JR/SR SWIMMER Magazine, 1961]
This summer at the 1st Pan Pacific Games, a fresh crop of American champions will see working behind the scenes, a man who certainly will have earned his niche in Swimming's Hawaii of Fame.
Many veteran coaches and officials will remember the 1938 Men's National AAU Outdoor Championships, when an obscure coach from Hawaii brought two swimmers, Keo (Kiyoshi) Nakama and Takashi Hirose to the Louisville, Kentucky, pool and saw them take silver medals in the freestyle events. The following year, at Detroit, Sakamoto's Alexander House Settlement team won the National AAU Men's Outdoor team championship with Keo Nakama becoming Sakamoto's first National Champion by winning the 220 yard freestyle.
Five Olympic Champions ... Four National AAU Champions ... Seven Olympic and National Champions who trained under him ... these are just a few of the accomplishments of Soichi Sakamoto, JUNIOR/SENIOR SWIMMER'S Coach of the month.
Today, Coach Sakamoto is recognized as one of the best swimming teachers in the world. How is it that Soichi Sakamoto has produced 15 national champions ... more than most other coaches have developed. "It's a case of mutual understanding. My swimmers and myself decide what must be accomplished, appreciating the hard work involved ... and then it's up to the athlete to plunge into a systematic training schedule and stick to it," said Hawaii's international known coach.
Sakamoto, who has been a football coach, basketball coach, and boy scout leader, took upon himself another job ... that of teaching the children in his community to swim. Every day after school, barefoot children scampered across the cane fields to the irrigation ditches. There in the waterways, only four feet wide by three feet deep, all in all about 120 children, worked out about 1-3 hours a day! "Coach" running along side, shouting instructions as they swam downstream and encouragement as they swam back upstream. The swifter and dirtier the water, the harder these water babies worked.
Not until 1936 however did Sakamoto take this understanding seriously. Realizing that the children of the community needed more than an irrigation ditch, the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company built a park and swimming pool in Puunene. This was a coach's dream come true ... in June, 1937 a group of children ranging in age from 9-14 years met in Sakamoto's home room class, and there the 3-Year Swimming Club was organized. Its whole purpose was to train swimmers for the 1940 Olympics, in Helsinki, Finland. The club's motto was "Olympics first and Olympics always."
In 1945 Sakamoto left Maui to accept a position with the University of Hawaii on the physical education staff. He is still with the University as an assistant professor and swim coach. To date Coach Sakamoto has taken teams from Hawaii to the National Outdoor Swimming Championships 12 times and he has won the National title six times. While training in the irrigation ditches, six of his swimmers developed into National AAU Champions.
Sakamoto served as assistant coach to the U.S. swim team at the '52 Helsinki Olympics and again in the same capacity at the '56 Melbourne Games. His boys team captured the U.S. National team championship in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1949 and 1950, and he has developed 14 National AAU Individual titlists.
In 1945 The Hawaii Swimming Club was founded with the same motto. While concentrating principally on age group swimmers in his Hawaiian Swim Club, Coach Sakamoto continues to provide helpful advice and assistance to swimmers of all ages. From 1946 on, he has sponsored one of Hawaii's biggest meets, the Keo Nakama, named after one of Coach Sakamoto's greats. This meet is held in late June or early July, and has attracted as many as one thousand swimmers.
Soichi Sakamoto's training program is indeed a vigorous one. He believes in hard work and concentration. Starting in October, three months are devoted to body building, using weights, pulleys and many other devices which fill out his program of supervised exercises. Sometime in December, the swimmers will enter the water and from this time on, a minimum of five days a week will find his swimmers in the water from four until seven each night. Some may work later, but as long as there is a swimmer present, "Coach," as he is affectionately known, will be at the edge of the pool.
The days' work starts with a stroke check which is mandatory before the swimmer enters the water. By this procedure, "Coach" feels that he is getting his swimmers to repeat over and over the correct way of doing each stroke. All swimmers must do all four strokes, and they must work equally hard on each. In this respect, the thought is that most young swimmers are too young to specialize. The day's assignment will vary, but it usually includes a minimum of a half mile all the way up to several miles depending on the age and state of training. A basic assignment will be given in all strokes followed by extra laps in certain strokes.
As the summer season approaches, Sakamoto will go into double workouts, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Emphasis is continually on swimming and form, with the result being that Sakamoto coached swimmers can be recognized anywhere because of his adherence to the principles of good swimming form.
Coach Sakamoto is personally a modest and unassuming person, who is completely devoted to the development of young boys and girls. In 1957, he received the honor of being named "Sportsman of the Year," for which he received the Vernon McQueen award. In addition he has served as Chairman of the Senior Swimming Committee and at present is Chairman of the Olympic Development Committee in Hawaii, whose job it is to plan, devote time and effort towards a development program for the 1964 Olympics.
Among the well-knowns that Coach Sakamoto has had went to the Olympics are: Bill Smith, Jr. (1948), Ford Konno (1952), Yoshi Oyakawa (1952), Bill Woolsey (1952, relay) and Thelma Kalama (1948, relay); a few of Olympic and National Champions that have worked under him are: Shelly Mann, Harry Holiday, Al Wiggins, Frank McKinney, Gail Peters, Burwell Jones, Richard Hanley, Ivanelle Hoe, Dick Cleveland and Evelyn Kawamoto.
Coach Sakamoto has indeed an impressive coaching record, one to be very proud of.