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J1 League Interview: Vissel Kobe Fitness Coach Masa Sakihana

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Vissel Kobe currently stand fourth in the J1 League behind Hiroshi Jofuku’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Toru Oniki’s Kawasaki Frontale and Kenta Hasegawa’s FC Tokyo are presently second and third respectively in 2018 J League campaign.
However, Takayuki Yoshida’s Vissel Kobe remain in firm contention for an AFC Champions League qualification berth; Vissel Kobe finished 9th in the J1 League last season and reached the Quarter-Finals of the Emperor’s Cup (a competition with a traditional lineage dating back to 1921).
In Vissel Kobe’s last five J1 League games, the Ushi have won two of their last five encounters, drawing two and losing once. Vissel Kobe, situated in Japan’s sixth largest city, statistically are ranked as the leading club in the J1 League based on performance at half-time and boast an impressive record at home inside the 30,132 capacity Noevir Stadium Kobe this season.
In May 2018, Vissel Kobe officially announced the high-profile marquee arrival of FIFA World Cup winner and four-time UEFA Champions League winner, Andrés Iniesta. Last season, the J1 League club also signed FIFA World Cup winner, Lukas Podolski.
Vissel Kobe’s talented Brazilian striker, Wellington, has been instrumental for Vissel Kobe; registering five assists in the J1 League this season. Wellington scored 19 goals in 38 games for J2 League club Avispa Fukouka last season before moving to J1 League giants Vissel Kobe.
Furthermore, the popular Kobe-based club has additionally witnessed their highest-ever average attendance records in club history (19,950) this season. The J1 League giants, who are owned by Japanese business conglomerate Rakuten, have twice finished in the J1 League top five in their 21-year history.
Meanwhile, Vissel Kobe face Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F. Marinos this Sunday in a pivotal J1 League encounter; Yokohama F. Marino’s are currently one place above the relegation zone in the J1 League.
FOX Sports Radio and FourFourTwo Magazine’s Dean Perretta caught up with Vissel Kobe’s Fitness Coach, Masa Sakihana, before Vissel Kobe’s important J1 League encounter against Yokohama F. Marinos to find out more about the meticulous performance training and health and fitness regime of one of Asia’s most beloved club’s.
A well-respected Fitness Coach around the world, Sakihana has worked as a Fitness Coach for the United States Men’s National Team, as well as a Performance Fitness Consultant for Japan’s national football team and as a Fitness Coach for Joachim Löw’s Germany national football team.
Perretta: Firstly Masa, how would you describe the overall methods and intensity of fitness training sessions both on and off the pitch at Vissel Kobe from a fitness trainers perspective?
Sakahana: Current training methodology at Vissel Kobe focuses on fundamental of athletic performance which consists of mobility, stability, and movement. We evaluate players movement pattern to address areas they could improve and create an individualized exercise program based on the evaluation results. Those are basic mobility and stability exercises but very important to maintain or improve their foundation of athletic movement. By having the foundation of athletic movement, it could lower the chance of getting self-inflicted injuries as well as enhance their sport-specific performance. We incorporate these fundamentals into pre-practice individual exercise routines in the gym, team warm up and extensive movement training on and off the pitch.




Perretta: FIFA World Cup winners Andrés Iniesta and Lukas Podolski are two of Vissel Kobe’s marquee star players. What are your thoughts on the approach and mentality of both Iniesta and Podolski during performance training? 
Sakihana: Although they are coming from a different background on training history and experience, both world-class footballers understand the importance of performance training and take our team training program very seriously. Because we individualize additional performance training programs, each player follows certain training routine’s based on their needs, physical condition as well as weekly match schedule.





Perretta: The technical demands of the J1 League are very well-documented. However, can you touch on the physical and psychological demands which are required to succeed in the J1 League?
Sakihana: Physical demands of the J1 League are not too far from top leagues in Europe. One article compared the physical demands between J1 League and German Bundesliga. It states that average total distance and average sprint (24km/h – ) distance from both leagues were very similar. However, Bundesliga teams had slightly longer average distance from high speed running (21km/h – 24km/h) and running (14-21km/h).
Spring-to-fall season forces players to perform in very warm and humid environment for long period of time. Moreover, due to the World Cup year, match schedule has been very tight this season. Many teams had two games per week pace up to six straight weeks from late April to early June, and another condensed schedule in August.
In general, J1 League teams seem not to change the game plan based on where they play, neither home or away. The mentality of Japanese football is “get three points” from every single game. No matter if it’s a home game or away game, they will go for three points. Coaches love to watch players putting all-out-efforts and fans praise players with strong fighting spirit. It requires to have a strong mentality to play through and have successful outcomes in this league.




Perretta: Can you touch on the general dietary regime for players at Vissel Kobe?
Sakihana: This is one of the areas I realize we need to improve significantly and have been working on it since I’ve joined the team. Japanese diet is believed to be very healthy. However, sports nutrition seems to be very behind in general.
Obviously, the team has a nutritionist and provides necessary nutrition service (pre-post training/match) and meal plans for players. Majority of players have certain knowledge of nutrition and follow guidelines set by professionals but quite a few footballers do not know their nutrition status outside of body weight and body composition.
We are in the middle of the quest for finding the best available assessment method for detailed nutrition status here in Japan and will execute immediately once we find it. Our goal here is to provide truly individualized nutritional service to each player based on detail assessment.




Perretta: Before we leave Masa, how long overall is the process for body recovery periods for Vissel Kobe’s players post-game?
Sakihana: Depending on our match schedule, we will spend up to 72 hours for complete recovery from one game. We begin the recoverydea process immediately after the game at the stadium. Players are served light meal and recovery drink in the locker room, then start soft tissue routine with mobility and flexibility exercises.
At our home stadium, underwater recovery program will be done in the swimming pool followed by cold water therapy. Next day is usually a regeneration session for starters at the training ground, which consists of extensive soft tissue and flexibility routine and aerobic work for circulation. Individual treatment by our physios is also planned for that day.
Players have a day off on match day +2 (two days after the match) for passive recovery then report to the training ground for active recovery on Matchday +3. Usually, fatigue from the match is almost behind them so they will engage more physically active and dynamic routines in the gym and on the pitch. Obviously, we would manipulate recovery schedule and program contents based on the game schedule.
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