YANAGIDA Masahiro: Competing as one at Tokyo 2020

Yanagida Masahiro of Japan goes up for a spike during the 2019 FIVB World Cup
Yanagida Masahiro of Japan goes up for a spike during the 2019 FIVB World Cup

"I hope that in the future, when we have overcome the coronavirus plague, we can look back and say that we were able to achieve our result precisely because of the difficulties we were confronted with."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that is requiring all of us to curtail our normal activities, there are many athletes who are continuing with their daily training routines ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year - many of whom share their thoughts via social media.

Among such athletes is captain of Japan’s men’s volleyball team YANAGIDA Masahiro, who is aiming to surpass their fourth-placed finish at the 2019 World Cup and win a medal at Tokyo 2020 - their first Games since Beijing 2008.

Yanagida spoke to Tokyo 2020 about his latest updates, the ideas he wants to communicate through social media, and his aspirations for the Olympics next year.

Aspiring to make volleyball a sport with future potential

Being a professional volleyball player, I find it difficult to be unable to play.

During the stay-at-home period, however, simply believing that I should stay positive and do what I can, I worked on training that I could do in my room. I was unable to play due to an injury last year and once because of a major disaster, and those occasions made me realise how happy I was when I was able to play volleyball.

Once again I am reminded of how fortunate I was to be able to engage in competition, which I had taken for granted. We are facing the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented situation in which any careless action may put other people’s lives at risk. I am more keenly aware that I should be responsible for my own behaviour.

In the meantime, I asked myself, 'Would it be all over for us athletes if we couldn't play anymore?' I realised that it was not true. The values and experiences athletes have accumulated are never going to disappear. There must be an opportunity for other people to benefit from our values and experiences. In exploring opportunities to make myself useful, I launched a webcasting channel, Yanagida Masahiro Academy 'Garden', to share my athletic skills, knowledge and experience.

As a professional athlete, I have a strong desire to make volleyball a sport with a great future for the young generation and to develop it further into a major sport. The challenge for me is to fully convey my experiences and knowledge to potential volleyball players, and I am making the utmost efforts to this end.

After the first session, I received messages on Instagram thanking me for the content, and commenting that it was so informative. I find these comments really encouraging and they provide me with extra motivation. While hoping to meet the expectations of the viewers, I focus on those points that I really want to share.

View this post on Instagram

これから新しく Yanagida Masahiro Academy “Garden” がスタートします! ここは僕がバレーボールのスキルや色々なテーマをオンラインで直接伝えていく場所になります。 Garden = 庭 はたくさんの人の気づきや発見の場所になってほしい、academyでありながら自分の希望するものを気軽に手に取れるような、まるで近くの庭に遊びに行くような、そんな場所にしたいという想いからこの名前をつけました。 早速第1回目に向けて準備を進めています。 テーマは『スキル編 サーブ』 オンライントークの中で、僕自身の映像なども交えながらテーマに沿ってインタラクティブに進めていきます。 もちろん質問だったり気になるところを直接聞く時間もたくさん作って、オンライントーク中にコミュニケーションが取れるプログラムにしています。 オンライントークなので、人数に制限があります。日時なども詳しくは下記URLをチェックしてみてください。 皆さんの参加をGardenでお待ちしております。 https://dpstore.thebase.in/

A post shared by 柳田 将洋 Yanagida Masahiro (@masahiro.8.0706) on

Struggling with difficulties unique to online services

In a usual volleyball class, I can demonstrate and teach skills with gestures, whereas with an online volleyball lesson I need to use words and explain with diagrams, which requires a process of verbalisation. Since I had depended largely on my instincts, I found it difficult to convey playing skills in words. At first, I found myself using confusing or misleading expressions to explain the skills. So, I took my time and devised ways to put athletic movements into words in an easy-to-understand and precise way. I realised just how challenging it is to actually verbalise something.

