Trainer Feature: Koichi Sato
Editors: Note: March is National Athletic Training Month, and to celebrate the occasion Timberwolves.com put together a collection of features showcasing the Wolves’ training staff at work. Part I focuses on Director of Sports Performance Koichi Sato, who is in his first year with the organization.
Koichi Sato has a background in sports across different platforms. The first-year Timberwolves Director of Sports Performance spent time previous to Minnesota working with Arizona State University’s athletic department as well as the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Wizards.
So when it comes to taking care of athletes long-term, Sato understands that developing a foundation is important in longevity and overall health.
“You have to improve the base, which is the basic movement patters, stability, functional training,” Sato said. “That’s the most important part of the training, especially at this level because they are already fast, they are already strong for the most part. Then, surprisingly by doing so, you can make them faster and stronger.”
Sato came on board this season and brought more than 15 years of experience at the collegiate and professional levels to the team. Born in Japan, Sato graduated from Tokyo International University in 1993 before graduating from Eastern Illinois in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education/Athletic Training. He also graduated from Arizona State with a Master of Science in Exercise Science/Biomechanics.
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He is a member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and a board member of the Japan Athletic Trainers’ Organization.
Part of helping the Wolves players develop that foundation is working on muscle groups that often are overlooked. They work on balance as well. It’s a process that includes a variety of workouts in the weight room that ventures well beyond the traditional bench press and squats. The Wolves are doing exercises that will in the long run create better bounce-back time over the course of an 82-game season as well as build a muscle and flexibility base that will help deter injuries along the way.
“That’s probably the hardest part in terms of convincing them to do, untraditional, simple things like biceps and triceps,” Sato said. “If those are say traditional weight lifting, that’s the hardest part. Hey, that might help you to make your body look good, but what I’m interested in is you performing well, you staying healthy. Those sorts of things. Fortunately, I’m getting good feedback from those guys.”
Sato said in order to do all these exercises there is a balance of using today’s technology, but part of the equation is learning to understand movement patterns. Basic human moving patters take shape in the foundation of how the Wolves begin their training regimen.
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It’s an important balance of getting enough time in working out during the regular season while being able to perform at practice and in games.
On game days, Sato said he begins treating players in the afternoon about two hours before the game. Some guys lift, so he’s there to help assist their weight lifting. Some have shorter sessions on game days, other do longer workouts. For starters, short stints in the weight room will get their functional mobility going and get their joints and movement ready for the game.
Then, in game, he keeps track of players’ substitution patterns. Not just how many minutes each player is playing, but when they are getting into the game and when they come out. That way, he said, he knows what a player is doing in-game and what type of workouts and exertion levels they’re placing on their bodies.
Sato said when the Wolves are able to move into Mayo Clinic Square next season, it will only help improve what the team is able to do in helping the players stay ready. He said once all the training areas are in once place, it will add more fluidity to the process and only help improve the end result.
“Having Mayo Clinic is a great idea—hopefully we can do some collaborative stuff,” Sato said. “We have four people here. We exchange ideas. I get feedback from [Director of Medical Operations/Head Athletic Trainer] Gregg [Farnam] and [Director of Athletic Therapy] Mark [Kyger] on what I do and how it’s affecting players and vice versa. And I’m pretty sure there are some talented people in sports medicine in Mayo Clinic. So hopefully we can open up a door and exchange some ideas.”