This new series explores the possibilities of "Sports x ICT" by speaking with prominent athletes and personnel who support athletes and teams.
In the first entry of this series, we delved into the world of Americanfootball. We talked to athlete Teruaki Clark Nakamura and head coach Satoshi Fujita of Japan's leading Americanfootball team, the Fujitsu Frontiers. They spoke at length on football's appeal, the secrets behind their team's strength, strategizing with data, ICT usage, the future of sports, and more.
Dynamic Plays and Tactical Maneuvers Reminiscent of Martial Arts
―Football is a massively popular national sport in its home country, the United States. Its popularity is also growing by the year in Japan, and the 71st Rice Bowl, Japan's championship game, was held in January this year with notably more enthusiastic support from fans. It is often said that once you get into it, you become hooked. What is it about football that fascinates the two of you?
Fujita: Football is a sport that combines the elements of martial arts with ball-based games. What draws me in are the dynamic plays and tactical maneuvers. Many people think the rules are complicated and difficult to understand, but I hope people give it a chance and watch a match―if they do, I think they will quickly find teams and athletes that they like, and once they begin to pay attention to how the offense carries the ball to score a touchdown, they will slowly start to understand the rules.
Nakamura: The team is comprised of players with completely different physiques and abilities, and all have clearly defined roles on the team. I think this is one of football's unique characteristics. Also, many players come from other sports. Personally, I had never played any sports until high school, but once I joined the football team, I was completely captivated. The intense plays are reminiscent of martial arts, and I find the complex rules and strategies really refreshing. I am always surprised at how long I've kept this up, considering how quickly I get bored with things (laughs). It's a fascinating sport for those who play it.
Fujita: A football team is basically a collection of specialists. There is no single almighty player. Some have large physiques; some are fast runners; some are good kickers; and so on. If you are good at a certain thing, there is a position for you. It's definitely possible to switch over to football from a different sport, and with the right players in the right positions, you sometimes see latent skills develop, which is fascinating to a coach.
Tactics Alone Do Not Ensure Victory, or Successful Plays Depend on Coordinating Players' Minds
―So, Coach Fujita is the head coach―the person in charge of the team―while Nakamura is a wide receiver on the offense. Can you tell us more about each of your roles, and what motivates you?
Fujita: The head coach's job is to build a strategy for games, to decide on a practice regimen, and to supervise the entire team. That said, football is a game that includes more than a hundred members per team, including the players and staff. The team is separated into specialist groups, such as the offense, defense, and kickers. Each of these units makes detailed decisions. What I find motivating and rewarding about the sport is that strategy plays a huge role in the game. However, no matter how good your strategy is, if you do not have the players with the necessary skills, or if you do not have good teamwork, you cannot win. As head coach, I'm required to take both mental and physical approaches to surmount the challenges that present themselves, but this is no easy task. To be honest, much of the time I feel the game is more burdensome than it is fun. Still, there is nothing like the joy you feel when you win a match and see the players and fans rejoice. This is a huge motivating factor for me.
Nakamura: The wide receiver's role is to go straight past the opponent's line and dodge the blockers on the opposing team while making precise catches. If you can catch a long pass, you can advance deep down the field, which brings the team closer to scoring a touchdown. This can really change the course of a game. You can visibly see how the role helps the offense―that is what I find rewarding about the position.
―In the 71st Rice Bowl, your team beat the university student champion team, the Nihon University Phoenix, in the national championship. The Fujitsu Frontiers had some big plays like when Nakamura caught the long pass thrown by quarterback Colby Cameron. Looking back on that game, what do you think was the main reason you won?
Fujita: It started off a bit slow, but we gradually gained momentum and made those big plays, which I was happy about. Nihon University is a very strong team, even better than we had expected. There were moments when the plays did not go as we'd hoped, but we ended the season with a solid victory, which is a relief.
Nakamura: I have been playing with Cameron for four years now, so I can usually tell where he wants me to run at what moment. Football is often called the "strategy sport," and you can't make successful plays unless the players' minds are well coordinated. This is something we make sure to keep in mind during our daily practices.
Team Standards Rose as Foreign Players Joined
―The Fujitsu Frontiers won the 71st Rice Bowl, their second consecutive Japanese championship and third title in four years. What is the secret behind your strength?
Nakamura: Coach Fujita reminds us on a daily basis that we must raise our standards. What had a big impact on this was introducing foreign players, starting with Cameron. By practicing every day with high level players who grew up in football's homeland, I feel like our standards began to rise naturally.
Fujita: It is true that by having foreign players join the team, the whole team's level rose dramatically, not just the levels of specific positions. Foreign players have different customs and cultural backgrounds, so it can take some time for them to adapt to the team, but because we are a corporate team, the players and staff work for the same company. This means that we can communicate well on a regular basis. I think that is what helps build a strong sense of solidarity. We can hold team practices not only on the weekends but also during the day on Wednesdays. We have our own dedicated field, and we are blessed in many ways in terms of our practice environment.
We Advance Steadily by Focusing on the Moment―This Leads to Growth
―Is there something you always keep in mind as you aim higher and continue to grow?
Nakamura: This may seem obvious, but it is important not to neglect the fundamentals. Another thing is to properly control your own feelings and maintain your motivation. To be honest, there are times when things do not go well, but the quality of our practices changes based on how positive we remain while tackling challenges. Coach Fujita cares about the players' mental wellbeing, and he is really good at communicating with words. His words inspire me. He is from Kansai, so the way he talks cracks me up (laughs). However, when the circumstances require, he will straighten up and get serious. He creates a positive vibe for the team in players thrive and work hard.
Fujita: Well, when you say it like that, I feel a bit embarrassed (laughs). I see Nakamura as a player with a real fighting spirit. He has always had great speed, and though he might hate it, he is very diligent about his detailed practice routine. Recently, I feel that he has steadily exhibited his strengths.
Nakamura: Thank you for your kind words!
Fujita: The fundamentals are important for coaches, too. When I have time off, I make sure to go to the US and learn about the latest training methods and strategies. The other staff members also study hard to improve their skills. The crucial thing to keep in mind is very simple, which is how much each and every team member can focus on the moment and steadily improve their capabilities. This is what leads us to evolve.。
In Part Two, we ask about football strategies, about how to leverage ICT and AI, and about future ambitions and dreams.
(Continue to Part Two.)
- Teruaki Clark Nakamura
Wide receiver, Fujitsu Frontiers
- Born September 4, 1988 in Kanagawa Prefecture.
- He spent his early childhood in France. He has lived in Japan since junior high school.
He began playing football as a student at Komaba High School, where he was a wide receiver and defensive back.
He enrolled at Nihon University, where he became a dedicated wide receiver.
As a university student, he was selected for the students' national team.
After graduating in 2011, he joined the Fujitsu Frontiers.
After winning their first championship in 2014, he played a major role in winning two consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017.
He also named MVP of the 2017 Japan X Bowl.
He also represents Japan as a Wide Receiver on the National Team.
- Satoshi Fujita
Head coach, Fujitsu Frontiers
- Born September 2, 1967 in Aichi Prefecture.
- He graduated from Tokai High School and enrolled at Kyoto University, where he began playing football.
He was the quarterback for his university team.
After graduation, he became the coach of the Kyoto University team, which won the Japan championship title in 1995.
He then became head coach of the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers, and he led the team to Japan's championship in 2000.
He became head coach of the Fujitsu Frontiers in 2005, the same year the teamcelebrated its 20th anniversary. In 2014, in his 10th year with the team, they won the much-coveted Japan championship title.
He then led the team to win the championship two years in a row in 2016 and 2017. The team aims for their third consecutive victory in 2018.