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From Japan to Spain: Wakatake and talent development

From Japan to Spain: Wakatake and talent development

23/10/2021

Wakatake Group is a socially responsible, youth development oriented organization from Japan, which helps young football players experience different cultures and training methods in different countries. Empowering and helping the kids to become their best selves as they grow from young kids to adults is the company’s main goal.

Last year they announced an agreement with La Liga, by which the Japanese company becomes an official partner of the Spanish championship for the development of grassroots football and the training of coaches in Japan until June 2022.

The agreement includes many different projects like virtual training of players and coaches, which is carried out by the heads of the La Liga sports projects department and the methodology directors of three La Liga clubs: Villarreal CF, Celta de Vigo and Real Betis. 

Young Japanese players develop themselves not only professionally, but also personally through the projects, according to Wakatake. As Altınordu this is also the goal we have with our youth development model. We talked with Joel Santos Boedo, director of Wakatake group in Spain, to explore this exciting project.

Arda Alan Işık:
Wakatake describes itself as a socially responsible, youth development-oriented organization. What do you exactly mean by that and how do you achieve that?

Joel Santos Boedo:
I've been fortunate enough to do this already for 10 years, so let me start by saying that as our whole team at Wakatake, we are very fortunate because we have the daily chance to work with a very unique energy. The people we work with at the end of the day, whether they are players, coaches, even parents, they have dreams of being part of the professional football industry in the next years of their life, and our work is centered on this. We work hard to provide them in the present moment through our programs the possibility of being part of these environments. The environments in which football, which I'm sure is the case in Altınordu, is understood in a respectful, refined, professional way.

However, football for us is the tool here because education and development are the true goals of the work that we do. Why? Because the reality is that only avery small percentage of the people that we work with will have the chance to become professionals. So, education and development are the focus of what we do. Through our programs and being able to expose the players to these environments, participants get the chance to live experiences that will impact their development as players and as human beings enormously.

For example, learning new languages, being hands-on in activities that are very different from the ones happening the day to day of their culture when they're back home, training with or competing against the top talents in their age group, experiencing social responsibility by visiting areas of the world that are not as gifted as where they come from, et cetera. All of these challenges, we believe, help them educate and develop as persons, not only as football players.

Arda Alan Işık: 
You mentioned that your programs are specifically designed for this goal. Can you tell us a bit more as well about your programs, like how do you exactly achieve that? What's so special with your programs and how do they bring this effect?

Joel Santos Boedo: 

Our programs have several ingredients that we use to cook, if you allow me to use this culinary metaphor, and it's the essence of what we try to implement in our work. Things like travel, holistic education, social responsibility and commitment to their communities when they go back home.

For starters, travelling and experiencing other cultures, we believe opens your mind and your heart like no other thing in life, so it's important for us to show our kids and the people that work with us how life and football is experienced in other places, mainly in Europe, but also in other places such as Africa or Middle East or America. And this as our first concept, we believe has a huge educational value.

Then moving on to the concept of education. We work daily to refine a holistic or 360 degrees model approach to education for us. Education is a concept that is present on the football field, but also is present off the field. The football field with things like learning a language, developing cultural immersion with families that host them when they come to Europe and providing online education that complements what they do on the field.

For example, we are right now developing a project that provides education in terms of the mental game, the emotional relationship they have with the game. This provides a solid foundation for true development more than just becoming a better football player. But as I was saying at the beginning, overall development is the true concept of what we do.

At the end of the day, all of this work is oriented towards developing well-rounded global citizens that are first personally accountable for themselves and then their environment, the people that they share, their time with, the places that they're residing. So ultimately, they can extract all these lessons for when they come back to their communities. They work in trying to change something to better, to extract what they learn in the in these experiences and implement them in their environments. And hopefully, ultimately, this makes this world a better place, even if it's 0.01 percent.

Arda Alan Işık: 

You became the first official Japanese partner of La Liga, one of the biggest leagues in the world and you have partnered with clubs like Villarreal, Real Betis, Celta de Vigo. Can you also tell us a bit more about your partnership with these clubs?

Joel Santos Boedo: 

1

Here I would like to show our work with some visual examples. In the first one, you can see some of our Japanese players with the families that they're being hosted in Villarreal in our program. Just a usual day to day experience that are experienced here in Spain, but definitely is much more difficult to experience this in in the metropolis of Tokyo, as you can imagine from seeing the picture. So it helps the players discover new worlds outside of football.

2

 

The second picture is just an example of the many more examples that we can have of true immersion in a team that is from Spain. Our stuff is truly connected to these ideas because we have all of us, from the leaders to the latest comers, we've all lived this type of experience in our own skin. So this is one of the things that we I believe it's allowing us to achieve good results as a team and in our project, because how can I say we have literally walked the walk before talking this talk. We know how impactful this can be as a football player and as a person? 

Arda Alan Işık: 

For instance your project with Villareal, what did the kids do there? How long were they there? What did they exactly do with the club and with the on the field and off the field? How were their experiences? 

Joel Santos Boedo: 
We are the first project or company to ever reach an official partnership with La Liga in the area of youth development from Japan. Which makes us tremendously proud. As a general idea Wakatake is a bridge or a platform that connects youth football in Japan with youth football in Spain and the whole Spanish football community.
Over the last years, there's been a mutual interest from both countries, Japan and Spain to become more and more connected and as experts in youth development, we have been gifted with the privilege of making this happen more and more each day.