I also talk a lot about how to serve a volleyball correctly. What I want to share most are my experiences, and the practice and training I have done to hone my current skills and techniques. I believe that sharing my experiences is most important.

I am also hoping to ask players with outstanding serving skills to appear in my programme to exchange opinions with me. I believe this should highlight differences, encourage discussions and help broaden our perspective. It would be great if the viewers develop a mindset of embracing different ideas by watching me taking on new challenges.

Unlocking new possibilities for athletes on social media

I see great potential in social media. I feel that while we athletes are basically good at physical activities, social media and webcasting may offer an opportunity for us to strengthen different aspects of an athlete’s capabilities. If we can learn how to properly verbalise skills and experiences, we may be able to become a good coach in the future. I was speaking to the audience of my programme, possibly as part of training to be a coach. The use of social media could provide new possibilities for athletes.

Of course, I am also considering collaboration with athletes of other sports. For example, I hope to encourage active discussions on such topics as 'professional contracts', 'playing overseas' and 'leadership'. The concept of 'Garden' represents a venue for awareness and discovery for many people. Despite the designation as an 'Academy', it is intended to be a place where people can casually visit and enjoy as they wish, just like visiting and enjoying a garden in their local neighbourhood.

I am not a real die-hard enthusiast about connecting with others on social media all the time, but I do have respect for various sites and am interested in their intentions. I am attracted by such sites because I am interested in the differences between my ideas about social media and those of others.

I think it would be interesting to talk about the difference, and I hope viewers will discover something new. I would like to continue being positive and inquisitive about exploring the various possibilities of social media also in the hope of learning for myself.

Yanagida Masahiro of Japan during a practice session
Yanagida Masahiro of Japan during a practice session

With Tokyo 2020 as my goal, I had been preparing myself over the past three seasons,

including signing a professional contract and playing overseas.

Postponement of Tokyo 2020

The rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the suffering it has caused to so many people around the world has been a real eye-opener.

With Tokyo 2020 as my goal, I had been preparing myself well over the past three seasons, including signing a professional contract and playing overseas. Naturally, I was a little disappointed that the Games were postponed for a year, yet I felt positive that the postponement would give me one more year to grow and develop, and decided to play for a Japanese team this season.

Right now, I want to grow and achieve a satisfying result at Tokyo 2020. I hope that in the future, when we have overcome the coronavirus plague, we can look back and say were able to achieve our result precisely because of the difficulties we were confronted with. I believe that not only I, but also all other members of the national team share this aspiration. To this end, I aim to stay motivated and choose positive actions each day.

In the second half of the season with United Volleys Frankfurt (in the first division of the German volleyball league) I was assigned to the defensive (serve reception) area to make the most of my playing style, and in which I could both receive serves and spike.

I will hone my skills [in the national team] based on the experiences I have gained in Germany. I think there will be many situations, even within the domestic league, where I will have to receive powerful serves by foreign players.

Taking on various challenges in such situations should also help me grow further and produce tangible results. As captain of the national team, I will try hard to build a cohesive team and at the same time keep on trying to be the best player I possibly can be.

Competing as one at Tokyo 2020

At the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, I would like every member of the team to show that they are well prepared for competition and in tip-top condition. If so, I believe the results will look after themselves. No one was satisfied with ending up in fourth place at the World Cup in 2019. That result really made us sit up and take notice. I think everyone still remembers the frustration we all felt with the poor performance, and I am sure that we will all be giving everything to ensure that such a disappointing performance isn’t repeated at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

It's not easy for a team to come together. If even one person is missing, we cannot be one. In this sense, as captain, I was very pleased that all of us were able to fight as one towards our objective despite the tight schedule of the World Cup.

We would like to come together as one again for the Tokyo 2020 Games. I will do my best, reflect from time-to-time, and remain positive, so that I can compete in the Olympic Games in top form.

Yanagida Masahiro of Japan playing at the 2019 FIVB World Cup
Yanagida Masahiro of Japan playing at the 2019 FIVB World Cup
(c) JVA