Yuya Okumura doesn’t speak much English but, in Coquitlam, he doesn't have to.
He speaks lacrosse.
The student from Kani City in Japan's Gifu prefecture has come to Canada to learn a new language and develop his skills in box lacrosse, a sport that’s almost unknown back home.
Quite unexpectedly, he said, one is helping the other since he landed a spot with the Coquitlam Adanacs Senior B team.
“I have never used English in my life, so it is hard for me to study English and talk with my teammates and coaches,” Okumura said. “It motivates me to study English that I want to be able to talk with them.”
Okumura came to the Adanacs on the recommendation of his coach with Japan’s national field lacrosse team, who put him in touch with Coquitlam’s junior team.
He said even though he had risen to the national level of the field game since he started playing when he enrolled at Nanzan University in Nagoya, he knew honing his stickwork and physical skills in the tighter confines of box lacrosse, where the game moves faster and the checking is tougher, would elevate his outdoor abilities, too.
“I love the stickwork and physical movement that Canadians have,” Okumura said. “I think this is the essence of lacrosse.”
Adanacs coach Rick Mang said Okumura’s development has been a pleasant surprise as he didn’t think he would make the team because of his lack of box experience and the language barrier.
But Mang said: “He gets better every week. His athleticism and high IQ will help him in the box game immensely.”
Okumura said he eased his way into his Canadian lacrosse journey by watching box games online when he was back home in Japan. He then joined the Adanacs’ senior field lacrosse team after he arrived in Canada so he could begin learning lacrosse words in English and meet some of his future teammates.
But stepping on the concrete floor was still daunting.
“Sometimes, I felt disgusted at my own playing,” Okumura said.
He has persisted, though, by carefully watching his teammates in practice, trying to grasp the game’s strategies and movements while grappling with his imperfect English.
“I try to understand over and over every day.”
Mang said Okumura’s dedication to his task is beginning to show results.
“He is a sponge for knowledge and is keen to listen to anyone trying to improve his game,” he said, adding Okumura even switched from his natural right shot to lefty when the team had a lack of strength from that side.
“He fits in with the boys really well,” Mang said.
Which is music to Okumura’s ears — and motivation for him to continue pursuing his dream.
“I want to make box lacrosse popular in Japan,” he said. “I want to… prove that I am one of the best players in the world.”
• Coquitlam Senior B Adanacs are currently third in the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association standings, with eight wins and a tie in 11 games. They host Victoria at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex Saturday at 5 p.m. and league-leading Ladner Sunday, also at 5 p.m.