NAKAMURA Chiharu: National rugby sevens captain and general manager

Chiharu Nakamura of Japan runs with the ball during the Women's Pool C rugby match against Canada at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Rogers / Getty Images)
Chiharu Nakamura of Japan runs with the ball during the Women's Pool C rugby match against Canada at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Rogers / Getty Images)

Away from the glitz and glamour of the Olympic Games, dozens of athletes subsidise their daily training routines by having other jobs. From farming to banking, Tokyo 2020 looks at several hopefuls aiming to make an impact next summer and what roles they have outside of competition. This week, NAKAMURA Chiharu; the national captain of Japan's rugby sevens team and general manager of another.

Among the athletes who have qualified, or are aiming to qualify, for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, there are those who are simultaneously building a completely different career. NAKAMURA Chiharu, the captain of the Japan national women’s rugby sevens team, is one such athlete.

Playing a pivotal role leading the national team, Nakamura is also a general manager of a rugby team she established in the Fukuoka Prefecture in December 2019. She plays for the team too.

Tokyo 2020 takes a look at how she doubles as a rugby player and a general manager.

A mission and desire to give back

A general manager (GM) of a rugby team is responsible for a wide variety of tasks including establishing a practice environment, arranging matches, recruiting new players and paying visits to sponsors.

"A general manager has to be a jack-of-all-trades," Nakamura said.

Working as a GM was not exactly part of Nakamura’s dream. However having pondered her future career as a long-time national team player, she realised she wanted to give something back to rugby, a sport that has helped her to become who she is today.

At first she had been studying coaching, but realised that her calling was different.

“I preferred to create systems from a broader perspective, so I established a new team and became a GM,” she said.

As a leading Japanese female rugby sevens player, Nakamura has a sense of mission to enhance the value of women’s rugby in Japan. To achieve this goal, the number of rugby players needs to be increased and their competitiveness must be enhanced.

"Although many girls play rugby in Fukuoka, there were no club teams in the prefecture. If these players wanted to seriously pursue the sport, they had to leave and go elsewhere like the Kanto region. I thought it would be better if there was a team where the girls could play in Kyushu, where they grew up," Nakamura explained on why she decided to set up a new team in Fukuoka.

A GM is responsible for a wide variety of tasks including establishing a practice environment and visiting sponsors.
A GM is responsible for a wide variety of tasks including establishing a practice environment and visiting sponsors.

Olympic hopes

Nearly a year has passed since she established the new club but she still has heaps of tasks to do.

“The past year felt like a decade for me,” she smiled.

Asked why she has decided to set up her team in December 2019 just a few months before the start of the Games in 2020 (which have since been postponed), she said:

"I believe the quickest way to boosting the value of women’s rugby in Japan is to compete in the Olympic Games and produce results as a player, but while I work on that agenda, it would be nice to have a different means of achieving the agenda. For me, that additional means was to create a new rugby team that was sorely needed in Kyushu. I thought it’s a challenge well worth taking on while I’m still able to make full use of my name and title as an active athlete,"

As Nakamura is affiliated with a club team in Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture, where the training camp for the national rugby sevens team is also based, she decided to stay there during the state of emergency period. On top of the challenges involved in building a new team, she also had to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, she shuttles between Fukuoka and Saitama, holding weekly online meetings to maintain close communications with the players and staff members of the new club.

Chiharu Nakamura of Japan is tackled by Janet Okelo of Kenya during the Women's Placing 9-12 rugby match during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Rogers / Getty Images)
Chiharu Nakamura of Japan is tackled by Janet Okelo of Kenya during the Women's Placing 9-12 rugby match during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by David Rogers / Getty Images)

A role model

Whether serving as a club team GM or the captain of Japan’s national team Nakamura said: "It’s necessary to envision a dream, put it into words, and keep talking about it."

The new club upholds the following vision: "By striving to foster people through sport, we aim to achieve a world where everyone in society, from children to seniors, can have a dream, play a significant role, and help each other. When people from all walks of life get together and join hands through rugby and other means, we can bring smiles to the faces of many people in society."

Nakamura hopes to create a roadmap for rugby players at her club to help them not only to excel in the sport, but also to find what they want to do after they retire as an athlete.

"Of course, becoming Japan’s top team is one of our goals, but amid the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve felt that being a strong team is not the only value in sport. By focussing too intently on making the team stronger, it is possible that we might lose track of other important things in life. Regardless of the team’s competitive results, I hope to make it the happiest team in Japan for its players and staff members."

"My desire is to help team members find what they truly value through the team, without anyone falling out. By serving as a role model, I’d like to create more opportunities for achieving dreams and demonstrate how players can make their dreams come true by joining the team."

Nakamura works as a general manager
Nakamura works as a general manager

Crystal clear purpose

It is fun to envision a dream, but at times you need to face reality. Nakamura faces countless challenges running the club, ranging from financial to managerial issues - and has limited time. The reason she is able to assume both roles as a player and a GM is by having a clear purpose.

"When I competed at the Rio 2016 Games, my purpose got mixed up with my goal. My goal was to win the gold medal, but I didn’t have any purpose for securing a medal. A goal without a purpose is pretty hollow. The instant I failed to achieve the goal, I fell to the lowest point of my life, feeling as if my life were over."

"Now I have a purpose: to enhance the value of women’s rugby. So long as I can accomplish this, I don’t mind how I do it. If Plan A doesn’t work, I can try Plan B. I feel that I always have an alternative course of action I can pursue. That’s why I can continue with my endeavour,” she said.

It has been four years since the last Olympic Games and despite having targeted a gold medal at Rio 2016, Japan finished 10th place with one win and four losses. Despite this, the experience provided them with a learning opportunity.

"In retrospect, I was still in the stage of preparing to become an athlete up until the Rio 2016 Games. I hadn’t understood the essence of the Olympic Games. We couldn’t win because we went after results without giving thought to what’s truly important. After Rio 2016, I became more conscientious as an athlete, trying not only to perform well, but also to embody my positive mindset in my play. That’s the biggest change I’ve achieved during the past four years."

Nakamura's strong determination is the key to her ability to pick herself up after a setback and move forward.

With Nakamura and the women’s rugby sevens team aiming for a gold medal at Tokyo 2020 Games, this will only help the growth of women’s rugby much further.