This year, the Keio University Baseball Club celebrates 135 years since its founding. Since the formation of its predecessor, the Mita Baseball Club, in 1888, the Keio Senior High School Baseball Club has been renowned for an independent, free approach to baseball that sets it apart from other schools.
After finishing in the top four at the Kanto regional fall tournament in October 2022, Keio Senior High School was invited to participate in the 95th National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament, also known as "Spring Koshien," which began on March 18, 2023. This was the team's tenth entry in the Spring Koshien and its first since the 90th tournament in 2018. The club's first appearance in the event was in 1929, representing Tokyo's Keio University School of Commerce and Industry. In competing against the best of the best, the current team aims to come out on top through its "Enjoy Baseball" philosophy, which showcases the unique appeal and fun that Keio Senior High School brings to the game.
Behind the recent success of this longstanding club is the latest in a long line of student coaches. Here, we sit down with Yasutoshi Matsudaira, a former player who now lends his veteran experience to support the team and its players as a student coach, asking him about his activities and efforts in his role.
Matsudaira has served as a pitching coach for the Keio Senior High School Baseball Club since his first spring at university, where he studies in the Department of Law at the Faculty of Law.
"I was a member of the baseball club myself for three years in high school, and I was well aware of the position of student coach. I really appreciated all the help they provided, not only with training but with everyday issues as well. After entering university, I felt a strong desire to give back to the team, so I decided to become a coach."
Upon becoming a coach, Matsudaira realized things he had never noticed as a player.
"I learned that the coaches are doing a lot more than helping with practice and teaching on the field. They also perform all sorts of activities and provide support off the field in ways I could never have imagined. Currently, the Keio Senior High School Baseball Club has ten student coaches who each cover a different position, more or less. We have pitching, catching, outfield, infield, and hitting coaches, as well as assistant managers. It's a very professional sort of coaching division that I expect is rare at the high school level, but having so many coaches means that students in the baseball club have more opportunities to learn from their expertise."
Student coaches employ a multi-faceted approach, supporting players with the technical and mental aspects of the game as part of their invaluable assistance. We asked Matsudaira if there was anything—mottos or otherwise—that has been passed down from generation to generation as part of Keio's heritage.
"Keio University baseball clubs place great importance on independence, with both coaches and players valuing the 'thinking' part of the game. What this means is that while the student coaches provide skills training and private consultation to the high school players, we believe that the ideal relationship is one in which, rather than giving the players the answers, we teach them how to think for themselves and make their own discoveries."
Matsudaira also works with new coaching techniques that were unavailable when he was in high school, such as sports technology, to improve performance.
"This spring, I joined the Sports Science Lab in the Inami Laboratory at the Keio University Institute of Physical Education, where we use motion analysis tools, high-precision measurement equipment, and other technology to measure athletes' performance. Pitch speed and quality have been measured for some time, but this year we were able to look at a number of additional indicators. We can use this information to inform specific practice regimens and evaluate players, for example, and if we apply these tools effectively, we can build a better organization."
The Inami Laboratory, one of the research labs at the Keio University Institute of Physical Education, teaches and explores topics related to physical education and sports science. The lab conducts research on how to visualize exercise and sports performance through scientific, non-invasive methods (i.e., methods that do not place added stress on the body) and how to elicit better conditioning and superior performance.
Matsudaira participates in the Sports Science Lab, where they regularly analyze players’ body composition using the same devices used by medical professionals, evaluate performance using force-velocity profile, and perform running tests utilizing phototube sensors. Body composition analysis gathers physiological data— including water and protein levels and the amount of muscle and fat in different parts of the body—to obtain data for training and, in consultation with laboratory staff, create practice regimens for the players.
"We found that some players who we didn't think were very agile produced surprisingly good numbers. The strength of the data is that it allows us to visualize player performance in ways that we would otherwise not be able to perceive as student coaches. This data initiative has just begun, but I definitely feel like we will produce results if we continue to trust the process."
We also spoke to Takayuki Inami, the senior assistant professor who leads the laboratory at the Institute of Physical Education.
"Matsudaira's presence in our lab is incredibly important. He's taking the sports science knowledge gained in the lab and putting it into practice with the baseball club, ultimately contributing to the team's overall performance."
