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17/04/2016 01:40
JTEKT Stings coach Kazushi Masunari overwhelmed by Champions League experience
2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League - Men

Krakow, Poland, April 16, 2016. Many Volleyball coaches, including some who are currently at the helm of a number of elite national teams, have travelled to Krakow to witness the Final Four tournament of the 2016 CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League – Men. However, none has travelled from as far away as Kazushi Masunari, who has flown over to Krakow from Nagoya, Japan to join the ‘ultimate Volleyball experience’ in Poland’s second-largest city.

Masunari currently coaches Japan’s V.Premier League team JTEKT Stings whose roster this season included Bulgaria-born superstar Matey Kaziyski. After watching the semi-final matches contested on Saturday before a record-breaking crowd at TAURON Arena, Masunari was just overwhelmed by the experience. “I have come all the way from Japan because I know that Europe is leading the way on the international Volleyball scene,” he says. “And this is absolutely true because today I got to see some real world-class teams, playing at the highest level you can get to see all over the world.”

Japan’s national league is open to foreign players but the rules are strict and each club is allowed to register only one foreigner. On the other hand, the elite teams competing at TAURON Arena boast a multi-national roster, and Masunari was pretty impressed with that as well. “Though their players come from many different countries and have an extremely diverse background, you can see that they do play and work together as a team. They are individually extremely strong, but all pieces of that puzzle fit together and what you get in the end is a truly exceptional, world-class team,” he stresses.

However, Masunari was particularly impressed by the ambiance surrounding the matches. “The day got started with a very spectacular opening ceremony, something that we can describe as a real show. And after that the fans went just crazy all day long, supporting their favourite team with so much passion and enthusiasm, this is something we are definitely not used to back home in Japan. Of course, in Japan we also get full houses, but the fans remain fairly quiet, the way they support their favourite team is totally different than here and therefore the players end up feeling less pressure.”

Masunari looks quite far ahead trying to learn from his experience in Krakow and will bring back to Japan many impressions and a lot of useful knowledge. “I can say that by the time we host the Olympics in Tokyo [in 2020] many foreign fans will come to Japan and will support their teams with the same passion I saw today. This might be a problem for our national team because Japanese players are not used to such kind of environment,” he says. “In order to be competitive and cope with such pressure, our players will have to grow a lot inside, in their hearts,” he points out.

The ambiance that surrounded Saturday’s semi-finals has definitely left an impression on him. “It was an amazing experience, something totally different from what you can get to see in Japan. Back home there are always four, five people who lead the support from the stands and these are usually employees of the company, which is sponsoring the club. They should never go overboard though, as this does not comply with our mentality and also with the rules set by the national league and national federation,” Masunari continues.

To perform in such kind of environment is definitely something special and Masunari feels like Japanese players should learn from their European peers. “In Japan players do mostly execute what they are told to do, and they do this very methodically and by repeating the same exercise time and again. As far as I can see, players here do follow the instructions of their coaches but in general the environment is a lot more challenging and so they are expected to make their own decisions and to think more about what they are doing. This is something we should learn to do as well. My wish is that players and coaches back home in Japan will understand that it is not too bad if you fail once or twice, but if you work hard and challenge yourself, this is going to take you and your team to the next level.”

Last year Japan’s rising Volleyball star Yuki Ishikawa spent a few months in Italy playing in Modena and this experience has been truly beneficial to his development. “I think more players should follow his example, challenge themselves and go abroad in order to mature and improve. There are a number of extremely competitive national leagues in Europe where they would gain valuable experience, and if they do not get the opportunity to play in Italy’s first division, for instance, they could sign for a team of their second division or go to another country,” Masunari continues.

Team Japan showed they are improving when competing at last year’s World League and World Cup but there is still a lot of work, which needs to be done. “If we do not encourage our players to go abroad and challenge themselves by being surrounded by an extremely competitive environment, I am afraid that it will be difficult for us to move higher in the international rankings. However, this is not easy because of the barrier set by the language and also because most of our players are employed by the company the club belongs to, and so by staying in Japan they lay the foundations of their future beyond their sportive career,” Masunari adds.

He admits that upon his return to Japan he will be sharing his own ‘ultimate Volleyball experience’ with colleagues from the Coaches Commission at the Japan Volleyball Association. “I am going to share this amazing experience with friends and colleagues and will tell them that we need to learn from you, otherwise the gap which separates us from the elite will grow bigger and bigger. Our players need to live this kind of experience and become familiar with this challenging and extremely demanding environment, where even on the same team players keep on challenging each other. This is the only way to go if we want to be successful in four years’ time when Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics,” he concludes.  

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