Thursday, July 03, 2008
By Erika Aragon
TOKYO — Few management consultants can cheer you up the way AMT Group’s Maki Nakayama can. Nakayama, a Washington Redskins cheerleader alumnus, is using the lessons she’s learned in over a decade of cheerleading to promote “Cheerleadership” in Japanese companies. Her idea is that Japanese businessmen can have more fun at work if they apply the same energy and enthusiasm to their job as cheerleaders apply to their cheers.
Nakayama, 32, was not always a cheerleader. She was born in Chiba and as a child, she participated in the hiking club and played the flute. It wasn’t until high school that she decided to try out to be a cheerleader.
“In my senior year of high school, they needed cheerleaders for the baseball team, but cheerleaders were not famous in Japan like they are in America. They just needed girls who could cheer for the baseball team,” said Nakayama.
Her interest in cheerleading after high school led her to try out for the squad at Senshu University while she earned a degree in economics. During her college years, Nakayama also traveled to Oregon to learn English, and there she joined a cheerleading squad as the water girl.
The time Nakayama spent with this American cheerleading squad helped her understand the cheerleaders’ purpose. “At my university in Japan, we always wanted to be number one in the competition, but we didn’t know the real meaning of cheerleading. When I went to Oregon, I learned that the girls on the squad were having fun and cheering for the football team or wrestling or any sport. Cheering is first, and competition didn’t matter for them. They had teamwork and a good atmosphere. Everyone in the stadium was cheering with them and I was shocked. In Japan, we just compete or cheer when we’re at the football stadium and there is nobody cheering but us.”
Nakayama worked as an accountant at a clothing company once she graduated from college, but in the evenings after work, she continued to practice cheerleading and dance. Even if there was no organized practice for her to attend, she would push herself to keep up with her dancing skills. Three years after she began working as an accountant, Nakayama decided to try out for the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad.
“Since I did so much hard work, I thought I should try to go to the U.S. to do cheerleading, which is real. I only had an idea from the Internet what it would be like. I checked all of the NFL cheerleader sites and I found the Washington Redskins,” says Nakayama. It was the Redskins’ combination of cheerleading and volunteer work that appealed to Nakayama and once she made the squad, she cheered with them for three years.
Bringing lessons to business world
In her time with the Redskins, Nakayama says she learned lessons that can be applied to the business world and are now being taught through her training with AMT group. Those lessons include how to be enthusiastic and energized about daily tasks, how to have confidence, especially in front of a group of people, and how to work with a group and alone successfully.
The combination of team work and independent work is important for cheerleaders and businesspeople. “As a cheerleader, team work was really important because we spend time together and we have to cooperate. Sometimes we would have a promotion and they would just tell us what time, what to wear, what to do and we would just go there to do the promotion by ourselves. We had to be independent. So I spent time with girls who are independent and can help each other.”
The way Nakayama teaches these cheerleading lessons is through small cheers created for her “Cheerleadership” training sessions. She begins by teaching the participants some of the basic cheerleading moves. Then she has them create an original cheer that they must perform for the other members of the company with their group.
“They have to be confident. They have to create something. They have to energize people,” she says. “Of course they’re not doing it by themselves but the team is doing it together, so they have to cooperate with the team to make one creative cheer.”
It may seem strange to think of Japanese businessmen performing cheers before their peers, but Nakayama has seen that if people can find a way to be energized at their job, and have a little fun every day, then their disposition toward their work life improves.
Nakayama helps more than just businessmen. In her time outside of work, she teaches dance at seven schools around the Tokyo area. Her young students, aged 4-12, also get some of Nakayama’s Cheerleadership training. “They’re learning not just dance and cheerleading, but they’re learning team building, like the businessmen do, and leadership. Also, they learn how happy it is to make people happy.”
Another innovative project Nakayama is involved in is the development of a city cheerleading squad. She is directing the first city cheerleading squad for Kashiwa city in Chiba. “Since sports teams around here don’t have a connection with the city, what we’re trying to do is make fun for the city first and then connect to a professional team.”
Spreading cheer and cheerleading around the Tokyo area is what Nakayama is excited about right now. She’s happy to work with adults and children alike to give people energy. “With this company, and everywhere, I want to spread not just ‘Cheerleadership,’ but spread energy to everybody. I want people to be able to show energy to have more happiness and new ideas. If you’re creating something or working, energy is very important.”
For more information about “Cheerleadership” training, visit Amt-Group.com and for more information about Maki’s cheerleading school visit Cheering.jp.