Since Shoichi Yanagimoto was appointed as head coach in 2003, the Japanese senior women’s national team has been developing if not rapidly, then steadily. Yanagimoto’s squad has made steady progress so far and now they are aiming to fulfil their long-cherished desire to win a medal in the Olympics in Beijing next year. Many believe that Japan’s dream cannot be realized without Yanagimoto.
Although there are many volleyball coaches in the world, there are not many like Shoichi Yanagimoto, the present head coach of the Japanese women’s squad, who has been involved in various aspects of volleyball throughout his career.
Yanagimoto, born in Osaka in 1951, was a promising setter even in high school and won two national high school titles. He decided to pursue a career as a volleyball player with the New Nippon Steel team, one of the major companies in Japan, and was selected for Japan’s national squad. He achieved remarkable success – 1st at the Asian Games in Iran in 1974, 3rd at the World Championship in Mexico in 1974 and 4th in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976. Furthermore, for four seasons from 1980 to 1984 Yanagimoto played two roles at New Nippon Steel - as head coach and as the key setter - and he led his squad to a glorious victory in the Japan League, the then premier League in Japan, and Yanagimoto himself was voted Best Coach in 1982.
In 1985, Yanagimoto was invited to Thailand to coach the Thai men’s national squad. Despite a lack of time and difficulty in communicating to his players his passionate ideas about coaching, Yanagimoto guided them to first place at the SEA Games. He sometimes recalls this time in Thailand and is convinced that his experiences there has broadened his horizons and mind.
In the following year, 1986, Yanagimoto was asked to be involved in the founding of a new team, Nisshin Steel, and to coach them. So he resumed his career in Japan and Nisshin Steel soon got prompted to the first division, the V. League. As a result, Yanagimoto’s reputation as a coach was enhanced.
1997 was the turning point in his volleyball career when he took over TOYOBO Orchis, a women’s company team in the V. League, and won the V-League twice in five seasons. However, in 2002, despite being one of the top teams, the owners decided to follow the example of Hitachi, Odakyu and UNITIKA and close down their volleyball team as a cost-cutting measure due to the long-lasting economic depression.
In spring 2003, Yanagimoto was appointed as head coach of the Japanese senior women’s national squad by the JVA. Within 8 months his squad had made a remarkable improvement and ended up 5th at the women’s World Cup in November. At the OQT in the following year, Japan finished 1st and eventually qualified for the Olympics. Since the Olympics in 2004, however, all has not been smooth sailing for his squad. Whenever key players left the squad due to injuries, Yanagimoto always tried to make his team strong by making the most of his remaining players’ ability. He can show his abilities as head coach in the face of adversity.
The final goal of 2007 is, needless to say, qualification for Beijing Olympics next year. In order to reach the final goal, Yanagimoto will set many short-term goals the first of which is to become one of the top three teams at the World Grand Prix 2007.
Yanagimoto has made a careful plan for 2007. Immediately after the national volleyball competition in May, the national team will get together in Tokyo. The first international competition will be “The Volleyball Tournament of the First President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin” from 26th June to 4th July. During this tournament the players will be chosen with the World Grand Prix 2007 in mind.
The national players of 2007 will be announced in April. Nevertheless, most national players of 2006 are expected to remain in the team. This year will not be the year to give a chance to young players, but to complete Yanagimoto’s squad for the Olympics.