Feb 16, 2024

CAREER & LIFE

Digging every ball: The role of "libero" to connect team play and players' hearts together.

Origin and further challenges of Fukudome, libero of DENSO AIRYBEES and Japan national team

A libero specializes in defense in volleyball. In this position, Satomi Fukudome of the DENSO AIRYBEES is now making her way into the world as a member of Japan's national team. She says that the libero should be focusing on supporting the team as a "shadow commander", and that she finds joy in it. She talked about what she values as a libero.

Contents of this article

    Switched to libero in her high school days. She eventually found the position very rewarding by digging after digging.

    ─ Ms. Fukudome, thank you for your time today. When did you start playing volleyball?

    It was when I was in the third grade of elementary school. I started it because my sister, who was two grades older than me, started playing volleyball and I often accompanied her for the training, and some of my local friends were there with her. All my family loves sports, my father graduated from a sports university and specialized in field and track sports, and my mother still plays badminton in the community.

    ─ What positions have you experienced?

    I started as a setter, played as a spiker, and then as a left in my junior school team and as a libero in my high school team. In high school, the nets were set higher, and since I was short at 159cm when I was in junior high school, my junior high school teacher recommended the libero position to me.

    Another reason I switched to a libero was that I used to watch the national team's libero player on TV and was impressed by her ability to dig any ball. I thought instantly, "Wow! I want to play like her!” So, I was happy to be a libero because I had a strong desire to play like her.

    ─ What is the most rewarding thing about playing as a libero?

    For example, when I manage to dig a strong spike or a blocked ball, I say, "Yes! I did it!” That makes me very happy. It is rewarding to dig a ball that no one else would be able to dig. The libero is not a standout position because it does not join the spikes and so on, but I think it has its own attraction.

    ─ Aren't you afraid to keep bumping or digging balls?

    Of course, they are fast, but I don’t find it painful and scary. More than that, the one situation where the libero stands out negatively is when losing points. I sometimes worry that people get frustrated and say, "Why can’t she dig though she is a libero?" and my mentality goes in a negative direction, and I sometimes think, "I'm afraid of the ball coming to me.”

    ─ How do you calm yourself in such situations?

    I try not to look for too much perfection from myself. I trust my team members, and they will cover for me if I widen my return when bumping and touch the ball to keep it up and alive when digging.

    Fukudome never gives up and tries to keep the ball alive even when it goes off the court.

    It was unexpected even for her to join a professional volleyball team. Inspired by her teammates from the same year, she went on to become a member of the Japan national team.

    ─ What was your first contact with DENSO AIRYBEES?

    I wanted to continue to play volleyball after university. But I thought it would be impossible for me to advance to the V1 team (division 1 of the national volleyball league), so I considered taking a test to join the 9-member or V2 team.

    Then, I happened to be allowed to take part in the training for the DENSO AIRYBEES. What impressed me very strongly was that the members exchanged opinions seriously about the volleyball, regardless of age. They seemed to make a clear distinction between their on- and off-court lives, and they looked very friendly and fun. I thought, "I can give it my all here!” Then, I was invited to join the team.

    Communication with team members during training also keeps them smiling.

    ─ Have you set a goal of joining the national team since you joined the team in 2020?

    To be honest, playing for the Japan national team was a dream within a dream. I had not set that goal from the beginning and just tried to do my best every day. However, some of my fellow teammates had ever been selected to represent their countries at the FISU World University Games (an international all-around competition for students organized by the International Federation of Athletics Federations), and being with them who were aiming for higher goals changed my mindset gradually.

    Even in my private time, I had always been inspired by hearing their ideas and goals for volleyball. To set my sights on the world like them, I had set the first goal to become a regular member of the DENSO AIRYBEES and win the championship.

    ─ So your mindset gradually changed. Then you joined the Japanese national team in 2022. What did you feel at the time?

    To be honest, I was surprised and perplexed by the fact that I was selected. However, I changed my mindset positively to join the national team and do my best to promote my growth once I had been selected.

