A key member of the Japanese Ice Hockey Federation’s ground-breaking Planning Committee, Mizuno is trying to break with a deep-rooted tradition that sees young boys and girls identified as skilled in a particular sport and then train fervently in that sport only.
To that end, he organized a symposium during this year’s Women’s U18 World Championship in Obihiro with the hopes of starting a new way of thinking in his country.
“We’re trying to create a junior development program, and one of the concepts we want to focus on is the idea of participating in multiple sports,” Mizuno said as the symposium got under way. “It’s not a familiar concept here. The Japanese sports culture is all about specialization, but we question that. If you look at the elite hockey countries in this tournament like Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, they have an important multi-sport concept in their junior development, so I thought it was a good idea to introduce these ideas to Japan and also bring in some Japanese experts and athletes who know a lot about multiple sports and have that kind of background. We’re trying to make new stories.”
To that end, Mizuno invited Emily West to speak. She is in charge of the American Development Model adopted by USA Hockey a decade ago, one that has been hugely successful in keeping young athletes in the sport and developing a full range of athletic abilities.
“We discovered that many kids who liked hockey when they were young started to leave the game when they were 13 or 14,” West explained. “They didn’t like playing any more because there was too much emphasis on winning. We’re trying to change that. Many of our top young players don’t even know what a cartwheel or somersault is.”
Mizuno is hoping to bring an ADM kind of format to Japan, hoping to develop good hockey players but also good athletes in other sports as well.
“The symposium is part of developing hockey but also athletes in other sports as well,” he continued. “We’re reaching out to the government body that oversees sports and national federations, and spread the idea that it’s not about specialization, especially among children. Once a kid goes into one sport, it’s all about that sport and only that sport. We’re probably the first sports organization in Japan to make these strides.”
West talked about two words with polar opposite meanings. The game has to be FUN, and the idea of WIN has to be put off until kids are 15 or 16.
Today’s symposium attracted about 120 people from all over. Players from a local baseball team were in attendance along with parents, media from the sports industry, and interested observers.
“We’re recording the symposium and making it available on the internet, for teachers and coaches and federations, anyone who might be interested in learning about getting young athletes to play more than one sport. We’re going to keep going, do more to change the culture and atmosphere,” Mizuno said.