Unlocking Japan’s Inner Athlete

Tsuyoshi Kawata MA ’18 wants to bring NCAA-like sports to his homeland

By Maura Sullivan Hill Posted Mon, 04/30/2018 - 09:09

Tsuyoshi Kawata MA ’18 grabbed headlines last year when ESPN profiled the sport management student’s unorthodox entry into college football coaching.

In fall of 2007, Kawata wanted to make the leap to coach in the U.S. A friend at Stanford invited Kawata, who had played professional football and coached the sport in his native Japan, to visit a Cardinal football practice. During his visit, Kawata knocked on Coach Jim Harbaugh’s door and, even though he barely spoke English at the time, convinced the coach on the spot to give him a volunteer position.

Kawata, now in his 11th season at Stanford, has worked his way up from volunteer to full-time offensive assistant. While he excels at running plays on the gridiron, Kawata wanted to learn more about running things off the field. So he enrolled in USF’s Master in Sport Management program to learn the business side of sports.

Sports royalty

Kawata compares the camaraderie of the program’s cohort to a football team. “Obviously, English is not my first language, being an international student. My classmates help me out a lot — they encourage me when I struggle,” he says. 

Though Kawata sees his professional future playing out in the U.S., he is also a sought-after American football and college athletics expert at home in Japan. He provides commentary for the Super Bowl on Japanese television, has presented to Japan’s Olympic committee and a professional soccer league about the structure of collegiate athletics in the U.S., and has written a book about how to build Japan’s athletics prowess.

One of Kawata’s goals is to develop Japan’s collegiate sports, which are loosely regulated and without centralized school athletic departments or academic standards for participation.

He sees the NCAA setup in the U.S. as a model that Japan could follow, and he’s perfectly positioned to bring his knowledge of the system to his homeland.

Olympic gold

If Japanese colleges and universities create dedicated athletic departments, they’ll be better positioned to train college athletes to enter professional sports — and that could translate into Japan becoming more competitive on the world stage, Kawata says. He wants to see more Japanese athletes earn Olympic medals, and points out that Stanford students and alumni won more gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics than Japanese athletes.

“I want to share what happens in the United States with professional, college, and high school sports,” he says. “I want to help Japan utilize their assets to succeed in sports.”

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