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【Para Sports】A Project to Find the Next Generation of Athletes

Japan Airlines (JAL), an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, hosted a press release for the launch of the "JAL Next Athlete Project" on April 11 at the Nippon Foundation Building.

Measuring physical fitness and matching abilities with sports

JAL, a company that puts effort into developing the next generation through sports, has been working on a project together with the General Incorporated Association Discovery Of Sports Ability (DOSA). The project consists of two main pillars.

The first is sports abilities evaluations for the next generation, from elementary to university students. From the title, you may envision general physical fitness tests that schools often offer, but this is evidently different.
One DOSA staff explained, "We use special measurement devices to measure jumping ability, balance, visual response, swing speed and other abilities. Based on the results, we tell the person what can be considered his or her strength, and also introduce ten sport events in which that strength can be effectively applied."

Junko Okawa, Representative Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer of JAL, commented, "With more children becoming less interested in sports, we are seeing a fall in children's physical strength and abilities. I hope this project will be an incentive for children to find interest in sports, as well as to find a sport that most suits their own abilities."

Yoshida measuring her jumping ability

Women's wrestler Saori Yoshida attended as a special guest and tried the tests herself. She tried the "jump test," the "recovery balance test" for measuring the balance of each leg, and the "visual response step test." Although merely a demonstration, DOSA staff members were impressed with her results. The interesting part is the sports most suited to her abilities according to her results. The first was basketball, the second fencing, and the third rugby. Her own sport, wrestling, was fourth, surprising everyone including Yoshida herself. She seemed halfway convinced, saying, "I actually enjoy ball games, and used to play tennis because of my mother. Maybe I will try rugby next."

Identifying Para Athletes for the Tokyo Paralympic Games

The second pillar is to identify athletes for the Paralympic Games.
In order to discover para athletes with promise for a 2020 Tokyo medal, we need to increase the population for each sport and develop the para-sports community. For this reason, DOSA promoted this event to a diverse audience, in both age and sports experience.
"The simple word 'disability' includes a wide range, such as wheelchair users, visual impairments, intellectual disabilities, mental disabilities and more, so we developed machines and systems that can measure physical abilities according to each disability." (DOSA member)

Kamiji taking the arm swing test

Wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji represented para athletes at the event. She laughed and said, "When they call it a test, it makes me want to try hard." She tried the "agility test" for testing wheelchair maneuvering speed (tracing the number "8" with a basketball wheelchair), the "swing speed test" using a bat with a speed sensor at the tip, and the "visual response and arm swing test." Each tester is given a para-sport recommendation based on his/her results, as well as information on events and where that sport can be learned. She was continually impressed, saying, "Even if someone is interested in trying a para sport, oftentimes they do not know where to start, so this information is very helpful."

An entrance to playing sports

The modern phenomenon of children becoming less interested in sports is a problem that will directly lead to a decrease in Japan's sports population and a fall in the overall level of athletes. Yoshida commented, "My niece and nephew also wrestle, but outside of training their hours are consumed by video games. When I see them, I can really see how children are growing indifferent to sports and how their physical fitness is falling." She says she has high hopes for these sports abilities evaluations as a gateway to playing sports.
"It is amazing that these simple tests tell you what sport you are most suited to. When you find out, you will want to try it. I hope many children who are not sure what sport to choose will come to these events."

Saori Yoshida is a Rio de Janeiro Olympic silver medalist.

Yui Kamiji is a Rio de Janeiro Paralympic bronze medalist in the women's singles event.

Kamiji also noted on the merits of easily finding what sport you are suited to.
"There are actually not many ways to choose a sport, and most people only try the sport they just happen to find. With these evaluations, you may find an unexpected sport and you get the chance to try it. Many para sports offer a longer sports life compared to non-disabled sports. I hope that more people, adults and children, come and enjoy these events."
As can be seen from Yoshida's test results, some people may find they are suited for a different sport or event from what they are currently training for. This may result in a recommendation to switch sports, and Kamiji says this is not necessarily a bad thing.

"I switched from wheelchair basketball to wheelchair tennis, because of my older sister, and the agility and chair-work I developed through basketball helped in my tennis playing. The most important thing, regardless of the sport, is to have fun and try hard."

The two athletes gave a final message to other athletes aiming for the Olympics and Paralympics.
"When you find a dream or a goal, you can work hard to achieve it. Once you decide to go for it, then it is all up to you. Please keep trying without giving up." (Yoshida)
"I think everyone starts playing sports because they find it to be fun. When you aim higher, you will face some challenging times. Try to overcome those times by remembering why you first started." (Kamiji)

The sports abilities evaluation event and para athlete identification project will start in Kumamoto prefecture, where efforts are being made to rebuild after the earthquake, and continue in all Japanese prefectures by 2020.

Group photo with Rio medals

Kamiji sending a message to next generation athletes

text&photos by TEAM A
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