Photo/IllutrationAlbirex Niigata Myanmar Soccer School’s Tomoki Inoue, center, coaches members of a Myanmar deaf soccer team with sign language and gestures on Sept. 8 in Yangon, Myanmar. (Soshi Katsumi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

YANGON--During a break in a soccer game here in early September, Japanese coach Tomoki Inoue gathered his young players around.

He struck his fists against one another and shook his head from side to side, before swinging his right arm. What Inoue was instructing the students was, “Don’t bang into an opponent forcibly.”

Inoue, 24, coaches a team made up of students of a deaf school. His players were playing a practice game against a team from a group home for children in a field in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. The field had puddles scattered about after rain and was covered knee-high in grass.

Shinsuke Yoneyama, 38, head of the Albirex Niigata Myanmar Soccer School, is also one of the team’s coaches.

“We learned simple sign language, but as for the rest, we gesture,” he said. “They get information by watching. The shortest way is to demonstrate.”

The parent organization of Albirex Myanmar is Albirex Niigata Singapore Pte. Ltd., an affiliate of Albirex Niigata in the J2 division of Japan's professional soccer J.League. The company made a foray into Myanmar in 2014 with an aim of operating a school business for Japanese.

An employee at the time noticed there was a school for the deaf near the Japanese school, with children kicking the ball around the schoolyard. The coaches, who had more time on their hands than they could handle because they were still new to the country, felt the itch to teach soccer.

The coaches made a proposal to the deaf school to let them teach the hearing-impaired children on a volunteer basis, which was accepted.

Today, thanks to these Japanese coaches, deaf soccer has been growing in popularity in Myanmar.

The coaches from the Albirex Niigata Myanmar Soccer School started teaching soccer to hearing-impaired students five years ago, with more than 100 children currently under their tutelage.

Their hard work led to the formation of a national team to participate in international competitions.

At first, the coaches teach children basic body movements such as how to take steps. And when it comes to ball handling, they focus on basic techniques, they added.

According to Inoue and Yoneyama, there is no opportunity in Myanmar for children to receive sports training from experts, let alone sports for the disabled. The deaf school praises their efforts, saying that the children can learn how to pay attention to what others say and cooperate with each other through playing soccer. The team is even sponsored by a company in Myanmar.

Currently, the coaches teach more than 100 students in five age groups such as under-11 and under-16.

In 2016, they formed a Myanmar national team to compete in an international competition contested by Southeast Asian countries. They also intend to participate in international championships with a national team comprising current students and alumni.

Myanmar transitioned from military to civilian rule eight years ago in 2011.

“I hope as many students as possible expand their worlds through soccer,” Yoneyama said.