Matsudaira shared more about how he is taking the lessons learned in lab activities and executing them at the club through tangible initiatives.
"The coaches first examine the collected data together, after which we plan and propose training regimens that we talk over with head coach Moribayashi and the other club leaders. When I was a player on the team, we didn't even keep specific records of our weight training. We all just operated under the vague idea that if you lift weights, your results will improve. I want to instill in our players an appreciation for data-driven training and encourage them to incorporate it into their workouts, relying on concrete metrics to track their daily progress. If we have concrete data to support our methods, the players on the baseball team can rest assured that their efforts are not misguided."
The head coach of Keio Senior High School Baseball Club, Takahiko Moribayashi, also articulates the significant role that student coaches play in managing the baseball team.
"Alongside four Keio faculty members, including myself, there are ten student coaches who play an indispensable role in ensuring the smooth operations of the baseball team. My number one hope is that they can fill a role connecting the players and the senior coaches. Because they are around the same age as the high school students, they can better engage with what the players are thinking and communicate with them better than we can, and they will also have a good read on the condition of the players.
Today, we can measure all kinds of things that we couldn't before in areas such as body composition and power analysis. By adding more clarity to the data we use to envision and explain the workings of our bodies, we can establish training that is more effective for each individual player. I find using data like this to be extremely gratifying."
For current Keio Senior High School Baseball Club player and captain Sorato Omura, the student coaches are a familiar and significant presence.
"I think student coaches are a rarity in high school baseball, but many of the coaches are recent players and around the same age as us, so they're very approachable. We feel comfortable talking with them about anything. Thanks to daily support from the student coaches, I'm able to improve my physical fitness through hard data that teaches me more about myself and guides my training and meals."
"At this point, we are still in the data collection phase of the process, so we haven't decided on exactly how we will use the information. To gather this data, though, we are using a number of different measuring instruments. As we advance, we need to train based on data and then demonstrate the results of that training, so I'd like to use devices and collect data any chance we get. Right now we're thinking about measuring the players' lifting speed during weight training and basing their regimens on that data. If we can create the conditions necessary to make this happen, we can produce better outcomes.
This initiative would be unprecedented in Japan, I believe, so we expect that there to be a lot of work to do. I am not deterred by the prospect of investing the required time to make this a reality, provided that we can do so without overworking ourselves. For me, quality improvements are only worthwhile if they are supported by a sufficient quantity of data.
The new approaches and ideas that we're testing now are spreading throughout high school baseball, and I don't see that as a bad thing. We train every day, first and foremost, to become the best team in Japan, but we are also working with an eye toward the future. If we are able to produce results, the innovative efforts and ideas demonstrated by everyone at our club could have a huge influence on the high school baseball world and communicate more than our basic desire to win. Our commitment to activities like this at the Keio Senior High School Baseball Club is what makes us such a formidable team.
Our club believes that its members should be the best in Japan, not only as players but as people. I hope they’ll train with the tournament in their sights and come home from this year's Spring Koshien having grown that much more as human beings. And I hope that I can grow right alongside them.”
With plans to perform comparative research looking at high school and college baseball, Matsudaira has his eye on the on-deck circle, where the next era of high school baseball is waiting to bat.
In association with:
Keio Senior High School Baseball Club
Keio University Institute of Physical Education
Sports Science Lab in the Inami Laboratory at the Keio University Institute of Physical Education
The Keio University Institute of Physical Education conducts research, provides instruction related to physical education and sports science, and promotes sports at the university. Most students recognize the institute for its physical education classes, but sports-based research is also conducted by tenured faculty members in their respective fields of expertise. Here, the Inami Laboratory conducts research that seeks to visualize exercise and sports performance through scientific, non-invasive methods (i.e., methods that do not place added stress on the body) and examine how to elicit better conditioning and superior performance. The goal is to improve sports performance and health by visualizing the body through quantitative assessments of skeletal muscle as well as conditioning and recovery.
Alongside research, the lab uses movement analysis tools, high-precision measuring equipment, and other technologies to measure athletic performance. The Inami Laboratory is also known for supporting Ryota Yamagata, the Japanese record holder in the men's 100-meter dash, and notable athletes from around the sporting world have visited the lab, including professional golfer Tsuneyuki Nakajima and Tokyo 2020 bronze medal winner in archery, Hiroki Muto.