Kon'nichiwa Osaka!

By Lori Okimura | Sept. 14, 2017, 5:45 p.m. (ET)

Today was a travel day at the FIVB Men's World Grand Champions Cup. As the teams bid farewell to Nagoya, we need to give a special thanks to all of the staff and volunteers who helped make our stay so enjoyable and did a wonderful job with their organization of this spectacular event. I am told there were about 200 volunteers working this stop of the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup. That is an amazing statistic. They were so polite, generous and welcoming, and we thank them for their hospitality.


Nagoya court staff waiting to assist during warm ups.


Yuko is the translator for the U.S. National Team at the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup & a longtime friend to many of our past national team players and staff having worked many years at the FIVB World Cup.

For those of you following the Instagram takeover by our liberos, Erik Shoji (@erikshoji) and Dustin Watten (@dustinwatten), how funny are they? These two guys have great social media accounts. So if you like what you saw, I highly suggest you follow them. Dusty in particular has some great vegan recipes for healthy eating that he posts daily on Instagram. Need to give a shout out to my oldest friend, Piyush Mangalick, who works at Instagram keeping them on the cutting edge of social media tech (and could use some of Dusty's healthy recipes instead of his nightly runs to Taco Bell in Menlo Park during hack-a-thons).

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Passing the time at the hotel.

The team traveled by bus from Nagoya to Osaka, delayed slightly by an accident on the highway. I heard a rumor they stopped for ice cream, which made me reconsider deciding to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) instead.

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The U.S. Men's National Team made a pit stop for ice cream on the way to Osaka.

I caught up with them post-ice cream fix just as they were starting practice at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium, the last stop of the tournament and where we face World League Champion France, Olympic Champion Brazil, and Olympic silver medalists Italy. That should give you some idea of how competitive this particular tournament is. It's right up there with the Olympics. It really is a preview of what to expect for the Tokyo Olympics. And if the competition in 2020 is as good as it is now, we are in for yet another "Volleyball Olympics" and that's just fine with me!


USA team practice at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium.


USA team practice at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium.


USA team practice at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium.


USA team practice at Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium.

Despite a tough loss to Iran, the men of Team USAV left Nagoya looking ahead to regroup, and when they arrived in Osaka they went right to work. As I was entering the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium, I could hear the familiar sounds of practice. Balls thumping on the court, the squeak of their adidas shoes on the newly installed Gerflor court. An occasional grunt as they received serve, or on that rare occasion the guys could sneak one past Erik (then you can hear Erik scolding himself for missing a perfect pass). These are the sounds of this team hard at work. Nobody has time to hang their heads, and that's not what elite athletes do.

The coaches watched intently, they are the braintrust and you can see their wheels spinning as they implement the game plan. They use the data. At the pressers, I am always impressed when head coach John Speraw can cite the percentages of how effective or not the game plan was by virtue of the statistics. We have the technical staff to thank for that. USA Volleyball is lucky to be working with a company called VolleyMetrics to help with our data capture. And I would argue to say that we have one of the best teams of technical staff for beach, indoor and sitting volleyball in the world. During the women's portion of this tournament, Jeffrey Hicks, who works with both the sitting and indoor programs, was busy at work during every match coding and inputting data to help the coaches scout teams. Jeff was also part of the technical staff for the gold-medal-winning women's sitting team at the Paralympics. In Nagoya, Jeff handed off to Nate Ngo, technical coordinator for the Rio Olympic bronze medal team and the current men's national team. Nate has a keen eye for the game and uses his coaching expertise to help analyze the data he inputs daily.

Scouting is no easy task. The technical staff is the first to arrive at the venue, and the last to leave. They watch and stat every single match, not just ours. They have to deal with setting up equipment in strange venues, finding power, establishing the wireless connection to the coaches on the bench, and navigating their way through the dozens of other technical staff from each team. One night in Nagoya, I sat behind Jeff and had a bird's eye view of what he and Nate deal with. Our guys are so good, we only travel one of them per team. The beach teams travel with one technical coordinator as well, and there are eight USA beach teams, and as many as 12 or more matches a day to cover. I really appreciate our technical staff for keeping things going behind the scenes to give us the data analysis that is such a valuable part of the strategy.


Japan's technical staff use as many as nine devices including laptop/notebook computers for data entry, tablets for instant replay, mobile phones and radio communications in their scouting efforts.


Nate Ngo (left) with USA assistant coach Brian Thornton (right), is the U.S. National Team's technical coordinator with an extensive coaching background.

Another important part of the team behind the team is the sports medicine team, and strength & conditioning staff. The men travel with USA Volleyball Director of Sports Medicine Aaron Brock. "AB" is a secret weapon of sorts in my opinion. His knowledge and expertise are invaluable. He works to coordinate our entire sports medicine team in cooperation with the USOC sports medicine program. Often on these trips, I will look out the hotel window or be walking down the street and see our teams doing the "walk about" with AB, stretching, shaking it out, and doing what they need to do to prevent injury, recover from a tough match, and stay healthy and strong. He is a major part of our success. He is joined on this trip by Tim Pelot, who manages the USA strength and conditioning program and is an expert in high performance training. Dr. Andrew Gregory has been with both teams here in Japan, and was our team doctor for the Rio Olympics. He knows our team inside and out, and he prioritizes their care at all times. What I admire most about people like Dr. Gregory, AB, Tim and our entire sports medicine/strength & conditioning team for beach, indoor and sitting volleyball, is that they are so good at what they do and they are always anticipating the ways in which they can help the team in all areas. Their professionalism is quite impressive. We are lucky to have this group representing USA Volleyball.


USAV Director of Sports Medicine & Performance Aaron Brock, MS, ATC, CSCS, PES.


Brian Thornton, a member of the 2012 London Olympic team, is back with USA Volleyball as an assistant coach.

Walking back to the hotel after practice, I thought to myself how much I'm going to miss working with this team and all of the others after my term ends at USA Volleyball. I'm especially proud of our new Board member, Kawika Shoji, who demonstrates the type of leadership that makes good things happen on and off the court. I can't wait to see him get going in his new role as men's indoor player representative on the Board of Directors. My contribution to the teams is not from the coaching standpoint, but from a business standpoint. While in Japan, I have done my best to help reconnect with my colleagues here, finding new ways for them to work together with USA Volleyball in the future, as they have worked so well with me personally in the past. I feel encouraged by the opportunity for USA Volleyball to work more closely with the FIVB to host more major international competitions on American soil, and to invest in the new model for a professional league. I have identified many ways I can continue to collaborate with other national federations around the world, whose presidents I have known for many years and trust in their abilities. I am personally invested in helping the efforts of the Tokyo 2020 beach, indoor and sitting volleyball programs to ensure their success. They have already reached a milestone for domestic sponsorship revenue of $2.8 billion, and they are still two years away from the Games. And most of all, I am 100 percent in support of our CEO, Jamie Davis, and our entire staff and leadership as they forge ahead to a new future for USA Volleyball. Maybe tomorrow on the way to the match, I may just treat myself to an ice cream after all.