Embracing Behind-the-Scenes Roles as a Student Coach in the Teikyo University Era of Former Japan National Rugby Team Member Shota Horie’s Life | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Embracing Behind-the-Scenes Roles as a Student Coach in the Teikyo University Era of Former Japan National Rugby Team Member Shota Horie’s Life

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This season, the regular season of the league was a perfect 16 wins, but in his final game as an active player, Horie wiped away tears and touched his eyes.

As the game drew to a close, Horie supported his teammates multiple times and made numerous passes. At the very end, it seemed as if he had brought about a turnaround try.

On May 26th, at the Tokyo National Stadium, wearing the number 16 for the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights in the final of the domestic league, was 38-year-old Shota Horie. This man, retiring at the end of this season, was playing for others on this day as well.

Entering the pitch from the start of the second half, trailing by 6-10 with a four-point difference, he accurately directed instructions and made slight adjustments to the defensive line. Furthermore, even in the final stages at 20-24, he demonstrated his innate skills. While being tackled by the opponent near the halfway line, he passed to a teammate. Just after that teammate scored a try, a video review was requested. Horie’s pass was deemed a forward pass, and the hoped-for turnaround try vanished into thin air.

Immediately after, they pushed through the opponent’s scrum and earned a penalty kick, but they couldn’t turn the game around and faced the end with a no-side.

The Wild Knights of this season remained undefeated until the end of the regular season and the semi-finals of the playoffs. In front of over 50,000 spectators, Horie praised his teammates.

“The only loss we had was the last one. I’m proud of the continuous victories we’ve had, and I think all the members, those who played and those who couldn’t, can hold their heads high.”

In 2013, he joined the Rebels in Australia and became the first Japanese forward to play in the Super Rugby international league. He participated in four World Cups as a member of the Japan national team, achieving the first-ever advancement to the quarterfinals in the 2019 Japan tournament.

Throughout that time, he always played for others. He moved for others.

This was long before he became famous as a player for the Japan national team. In the academic year of 2006, when he was a third-year student at Teikyo University, discussions were held about team building after becoming seniors. Horie volunteered to become a student coach himself.

A student coach was a new system that Teikyo University had begun to adopt at that time. Some active players joined the coaching staff to permeate the plays and skills aimed at the team, which had over 100 members, in every aspect.

Nowadays, it is known as one of the schemes supporting Teikyo University’s nine consecutive championships in the university championships since 2009 and the three consecutive championships until last year. Players who actively contribute as regulars while serving as student coaches also regularly emerge.

However, at that time, it was still in the early stages of implementation. Once appointed, it seemed like a role that involved giving up on shining as a key player and focusing solely on the behind-the-scenes work. There weren’t many members eager to take on such a role. In such circumstances, Horie, who had been a key player since his first year, volunteered to take on the role.

In the end, he was persuaded by those around him and made it to the semifinals as captain. Reflecting on his judgment during his youth after becoming a player representing his country, Horie recalls:

“There was a sense of ‘Who’s going to do it?’ and I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ If I became a coach, I was confident enough in my own play to make up for it by playing rugby as a working adult (after graduation). I was quite confident back then. So, I thought to give it a try.”

In the Rugby League One final between Saitama and BL Tokyo, during the second half, Horie, along with BL Tokyo’s Michael Leitch (left) and Saitama Wild Knights’ Rikiya Matsuda (right) – both of whom he had previously played alongside for the Japan national team – awaits the result of the video review.

His altruistic nature remained unchanged even after graduating from Teikyo University and becoming a professional.

This was evident during the formation of the Sunwolves. When the Sunwolves were established to compete in Super Rugby from Japan starting in 2016, they faced difficulties in preparation before the inauguration. Plans to gather key players from the Japanese national team and its reserves fell through due to concerns over practice schedules, coaching arrangements, and compensation for players accompanying the team, resulting in the team not being able to assemble enough players.

To make matters worse, he received an email from the overseeing body stating “If issues such as player contracts are not resolved by midnight on August 31, 2015, Japan time, the membership permission will be revoked.” Facing a crisis of potential dissolution before the team was even formed, it was Horie who stepped in to help.

Amid offers from various countries as a player attracting global attention, Horie himself signed with the Sunwolves, a team he even referred to as a “sinking ship” due to its precarious nature. Furthermore, he became the inaugural captain.

Although they managed to assemble a certain number of players just before the deadline, experienced players were in short supply. They struggled with initial defeats and faced numerous challenges.

Even so, Horie continued to be involved with the Sunwolves for a total of four seasons, stepping down as captain in subsequent years. During this time, many Japanese players gained international experience and achieved success in the 2019 World Cup.

“For me, I never choose a direction where something positive for me becomes negative for those around me. So, I try to choose options where something positive for me also becomes positive for others. But there are times when that is not possible, and in those moments, I encounter situations where something positive for others becomes negative for me. In such cases, I look ahead. Even if there are many negative aspects for me at the beginning, I believe that it will eventually turn into something positive and come back to me.”

Horie, who speaks this way, will continue to work for others even after his retirement.

Following the teachings of trainer Yoshito Sato, whom he has been learning from since 2015, he wants to work as a trainer who looks after athletes’ bodies. He aims to share and spread methods of physical movement and training that are suited to each individual.

  • Interview and text Kazuya Mukai

    Sportswriter Born in 1982 in Toyama Prefecture. Graduated from Seijo University, Faculty of Literature and Arts, Department of Fine Arts, and has been working as a sports writer since 2006. He has been working as a sportswriter since 2006, mainly covering rugby. He is the author of "Sunwolves no Chosen, Super Rugby: Tsuyouru Wolves no Kiroku" (Sunwolves' Challenge, Super Rugby: Record of the Fighting Wolves) published by Futabasha.

  • PHOTO Kyodo News

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