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A former Tokyo Verdy soccer player, now a coach with the organization, delivers tips on ball-handling to a member of Yokota’s youth program during a two-hour clinic Saturday at Wilkins Field. The Inagi-shi-based club competes in the Japan Professional Football League, more popularly known as the J-League.
A former Tokyo Verdy soccer player, now a coach with the organization, delivers tips on ball-handling to a member of Yokota’s youth program during a two-hour clinic Saturday at Wilkins Field. The Inagi-shi-based club competes in the Japan Professional Football League, more popularly known as the J-League. (Courtesy of Scott Champion)
A former Tokyo Verdy soccer player, now a coach with the organization, delivers tips on ball-handling to a member of Yokota’s youth program during a two-hour clinic Saturday at Wilkins Field. The Inagi-shi-based club competes in the Japan Professional Football League, more popularly known as the J-League.
A former Tokyo Verdy soccer player, now a coach with the organization, delivers tips on ball-handling to a member of Yokota’s youth program during a two-hour clinic Saturday at Wilkins Field. The Inagi-shi-based club competes in the Japan Professional Football League, more popularly known as the J-League. (Courtesy of Scott Champion)
Former Tokyo Verdy soccer players, now coaches with the organization, lead members of Yokota’s youth program through stretching exercises during Saturday’s clinic at Wilkins Field.
Former Tokyo Verdy soccer players, now coaches with the organization, lead members of Yokota’s youth program through stretching exercises during Saturday’s clinic at Wilkins Field. (Courtesy of Scott Champion)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A group of base children just got a taste of professional soccer — Japanese-style.

Five former Tokyo Verdy players, now coaches with the organization, came to Wilkins Field on Saturday for a two-hour clinic with about 30 members of Yokota’s youth soccer program. They delivered tips on ball-handling, coordination and balance while showcasing a few tricks. Later, the sides scrimmaged on a pair of fields.

The third annual visit was sponsored by the 374th Services Division. The participants, all wearing their team uniforms, were ages 7-10.

“These kids love their soccer,” said Isom Depontbriand, Yokota’s youth sports assistant. “Bringing professionals to the base is a great thing. The kids look up to them. We try to teach them that school is important, too.”

Tokyo Verdy 1969 is an Inagi-shi-based pro soccer club that competes in the Japan Professional Football League, more popularly known as the J-League. It also operates a private soccer school, which conducts youth clinics as a community service.

Katsu Yamamoto, the chief coach for Tokyo Verdy’s school, says there are clear differences between American and Japanese youth players — and the approach to teaching must reflect that.

“Basically, Japanese and American kids are the same but their cultures are different,” Yamamoto said through a translator. “I was impressed by how positive the American kids were. They’re very enthusiastic and full of spirit. They’re more willing to raise their hands and have fun. Japanese kids are more shy about trying new things and they don’t show much emotion.

“That’s what made this fun. After finding out what the American kids were interested in, we just tried to make it fun for them.”

Nine-year-old Alex Beard, a fourth-grader at Yokota West Elementary School who recently went to a Tokyo Verdy match with his family, said he was amazed by all the crafty maneuvers on the field.

“I saw them doing all their tricks and I wanted to learn the tricks they know,” he said.

On Saturday, the Yokota kids were shown how to balance the ball behind their heads. But Beard said that wasn’t his favorite part.

“I liked when we got to scrimmage against Verdy,” he added, “because I saw them in person and really wanted to play them. I had a chance to play some of the best players in Japan.”

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