‘A symbiotic relationship’

Koichiro Kanno is working as a volunteer assistant coach while learning from the Gophers.

Sam Kraemer

Koichiro Kanno could be an Olympic head coach in two years.

But for now, he’s making his home in Minnesota and working as the Gophers volleyball team’s volunteer assistant coach.

The Japan Olympic Committee is considering him for the job of head volleyball coach for the 2016 games. The committee sponsored his trip to the states, during which Kanno will both help coach the Gophers and learn from those in the program, including head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

McCutcheon said he thinks both the Gophers and volleyball in Japan prosper from partnership.

“We’re helping him with some different perspectives about training methodology, and he obviously brings some different volleyball experiences and expertise that we can add to our staff,” McCutcheon said. “It’s more of a symbiotic relationship.”

Speaking through translator and Gophers Director of Operations Nao Ikeda, Kanno said he assists with drills, handles video for the team and scouts the tendencies of Minnesota’s opponents mid-match.

One of the main reasons Kanno came to observe McCutcheon and the Gophers was that Ikeda, a native of Japan, can help ease his transition.

Ikeda now sits on the bench during matches and participates more in practice to translate for Kanno so that he can contribute better.

“When he wanted to communicate, he couldn’t, so now I’m sitting on the bench,” Ikeda said.

Jimmy Lundgren, Minnesota’s volunteer assistant coach in 2013, worked with Kanno to help him overcome the language difficulties.

“When he first came here, he had no understanding of English,” Lundgren said. “He’d see stuff on the board that Hugh was writing, write it down in English, put it in his translator and spit it out.”

With his limited English knowledge, Kanno relies heavily on physical gestures to get his points across.

“I played a lot of charades with him to communicate,” Lundgren said.

The team seems to like that style of teaching. Senior Morgan Bohl said it’s sometimes easier to learn techniques visually,

“We’ll see how [he] moves and think, ‘OK, I need to mimic what he’s doing,’” she said. “Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.”

And Kanno’s presence on the bench benefits the Gophers, said both Bohl and McCutcheon.

“From the little amount of time that he’s been there, I can tell he has so much knowledge. As soon as he gets the message across, it really helps,” Bohl said.

Lundgren and Kanno developed a strong friendship in their time working together last year, when Kanno was a volunteer. The two coaches were roommates on road trips, too.

From these trips, Lundgren gained a sense of Kanno’s life back home.

“It was crazy to think that he just passed up everything to move to Minneapolis to observe the Minnesota program. It just really shows his commitment to the sport and to his country,” Lundgren said.