Continue reading to learn about the abroad experiences of one of our first LEAPers and Japanese athletes, Aki Yamada, as she’s playing her last game in England this week before returning home!
Aki Yamada hails from Japan, where she started playing hockey at age 12. She was one of the youngest players to represent Japan at the Jr. World Cup and continued competing there until she graduated. Afterwards, and thanks to the connection she had from her Australian coach in Japan, she LEAP’t to Australia to play for the Westside Wolves. After completing two great seasons there and helping bring home one Premiership, she strived to go experience hockey in one more location before returning to Japan. She wanted to continue improving upon her much progressed English, as well as continue expanding her hockey, and therefore LEAPing to compete in England made sense. She was having some difficulty finding opportunities, so LEAP Worldwide’s Founder Ainsley McCallister connected her with a few LEAPers from England to help open doors and gain playing opportunities. After deciding between a couple offers, in late September she LEAPt to England, where she is playing for Leicester Hockey Club. She has had another incredible abroad experience in England. Her team in England was even fortunate enough to attend a tournament in Spain in January, adding competing in another country and experiencing another culture to her growing list! The competition was made up of many European teams, including clubs from France and Italy. Yamada’s experiences overseas are prime examples of what athletes can take advantage of while playing abroad. Aki learned a lot hockey wise, made tons of friends, took crazy trips, learned a ton about new cultures and became fluent in a second language- valuable and rewarding? I think so!
Notably, Yamada highlighted the style comparisons between the hockey in the different countries during her talk with the LEAP team, especially emphasizing how exposure to new types of style helped her improve as a player. She tells us, “Hockey in Japan is more defensive than Australia. Hockey in Australia is speedier and more fun to watch…Hockey in the UK is more moving of the ball and strategic passing.” Yamada notes the different intensity levels she faced in the UK compared to Japan, pointing to finding faster paced game play in the former and overall a more intense level of hockey. However, hockey in her home nation seems to be more rigorous, as she tells us that, “In Japan, we have training every day, like six days a week, with lots of running and skill training, while in both Australia and England we have practice twice a week and conditioning for the most part is on your own…” Overall, Yamada believes choosing to go abroad helped grow her game especially in terms of skill and increasing her body contact against different types of players from other countries.
The hockey itself isn’t the only thing that differs between Japan and the other countries to which Yamada has LEAPt. When asked about her favorite experience, she explains how she’s enjoyed living in the extremely different culture of Australia. She tells us, “It is a very different culture in Australia than Japan… in Australia they are wanting to have fun, and also take hockey seriously, and outside of hockey they enjoy life and make a great balance of fun and serious hockey. A good experience was after the games always going out with teammates and I didn’t have that experience in Japan so I enjoyed it.” Taking the LEAP with your sport abroad leaves you with a lot more than new hockey skills.
For example, one huge take away for Aki has been learning English. Reid Smith, Aki’s host brother, first friend in Perth, and fellow Wolve HC club member, says, “It’s a good thing Aki is a fast learner, because her english skills were not great when she first moved to Perth. But luckily her huge smile always found a way to communicate what she was feeling, that and all her emojis. Now, my family will always laugh at the word ‘probably’ after trying to teach it to her for weeks. I still don’t know if she can quite get it right!!”
Kim Leiper, her current teammate at Leicester HC refutes, saying “Now not only does she understand English banter, but partakes in it; her new favourite phrases are ‘to be fair’ and ‘to be honest’! Her english has improved so much that I can’t believe she didn’t speak a word of it when she first moved to Australia.”
While overseas Aki also did a lot of coaching and became a talented barista! As you can see from the picture to the right, her coffee art became famous among her peers.
Players like Yamada return home with a new knowledge of different cultures, languages, traditions and lifelong friends. And in addition of course, they return home with a new perspective on the sport that they live to play.
Aki is returning back to Japan with big aspirations. She says in a text, “I would like to try to play for Japan! I will try for the Olympic 2020 🇯🇵! I always would love to play abroad if I can but I need to be in Japan for a bit. Will see when I can leap again 🌍” You can follow Aki’s hockey adventures when you sign up with LEAP!
Yamada also recognizes the struggles players looking to go abroad face when working to foster those necessary first-step connections. For her, moving to Australia when her English was not good would have been extremely difficult had it not been for her coach in Japan who happened to be Australian and was able to help her find the opportunity. After that first experience, she sights her success in connecting with her club in England to the LEAP Worldwide application. Hear it from her: “I found the UK team because I had good contacts I got through the LEAP network and without it I wouldn’t have found good teams and would have struggled a lot.” In fact, the day of our interview with Yamada, she told us that she received an offer to play through the LEAP Worldwide app just that morning!
Aki has recommended a few of her Japanese teammates to use the app and they have had success gaining opportunities to play top hockey in other countries. One such teammate is Hazuki Uda, who notes, “with LEAP Worldwide’s help, I was connected with multiple clubs and received a few great playing opportunities.”
It isn’t just the connecting with teams though that is the only trouble for overseas players, it’s the overall uncertainty of what to expect, where to live, what type of visa to get… list goes on! Yamada has a great deal of personal experience with obtaining the proper visas to continue playing hockey abroad. In Australia, in order to get a 2nd year visa one must do 3 months of farm work (this only applies for some countries residents). The first work holiday visa was easy for Aki to get, but then to get the second she did the necessary farm work. She tells us, “I worked at a farm for 88 days and because of this I could get a second holiday visa and stay another year.” To some, picking grapes and strawberries in 42 degree weather in the offseason like Yamada did sounds horrible. She looked at it positively though, describing it as, “a great experience…it was really good and interesting”. She had a great opportunity, met lifelong friends and did work which she never imagined doing, embracing it and finding the experiences neat. In the UK, it was more difficult. Basically, Yamada says, “I had to prove I wasn’t going to stay for a very long time…I had to get a letter from my club in Japan proving I was going back there to play hockey and not just stay in the UK”. Though Yamada seems to have taken these difficulties into stride, the process of obtaining the correct documents and visas can be extremely complex and worrisome. Noticing this problem, LEAP Worldwide provides a platform for players interested in a specific location to discuss things like getting the proper visa for that country, how to get extra training opportunities, and so much more!
Aki kindly met with the LEAP team and supplied them with details of what hockey is like in Japan! The structure is very different when compared to the majority of leagues around the world. There are foreign players that go compete in Japan each year, and it sounds like an intriguing and eye opening experience! Sign up with LEAP to learn how you can play in Japan!
Aki had an amazing mindset with playing abroad in seeing the positive in all experiences. She wouldn’t say no to any opportunities, was eager to chat to anyone, and would constantly put herself out there. In return she had unreal life changing experiences! When going abroad, it’s important to follow Aki’s example taking advantage of each opportunity presented and making the absolute most of your time in the other countries!
Aki Yamada took the LEAP to Australia with the help of her coach and had such a wonderful experience that she wasn’t ready to finish her time abroad. In utilizing the LEAP Worldwide platform that connects players and coaches across the globe, she has continued improving her skills and making amazing memories in new and exciting places. LEAP works to eliminate any chance factors in finding these invaluable opportunities, empowering players to take their athletic future into their own hands. Help us build our community and create the platform to best serve your needs! Sign up with LEAP Worldwide and discover just how far your sport can take you. A big thank you to Aki Yamada for sharing her amazing story, and we are so excited to continue working with her through the LEAP Worldwide platform!
Safe travels back to Japan and best of luck on the road to Tokyo- We’ll be rooting for you!