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From Pitches in Asia – Report from JFA Coaches/Instructors Vol. 85: SUZUKI Konomi, Head Coach of U-17/U-20 Northern Mariana Islands National Teams

26 January 2024

From Pitches in Asia – Report from JFA Coaches/Instructors Vol. 85: SUZUKI Konomi, Head Coach of U-17/U-20 Northern Mariana Islands National Teams

My name is SUZUKI Konomi, and I am the head coach of the U-17 and U-20 Northern Mariana Islands National Teams.

Life abroad - differences in everyday life, culture and environment

I had never lived abroad before moving to the Northern Mariana Islands, but thanks to the support of many people, I have been able to live a fulfilling life every day. When I face a small problem and thank a local person for helping me, I am often told: “You are our family, it is only natural that we help our family.” People here tend to have close relationships with each other, which I think is one of the great things about the Northern Mariana Islands.

Daily football activities

We usually train three times a week as a national team because the club teams do not hold practices very often. There are a limited number of players over the age of 20, as many leave the islands to attend university in the mainland United States, so the national team is split into two teams: the U-20+ national team and the U-17 national team. And since I've been appointed head coach of the U-17 and U-20 men's national teams, I get to help train both teams. Because we operate like a club team, one of the advantages is that we get to see the development of the players on a daily basis and work with the local coaches to make daily adjustments based on the players' reactions and level of understanding. In addition, as our training involves players of all ages, from youth to national team players, we all need to work with respect for each other.

EAFF U15 Men's Championship 2023 and AFC U20/U17 Asian Cup 2025 Qualifiers

In September 2023, the U-15 Northern Mariana Islands National Team participated in the EAFF U15 Men's Championship 2023. It was the first international tournament for most of the players in this age group and it was a real eye-opener to see the difference between the level of football played in the islands and other parts of East Asia. We lost all four of our matches, including the last two against Korea Republic and China PR, both of which we conceded double-digit goals, but as the saying goes - good medicine tastes bitter to the mouth - the tournament gave us a good understanding of what we need to work on before we go on to the next international tournament. The AFC U-20 Asian Cup 2025 Qualifiers and the AFC U-17 Asian Cup 2025 Qualifiers will take place in 2024, and we have already started our team activities for these competitions. There are many challenges that lie ahead, both on and off the pitch, but we will continue to make steady progress, step by step, so that we can build on what the players, coaches and staff have built up over the years and deliver measurable results.

Football in the Northern Mariana Islands

It has been 20 years since the establishment of the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association (NMIFA) and five years since NMIFA became an Ordinary Member association of the AFC, and although football itself is a relatively new sport here compared to other Asian countries, I feel that the football culture is developing rapidly thanks to the efforts of many people. We see all kinds of people, from children to adults, gathering at the playground every weekend to play football.

Meanwhile, as the islands heavily dependent on tourism, the economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the island's population is declining year on year as more and more people move away. One of the biggest challenges we face at the moment is how to increase the number of people playing football in these circumstances. In addition to the activities of the national team, I feel that the pursuit of quality in the intangible aspects, such as the improvement of league matches and festivals, and the continuous education of coaches, are also tasks that have arisen as a result of the rapid development of football culture.

Under the guidance of Mr. MITA Michiteru, former NMIFA Technical Director and head coach of the Northern Mariana Islands National Team, the first AFC ‘B’ diploma coaching course was held in the islands last year, and five new coaches from the Northern Mariana Islands have obtained their Class B licences, joining the three men and women who had previously obtained their Class A and B licences outside of the islands. These eight coaches are the future of football in the Northern Mariana Islands, and I was once again reminded that helping these local coaches grow and develop is what I am here for and what I can do for this islands.

Together with the football family of this islands, I will continue to strive to contribute to the further development of football culture under the philosophy of Mr. Jerry TAN, NMIFA President, to “make everyone in the Northern Mariana Islands happy through football.”

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