    ─ What did you feel about the high level of the national team?

    I felt that the training level was high enough to make me think that my conventional training seemed completely different. I was so nervous that I thought that I must not return balls even slightly out of position.

    I was impressed that national team players spent very much time on volleyball even outside of training such as carefully stretching their bodies.

    I realized that if I aimed for the top, I had to play volleyball like them, and my attitude toward volleyball has changed remarkably. Moreover, as I played more matches against strong teams from overseas, I began to think, "I want to play more matches at the national team level and get better at volleyball.”

    ─ What was your most memorable experience as a national team member?

    In 2023, my second year on the national team, I was disappointed not to be selected for the early rounds of the VNL (Nations League). I wasn’t satisfied with my performance, such as passing the ball. I felt as if a cloud that wouldn’t clear up was hanging over my head. Moreover, I was panicked because I had all the great players around me and struggled badly.

    However, I dealt with each game carefully and thought through each play.
    I questioned myself in my head "Is this play effective?", thought it over many times and tried again. I feel that I have found my starting point through this frustrating experience.

    Fukudome continues to practice her bumps until she is satisfied, even after the team training is over.

    Energetic libero set her goal high: Her goal is to win the V1 League championship and the Paris Olympics

    ─ What are your current goals?

    As a team, of course, our goal is to win the V1 championship. For myself, I would like to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024 as a national team player. I would like to play well in V1 so I will have a chance to be selected for the Olympics.

    ─ What do you place importance on to achieve this?

    Of course, I want to improve my skills, and I am also becoming more aware of how I should perform as members change from game to game. As the players change, so do the movements of those around them, so I have been trying to improve my coordination with those around me.

    I try to call them out as much as possible. For example, when I bump the ball, I say, "I will bump the ball when it comes around here.", and when we defend, I say, "Block the ball this time." or say, "Jump straight as I will dig the ball this time."

    ─ Are there any problems on the other hand?

    It is dealing with a loss of confidence in myself. When I am in bad form, I tend to play passively. In such moments, I try to voice out and move around more than usual.
    Also, I get into a panic when I cannot bump the ball to the position I expected and the ball doesn't go back to the opponent's court, but I allow myself to switch my mindset to "it's OK if the ball goes up in the middle of the court.”

    Fukudome works with others around her while moving around and digging the ball.

    Loving the "bond" on the court. I want to spread this fun to children.

    ─ Now that you have experienced a Japanese national team player, what is important to a libero?

    The libero is often referred to as a "background player." This is because it is a supportive role that is required to call out constantly and support team members, rather than playing on the frontline. I think it is important to tell the members about things that they may be missing. And it is about building team bonds.

    ─ Why do you feel you have been able to continue to play volleyball for so long?

    I think it is because I love playing volleyball. Also, I have been in an environment where I can continue to play volleyball, which has been very important, too. I also thank my parents for letting me continue to play volleyball as long as I want.

    ─ What does volleyball mean to you?

    It is an essential part of my life. When I am away from volleyball even for a short period, I get the urge to play it. Volleyball is very important to me. I want to relate to volleyball as long as possible.

    ─ Do you have any messages for your fans?

    Volleyball is a team sport, and a sport in which we can feel a strong sense of "bonding." I feel safe in the knowledge that I am supported by my teammates throughout games. Even if I make a mistake, our teammate can hit, or if I could cover the ball only a little, my teammates can keep the ball alive.

    Another thing is that we always give each other high-fives, which makes us feel connected, and encouraged by each other. Moreover, high-fives make us super happy. And I think that people also feel happy watching us playing if we have fun on the court. So, I want children who have just started to play volleyball to enjoy it more than anything else. I really hope so because volleyball is great fun!

    *The contents presented in this article are as of October 2023.

    CAREER & LIFE

    Writer:PR Table Inc. / Photographer:BLUE COLOR DESIGN

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