Okimura Blog: The Global Community of Volleyball

By Lori Okimura | Sept. 08, 2017, 12:18 p.m. (ET)

Blog by Lori Okimura, USA Volleyball Board of Directors chair

Following a successful and sold out series of the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup in Tokyo Japan, women's teams from Brazil, China, Korea, Russia and the United States, along with international officials and staff boarded the famous Japanese Shinkansen (bullet trains) for a short trip West to Nagoya where the Nippon Gaishi Arena welcomed them with open arms. The international flavor of this tournament and others like it in the FIVB schedule really gives you a sense that volleyball is truly a global community. The U.S. Women had the first match of the day against Russia. The train was full of fans coming to see the Americans live and in person. I noticed lots of American flag t-shirts and red, white and blue (which, come to think of it, could also apply for Russian fans). The first smiling face I saw was of our number-one fan in Japan, Nahoko san. She was decked out in USA Volleyball gear and her famous "GO USA" signed banner now bears the signatures of new players on the team like Annie Drews and Justine Wong-Orantes. She's at every USA match and her banner hangs proud inside the arena. Many of the other fans were here to support the USA stars who have played in the Japanese V-League. Tori Dixon, Lauren Gibbemeyer and Foluke Akinradewo are a few of the TEAM USAV members who have built a solid fan base in Japan. Front page news today was Foluke's signing with Hisamitsu Springs, one of the top teams in the V-League. As glad as I am that our USA Volleyball athletes enjoy success overseas, I can't wait for the day when they can stay at home and enjoy the same success. Soon.

For now, I'm happy to have any chance to see our national team play wherever and whenever. And today's match against Russia was a great display of what Marv Dunphy commented as a "team win." Six players scored at least nine points, with Kim Hill, Foluke and Jordan Larson leading the way. Justine took the court for the first time as the USA libero and I kept thinking to myself that her best friend Sara Hughes, the FIVB's Rookie of the Year and U.S. beach national team member, was back home watching the live feed and shouting at the screen! You can read about the match on the USA Volleyball website: click here

I changed my vantage point a bit for today's match and sat in the technical area where USA Volleyball technical coordinator, Jeff Hicks, was busy at work setting up the equipment that helps the coaching staff analyze the data from each match. He was joined by technical coordinators from every team, setting up devices, positioning cameras and inputting data at what seemed like the speed of light. The clicking of computer buttons furiously recording the movements of each play is a familiar and somewhat comforting sound to them all. Jeff is a mainstay with our men's sitting volleyball national team and it's nice to see his expertise working well in Japan for the indoor women. He's navigating the trains making his way to the arena for every match. When Karch and his staff are not...coaching...they are hard at work analyzing data, reading the scouting report and building the game plan for each match. It's all hands on deck now among our national team programs, top-to-bottom and across the board. This trip to Japan is one example of some changes being made at USA Volleyball by our new CEO, Jamie Davis, to allow shared resources among our national teams en route to establishing a department filled with expertise across all three disciplines of beach, indoor and sitting volleyball.

Jeff Hicks, USA Voleyball technical coordinator

Jeff Hicks at work

It's interesting to see all the different equipment and hear the different languages which are all leading back to the same sport. Yet another reminder of our global community. I watched the last match of the day with Marv Dunphy, a five-set thriller between Japan and Brazil that was like watching a roller coaster go up and down as the lead changed hands point-by-point. Let me tell you that Marv is probably the person I respect the most in volleyball worldwide, and quite frankly one of the best people I have ever met. And any chance to watch & talk volleyball with him is like winning the Powerball lottery. I'm sure my friends like Brian Swenty and Pete Wung from the infamous Facebook group "Volleyball Coaches & Trainers" can share my sentiment that Marv is truly one of the best people we are lucky to have in our sport, and sitting next to him during a match is on a lot of volleyball people's bucket list, mine included.

Some of the other "sensei" in the Nippon Gaishi Arena included Gen Kawakita, an outstanding Japanese coach and very good friend to many USA national team players and coaches from his time spent with them coaching around the world with the U.S. and Japanese national teams, and pro teams in Europe and Japan. Gen is back in Japan as head coach of the Denso Airybees in their domestic pro league. He was part of the USA coaching staff leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics where the women brought home the silver medal under head coach Lang Ping, who is also here traveling with the Chinese national team. Lang Ping is about as legendary as one gets in volleyball as the only person to win an Olympic gold medal as a player (Los Angeles 1984) and a head coach (Rio 2016). She is so legendary that just her presence in the arena is making an impact as China leads the standings.

Tomorrow morning, I will visit with some of Japan's national beach teams as they participate in an exhibition in Osaka. I have fond memories of Osaka, a place where I first joined the ranks of the FIVB's beach volleyball technical delegates, some of the hardest working people I've had the pleasure of knowing and remain friends with to this day. Sara Seravalli (Italy), Jeff Brehaut (England), David Cox (Norway), and Andre Trottier (Canada) to name a few. And Osaka is where I worked for an entire tournament alongside a man whom I kept thinking looked familiar only to discover he was a distant relative from Kagawa prefecture, and a teacher like many of my ancestors. Although I am here for an indoor volleyball tournament, I am also taking time to address ways to help support Japan's beach volleyball program as part of their preparation for Tokyo 2020.

I have always had a deep interest in helping develop beach volleyball worldwide and have signed on to be a member of the FIVB's newly reorganized beach volleyball commission for the Tokyo 2020 Quad to contribute as much as possible alongside some equally invested beach volleyball people I trust. People like Craig Carracher, the president of Volleyball Australia and Tomoki Kimishima from Japan Volleyball Association. Julius Brink, Germany's Olympic gold medalist, Chen Xue, China's Olympic silver medalist, and legendary Brazilian Olympic gold medalist, Emanuel Rego, are all part of the FIVB's new beach volleyball commission seeking to help. We all want the Japanese to succeed in Tokyo 2020, because if they do, it will be good for everyone in our sport around the world.

FIVB Beach Volleyball Commission for Tokyo 2020 Quad.

During a private meeting with the FIVB President, Dr. Ary Graca, we spoke candidly about the importance of bringing major volleyball events to the USA, including FIVB World Championships in beach and indoor. I shared with him again the importance of USA Volleyball's role as one of the few national governing bodies in the U.S. that oversees both Olympic and Paralympic sport disciplines, and how that will bring us new challenges and new opportunities to collaborate with the FIVB. I reiterated that our new CEO is hard at work rebranding and reorganizing USA Volleyball, bringing in new resources, and building the foundation of a new professional league. And, we discussed opportunities to work together with the other national federations to achieve our goals with the FIVB's full support. I've been part of the global community of volleyball for 29 years, working in sporting goods, event management, and at times working at odds with the powers that be. In all those years, I've never seen a better time to bring us all together. Instead of talking about it, we have been doing it. No matter what country we come from, we recognize the strength in our numbers. Our global community of volleyball is coming together at just the right time to find new ways to shine at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. It's #VolleyballYourWay.

Meeting with FIVB President Dr. Ary Graça at the 2017 FIVB World Grand Champions Cup in Tokyo.

L-R. Hannes Jagerhofer (CEO, Beach Majors), Jamie Davis (CEO, USA Volleyball), FIVB President Dr. Ary Graça, Lori Okimura (Chairman, USA Volleyball Board of Directors), Fabio Azevedo (General Director, FIVB), and Cristobal Marté Hoffiz (President, NORCECA)