swing.

  5.  Many practices began with one hour of individual and partner ball handling/coordination drills.


The crew met me back at the hotel as we were going to attend a baseball game between the Tokyo Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp. It was my idea when we got there, but I just could not answer the bell on this one. So, Tim, Tanaka-san, Hideto-san, and Mr. Kimoto took in the game, which was a 4-3 thriller in the Swallows favor. If you are a baseball fan and ever get to Japan, you have to make time in your schedule to attend a game. The atmosphere from the songs for each batter, saving of seats, to the vendors is something that you would not experience anywhere else.


Day Six


Both of our flights were from 3:30-4 p.m., but we checked out of the hotel and took the 11 a.m. shuttle. If we had picked up on the fact that it was a national holiday, we probably would have taken the noon shuttle because it was a straight shot to Narita with no delays. Check in and immigration was no problem. One strange thing on the flight was that there was only about 2-3 hours of darkness due to the easterly travel and time change.


We finally got back to Cincinnati at 7 p.m. the same day. My personal sleep clock is totally off and I am told that it will be a few days before it corrects itself. I am still fighting the sinus and voice thing.


Now it is a matter of going through all the notes and videos and organizing those into a presentable format. Our plan is to have this on DVD within a reasonable amount of time.


Finally, I have to say this one more time. I am sure there were others involved in all the arrangements, but we could not have gotten this done without Tanaka-san and Hideto-san. The language and travel complications would have done us in.

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