With Consecutive Japanese Championships,We delve into the Fascinating World of Fujitsu Football―the Fusion of Brains and Technology (Part 2)

[The Power to Create the Future: Sports x ICT Vol. 1] A Conversation with Fujitsu Frontiers Player Teruaki Clark Nakamura and Head Coach Satoshi Fujita

The Key to Building a Strategy: Precise Data Analysis for Each Play

Head coach Satoshi Fujita speaks about football strategy.

(Continued from Part 1.)

Head coach Fujita, you mentioned that strategy plays a huge role in football. Can you describe the specific methods you use to build your strategy?

Fujita: In football, to build a strategy, you first need to do scouting, which is a method of analyzing the data on your team and your opponent's. We import videos of games, which are shared among the league, and we use analysis software specifically designed for football to turn these videos into data. Every game has about 150 plays. We divide the game into individual plays, and then we study the data with respect to more than 10 categories for each point in time, such as the ball position, formation, and play type. Among the coaches, we have one dedicated data analyst who studies all data manually. This is a very difficult task.

Nakamura: If you just let it play from beginning to end, you can watch a whole game in an hour. But if you're watching 150 plays, and multiply that by 10 for the number of categories, and then add the time for stopping the video to input data, rewinding to confirm what you saw, and repeating that process--it's very time consuming to say the least.

Fujita: Also, you are not merely scouting the team as a whole; you have to analyze each individual player's movements and unique habits, so it takes a day or two. However, this must be done quickly so that we can start strategizing and practicing. This puts the analyst under a lot of pressure. In the following step, we review the data to build our strategy, such as planning the plays for the next match, choosing which players to send out, and planning maneuvers for specific situations. We then share this strategy with the coaches and players, and they practice the plays repeatedly until the strategy becomes ingrained.

Picking Strategies from a Call Sheet During Games to Quickly Respond to Various Situations

©FUJITSU SPORTS/NANO Association
Head coach Satoshi Fujita focuses on a game while wearing a headset and holding a call sheet.

Why do coaches wear headsets and carry notepads during games?

Fujita: Those notepads contain what you could call "strategy notes." They are known as call sheets and they list the plays for each match that are our plan to respond to various situations. Football games move at a very fast pace, so there is no time to develop strategies on the spot. Thus, to respond to each situation, we look at this sheet and choose what we think is the most effective play at that moment. With the headset, we communicate with the coaches watching the game from above the stands, who have a bird's-eye view. They can offer useful information when trying to select a play.

Head coach Satoshi Fujita holds a call sheet, which contains a list of planned plays for a game. Names are written next to all plays, which are communicated to players from the offense and defense coaches during games. In football in Japan, use of computers and tablets is prohibited, so call sheets are usually on sheets of paper.

Nakamura: During a match, sometimes the opponent makes a move you do not anticipate. When that happens, the core players in offensive and defensive positions may play it by ear and change the play, but if they start improvising a bit too much, the entire team's balance can collapse. A quick-witted decision can at times bring us out of a tight spot, but it can also lead to major mistakes, so it is always a difficult decision to make.

Fujita: Information is crucial when building a strategy, but during games, there are moments when experience and intuition play a big role. Too much information can slow down decision making, so we make sure to narrow it down and only communicate the most crucial information to players.

We Want to Take Football to the Next Level by Integrating ICT with Human Abilities

©FUJITSU SPORTS/NANO Association

With the major international sports event to be held in Tokyo in a couple years, the use of ICT such as data analysis is gaining rapid momentum in the world of sports. How would you like to see it applied in football?

Fujita: As I mentioned earlier, studying data for scouting takes a lot of time, so I want to use ICT to convert play footage into data instantaneously. If this task can be done faster, we can spend more time strategizing and practicing. As for improving players' competitiveness, I think we can raise the efficiency of practices and players' skills with advanced technology that tracks their exercise routines in a way that is similar to the gymnastics image analysis system "3D Sensing Technology" that Fujitsu is currently developing.

Teruaki Clark Nakamura says he wants to see ICT applied in a way that advances football in Japan.

Nakamura: With respect to ICT, there is also the possibility that AI, which is often talked about these days, can be used in football too, right?

Fujita: You're right. That would be interesting. I think there are many ways that AI can be applied, such as supporting strategizing by digging through the massive set of data to pick out only the useful pieces for the next game, or simulating matches in detail. However, I think strategizing requires some element of playfulness. Sometimes, you must make drastic maneuvers. Otherwise, your opponent can anticipate your moves, making the game less interesting. In competitive sports, a fearless willingness to take on challenges, intuition, and experience are crucial; this makes me wonder how well AI can actually learn these things. I do hope to see technology and human abilities fuse together to take football to the next level.

Nakamura: If you ask me, I hope that ICT will help people understand football a little better and make it more familiar. Like in the NFL, it's a lot of fun for viewers when TV broadcasts show the records of individual players and teams. This enables players to see their own records, which boosts their motivation.

©FUJITSU SPORTS/NANO Association
©FUJITSU SPORTS/NANO Association
Other highlights of football include the huddles (strategy meetings on the field), which gives viewers a sense of team solidarity, and cheerleaders' captivating performances.

Fujita: In terms of spectating styles, I think it will help beginners understand the game better if we place monitors in the stands to show real-time commentary and offer replays of the parts that spectators have missed. Once, when I went to see a Major League Baseball game in the US, I saw a group of mothers outside the stadium watching a game on a big screen while their kids played. I want to see that in Japan, so people can bring their kids to watch football games.

I Want Japan's Entire World of Sports to Advance by Using ICT to Train Athletes

Teruaki Clark Nakamura (left) and head coach Satoshi Fujita (right) discuss their goals and football's future.

We are excited to see how football will evolve by using ICT. Before we conclude, please tell us about your future goals and dreams.

Nakamura: I turn 30 this year, so I am thinking about how I want to continue being active in the sport, and about what I want to pass down to my juniors in various respects--not just technology but also the team culture, among other things.

Fujita: We succeeded in winning the championship consecutively this year, so for our next step, I want the team to become truly unbeatable by making sure it stays strong even if members come and go. In the future, I hope to see players from this team make a name for themselves on the world stage.

Nakamura: When talking about football as a whole, I hope it becomes better recognized in Japan and better covered on TV. The league's level is improving year by year, so I hope more and more people will go out and see games.

Fujita: I want football to become something that is as accessible and as common as going out to a bar for drinks (laughs). I also hope that our society will begin to offer kids more opportunities to play whatever sport suits them, not just football. Even with the declining birthrate, there are plenty of very talented athletes, so I hope to see a system in which athletes can go beyond boundaries and explore various sports. Use of ICT in the areas of youth recruitment and athlete training gives me hope that Japan's entire world of sports will advance to new levels and reach great heights.

Nakamura: We also want to work hard to make our team stronger as well as to make the league more appealing to people in order to make football in Japan even bigger.

What do you want to achieve with ICT?

Fujitsu's Cheerleading Squad, the Frontierettes

My name is Miteki Muramatsu, and I am the new captain of the Frontierettes!
As cheerleaders we strive to always support the players in solidarity with everyone in the stands.
Let's fight together to help the Frontiers achieve their third consecutive championship as Japan's top team!
I hope to see you all at the stadium!

©Osamu Ikeda
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.