Female role models can change a girl’s life for the better, and that’s the message Naomi Osaka brought to life when playing, learning and laughing alongside girls from Play Academy’s supported programs in Tokyo.
Osaka returned to her birth country and the origins of her Play Academy initiative that started in 2020, in partnership with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, with the vision of changing girls’ lives through play and sport. On September 26, she helped advance that vision by kicking off the first of a two-part series of Play Academy sports festivals to celebrate International Day of the Girl (October 11). The festivals brought together girls across all four Play Academy grantee partners, and provided positive play experiences and inspiration from women leaders, including Osaka and women’s soccer club Yamato Sylphid.
Osaka said: “I’m very encouraged to see the impact Play Academy is having on girls’ lives in Japan in just two years since launching. When I looked around and saw a gym full of girls having a great time, the passion of the programs’ leaders, and the understanding that this experience can change the girls’ lives— I thought to myself, ‘This is what Play Academy is about.’”
Stepping outside her tennis comfort zone and onto an indoor soccer court, Osaka shared the new experience with the 21 participating girls from Tokyo grantee partners – Monkey Magic, Ryutsu Keizai University, SPOCOM and Sylphid. Semi-professional women’s soccer players and coaches from Yamato Sylphid guided Osaka and the girls through a mix of icebreakers, mini-soccer games, teambuilding activities and question-and-answer sessions, creating an inclusive and fun environment, and ensuring all participants left inspired to stay active.
Miki Morimoto, Nike’s Director of Social & Community Impact, Asia Pacific shared, “This was the first time all four Play Academy grantee organizations participated in a shared experience, but the girls and Naomi instantly connected with one another through soccer and other games. Many girls also spoke up during the team-building sessions and I can see the how the Play Academy empowerment projects are benefiting the girls to grow in confidence and speak their minds. It all really showcases the transformative power of sport and play as a tool to create a strong community for girls, so they can reach their potential both on and off the field.”
The second festival on October 10 reflected Play Academy’s belief in changing girls’ lives by providing fun, positive play and sport experiences. Rotating through different stations, one of which was led by Play Academy corporate partner YONEX, 18 girls from grantee partners got moving playing relay games, team tag, rhyming games among others. The activities incorporating communications, teamwork, goal-setting and leadership skills.
“Many people don’t realize that many girls around the world, especially in my birthplace, don’t have the privilege to play like this,” Osaka said. “But by working together with grassroots organizations in Tokyo and now Osaka, we can make a difference in girls’ lives through play and sport. My hope is that every girl whom I met that September evening, those who later attended the closing sports festival and those coming through these grantees will feel inspired, empowered, and supported to discover their full potential.”
Expanding the impact beyond Tokyo, Play Academy welcomed Momoyama Gakuin (Momoyama) as its first grantee in Osaka. Momoyama Gakuin is working to provide local girls with opportunities to learn about communication, health, girls’ rights and community through sport, and will help develop the girls’ leadership skills. Learn more about Momoyama at playacademynaomi.com/what-we-do/tokyo/
Play Academy with Naomi Osaka is a partnership between Naomi Osaka, Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, with the goal of changing girls’ lives through play and sport. It currently funds nine sport-based community programs across Haiti, Los Angeles and Japan, all places Osaka has a deep connection. Learn more at playacademynaomi.com