First, let me differentiate, very generally, between short programs and long or immersive programs, The short programs, these are clinics, stages, participation in tournaments, which I'm sure are very familiar at Altınordu, small tastes of the culture in short experiences around 10 days, we visit the country for experiencing football and culture. This usually becomes the first ground for the kids to experience if this type of environments are ideal for them as footballers and as players. For most of them, this is the door that opens the next level of the programs that we do, which are the long term or immersive programs.

Long term programs range from three months to 10 months, a whole season. This is the case with the program at Villarreal. These programs have a more ambitious goal. This goal is full cultural, educational and football immersion in the culture of Spain. Japan, for example, is also in the same planet as Spain, but as I like to say, they are different planets within the same planet Earth, because cultures are completely different in many aspects. It is like sometimes two sides of the same coin.

This makes it difficult for those countries to connect truly. So with these programs, we help the kids that are interested in becoming professional football players in the future in Spain. But as I said at the beginning, not only those that have the potential to do that, because then we will only work with a very small percentage. We believe that other players that might not have the same chance of becoming professionals, but also have the commitment to try it and the commitment to involve in these programs, they can be benefited as well in many, many aspects.

In the program with Villarreal, for example, there is 11 players right now with which we have worked on educational immersion. We find them a place in Spanish schools, so they can become part of the education of this country. And then we work high performance immersion program with Villareal that has several aspects.

They train individually with top trainers from the club. They also train a program that is outside the football field with language education in Spanish, with complimentary education in things like video analysis, tactical analysis and other aspects of education around the game of football. They also train with a team. They start the program in a partner club of Villareal to test their level, to test their talent. If it is a special talent, they can have the chance of training and being part of the day to day activities of an official team from Villarreal, which is the case of four out of these 11 players right now who are training with Villarreal. And you can imagine how this professional environment benefits them in many ways.

Arda Alan Işık: 

Do they also officially become Villarreal players?

Joel Santos Boedo: 

Not officially because there's a FIFA regulation that prevents you from doing so. Hopefully this is going to change or become more flexible in the coming years, but right now underage players from Japan cannot compete in their level, but they become a part of this team in all the training sessions and also compete in tournaments. This is the ceiling or the limitation that this program has, but that is being complemented with all these other aspects. At the end of the day this program provides a roadmap that is better than if the kid stays only in their environment in Japan. It provides a different stimulus in both education and in football that contributes to the development very strongly.

Arda Alan Işık: 

What are your future goals? What are your plans to grow this project? 

Joel Santos Boedo: 

I like this question a lot. It's a question that healthily obsesses me daily and I want to play this game of projecting our future always as a team. It's very part of the day to day work that I do to continuously ask our team, not just superficially, but actually engage in deep thinking and exchanging exercises that help us build this as a team. Sometimes these sound like empty words, but we truly take this seriously.

Every project that we build in Wakatake needs to have a shared vision and for everyone there's a specific responsibility. But we need to be convinced as a team, both our team in Japan and our team here in Europe that we are aligned in what we are doing. 

In a short term, we have a heavy focus in Spain. We want to expand our reach in Spain and continue building within this partnership with the competition and the clubs. We are being honored and even surprised in a good way, I tell them every time we have a meeting with La Liga that we are majorly surprised on their daily support. They are true believers in the work we are doing and they want to amplify it. If you had asked me two years before today, maybe it would have sounded surreal to me to see that La Liga is supporting our work so much. The clubs are also supporting our work too much. We are even talking about initiatives now that through youth development and through their kids that are, for example, in Villareal and other clubs, they are proposing us to find programs that connect both clubs through our players. We want to build upon this energy and expand our reach in Spain, working with other top clubs and consolidate our program, our project and as the absolute reference in youth development initiatives we do in Spain and Japan. I think we are on that leading position already, very humbly, but we want to expand it even more.

So, in the short term, we want to expand our focus in Spain and also internal internationalize our model. What do I mean by this? We are using right now our expertise and our network, both in Spain and the rest of Europe and the world, to help other domestic projects or programs to expand their international reach and build meaningful partnerships outside of their region.

I have two examples for this. Next month, we are organizing jointly with Celta de Vigo, a series of clinics in a youth academy in Colombia. I am honored as well to be present in the field for this program, which is one of our first programs in which we are using our experience of two decades doing this and our network in this case, Celta de Vigo, to amplify the reach of this work and help a serious and committed domestic program like it's the case with this academy to expand the reach beyond Colombia into Europe.

Another example is also happening in November. We are setting up a high performance program for three teams a total of 100 people from Sweden, from a club in Sweden, with Levante in Spain. They aim for a similar goal I just mentioned with our partner academy in Colombia. So they're very strong domestically, but they're starting to explore what can they do? How can they learn? What relationships they can build outside the region? We are very honored to be in a position now that once again, our experience and our network uniting those two aspects to help others.

The ultimate goal is to build triangles. So in this case, Sweden, Spain and also Japan. There might be a chance of some of our Japanese teams going over for tournaments in Sweden or the other way round. To build triangles, build networks and build bridges between different cultures is the common goal of youth development here.

Arda Alan Işık: 

Is Turkey also among your plans? Are you interested in working with Turkish clubs or Turkish NGOs?

Joel Santos Boedo:

I think one of the main ingredients that is key for our programs is passion. I believe Turkey brings that into the mix. I think you have a huge passion for the game as a culture. And I have seen it personally in the stadiums. I am a big Real Madrid fan and I have gone to the stadium with my father since I am a kid. When we played versus Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe, I have always seen that the passion is there, there is a huge passion for the game. So definitely we are interested in connecting with meaningful projects like Altınordu in a country that has a lot of passion for football and find ways in which we can learn from each other. So definitely the answer to that is yes. 

Japan to Spain1Joel Santos Boedo