After a career full of contributions to USA Volleyball, long-time staffer Gary Sato will become the first foreign head coach of the Japanese men’s national team. This marks the first time in history that a Japanese men’s or women’s team will have ever had a head coach that was not born in Japan. In an article announcing the hire, the Japanese Federation stated that it was time to try something new.
Outside the box thinking is long overdue for Japan. The men’s team has been struggling against increasingly bigger and more powerful opponents for decades now. They failed to qualify for both the 2012 and 2004 Olympic Games and they placed 11th in 2008. In fact, the last time that Japan medaled in an Olympics was back in Munich in 1972. They won the gold at that Olympics after winning silver in 1968 and bronze in 1964.
Gary Sato will have his work cut out for him in bringing this program back to relevance in a sport that has changed dramatically since it was last a force. But the new challenge provides a great opportunity for him to bring volleyball in that country into the 21st centuray as it seems they are finally ready to do.
This may be the first time in history that a U.S. team will play against a foreign team with an American head coach. With extensive knowledge of the American system and the current American players, Sato should be able to make Japan more competitive against us and others who play a western style of volleyball. But it may be a while before Japan becomes a threat to the U.S. Talent-wise it is still no contest when all of our top players are in place. But western-style volleyball or not, Sato has done extensive scouting on every team of consequence and is a good choice to assist the Japanese in raising their level to where it needs to be.
Leave it to Sato and his frequent motto “Grow the Game” to spread quality and competitive volleyball to the Japanese national team and beyond.