Game On at Waikato

21 July 2015

The group of Japanese Under-17 rugby players were full of energy at their first training yesterday.
The group of Japanese Under-17 rugby players were full of energy at their first training yesterday.

A programme at the University of Waikato will see a dozen visiting Japanese teenagers improving their rugby skills and getting a better grasp of the English language.

The Game On English programme is being hosted by Waikato University's Pathways College and supported by the Waikato Rugby Union (WRU).

The Under-17 players from the Kanto region, near Tokyo, are involved in a three-week programme of rugby training and English language lessons, along with several cultural activities. The boys are staying with homestay families in Hamilton during their visit.

The Game On English programme was developed by Education New Zealand in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and aims to improve the English language skills and sporting ability of Japan's young people.

Director of Waikato University's Pathways College Dr Chelsea Blickem is helping facilitate the programme and says it's a great initiative.

"With Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics, organisers are keen to have more of Japan's population speaking English," says Dr Blickem. "This programme immerses young people in an English-speaking environment, builds their self-confidence and pushes them to reach their sporting and learning goals."

"High-performance sport is a strong focus for the University and there's a potential for this programme to include other sporting disciplines such as rowing or cycling in the future."

The team will train with and play the Hamilton Boys' High School U16 team and do strength and conditioning training at the UniRec gym on campus. They will attend WRU events including an ITM Cup pre-season game and on Wednesday 5 August there'll be a farewell function and certificate ceremony at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

One of the Game On students, Ryo Otsuka, says he's excited to be in New Zealand and wants to focus on improving his English.

English teacher Brendon Lee says the boys' English is limited but the three-week programme has a good balance between physical training and language lessons.

"I hope this experience will inspire these students in both their English and their rugby," says Mr Lee.

In 2014 Prime Minister John Key and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched Game On English in Auckland as part of Mr Abe's official visit to New Zealand. The programme is now being expanded into other sports.

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