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he town of Yakage in Okayama Prefecture, was Italy’s host town for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Although Tokyo 2020 has come to an end, the ties with Italy were further strengthened through a soccer event held on November 13th-14th, 2021.

Elementary and junior high school students (U-9, U-12, and U-15) from Yakage Town were able to experience the academy’s training methods over the weekend under the guidance of Manuel Belleri, who was a Serie A player for 10 years and is now the technical director of AC Milan Academy Tokyo.

The Yakage Sports Center was built at the suggestion of Mayor Michihiko Yamano, who said, “We are very pleased to be able to strengthen our ties with Italy and the international sports scene. As well as the Tokyo 2020 host town project, we hope that this event will provide an opportunity for children to learn about and understand cultural diversity through sport.”

Whereas Maki Otsuki, an assistant for the Yagake football team said, “The children have been waiting for this event for a long time. They are excited to be taught by Serie A players and are looking forward to the experience”.

Under the watchful eye of Mr. Belleri, about 40 children learned the “Milan Method” on Saturday and Sunday. Mr. Belleri began by explaining the importance of mastering the basics perfectly, of knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and of communicating with teammates.

Through his explanations and error correction during the group practice, the children were able to experience a different training method and were inspired to pursue their dreams of becoming professional soccer players.

Mr. Belleri’s instruction is not limited to technical advice. He also taught them the importance of self-confidence, how to use their bodies to find space on the field, and how to observe the players on the field to maximize their chances.

Mastering the basics is the key to success, and it is the little tricks and attention to detail that make the difference. This was a unique opportunity for the coaches who attended. It was a great opportunity for the coaches to see different styles of training in action and they were both impressed and intrigued.

During the question and answer session, Mr. Belleri emphasized that different training methods complement each other and help children to develop their potential, and that children can find the best style for themselves by combining their skills and personalities with various stimuli.

Sports are an important training ground in life. In addition, coaches are not only trainers but also educators of young athletes. With this in mind, some of the coaches asked questions about how to motivate the children to face their mistakes calmly.

Tomohiro Otsuki, who has been coaching for 13 years, said that he was strongly impressed by the talk on how important it is to be “aggressive” both as an individual player and as part of a team, in order to attract attention and raise self-awareness.

Over the past two days, the children, who at first were too shy to speak much, gradually became more open to Mr. Belleri, interpreter Ryo, and assistant coach Davide. Through direct and concise explanations, clear examples of how to correcterrors, encouragement and lots of practice,the children really got to grips with the Milan Method taught by the professionals.

The children asked many questions, both technical ones such as how to be more active on the field, and mental ones such as how to prepare for a game and how to stay motivated.

Sota Okamoto and Yuto Yunoki, U-12 players, said, “The training was different from usual in terms of how to use our bodiesand how to get the right timing. For Shuji Hamada, a U-15 player, how to use their bodies and the space was the most impressive advice. The five female players, including the young captain of the U-9 team, also felt that it was a great experience to help them towards their dreams of becoming professional soccer players.

Aki Ueda, a U-9 student, expressed his gratitude for being able to participate in the event, saying, “It’s not normal to have big names like AC Milan and Serie A players come to our town. Now that I have had this special experience, I will follow Manuel’s advice and do my best to become a professional soccer player.”

Mr. Belleri also felt that this event, made possible by AC Milan and the Host Town Project, was a valuable opportunity for the people of Yakage to experience a different world. He said, “It is important that we continue to use our influence in Italy to maintain a presence so that we can continue to attract and inspire others.”

Then, on the way to the Hotel Yakageya Inn & Suites, which has been certified as an albergo diffuso, Mr. Beleri said to me, “I had a wonderful time. Yakage is the sort of place where you can let all your stress go and feel comfortable. It’s the perfect place to relax.”

The bond between Yakage and Italy seems to be real. I hope that this relationship will continue forever.
Yakage, Okayama
  • Tokyo Station Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen > Okayama Station
  • Okayama Station JR Hakubi Line > Kiyone Station
  • Kiyone Station Ihara Railway Ihara Line > Yakage Station

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