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Up a notch: Communication and social skills are essential

Trevor Moawad, director of Athletic & Personal Development program, keeps an autographed photo of Tak Omori on his desk to remind him of how athletic training extends to the professional bass fishing arena.Trevor Moawad shoots straight with Takahiro Omori. As director of Athletic & Personal Development program, Moawad tells the former Bassmaster Classic champion exactly what he needs to hear: "A comfort zone is kind of like a grave with the ends kicked off."

What's Tak's comfort zone? Spending more face time with bass than people.

In fairness, Tak's no snob. Chat with him for even a few minutes and his gracious sincerity is unmistakable. But even after more than a decade of U.S. residence, English — and, more so, American culture — remain challenging.

"When I won the Classic (2004), everything around me started changing," Tak said. "Before, I was just the Japanese guy that nobody cared about; but then everyone in the fishing industry knew me. I didn't know how to react because the Classic changed my life."

That's why IMG blends communication coaching with physical training and mental conditioning. Through IMG's Game On Communications, founded by film and television actor Steve Shenbaum, Tak participates in various conversational exercises designed to foster a relaxed, confident approach to fan and media interaction.

OK, so Tak's learning the art of dialogue. He updates his website (www.takahiroomori.com). He's on Facebook. How does all this make him a better fisherman?

It doesn't. However, mastering communication skills equips him to sustain the linchpin element that enables all professional athletes to pursue their competitive goals.

"One of the things that's difficult for athletes when they're focused on the purity of their sport is that sometimes they don't recognize that someone else pays for them to go out there and do what they do," Moawad said. "One of our goals for Tak is to understand the business of fishing."

Sponsors and the buying public anchor this premise. Noting that advertisers fork out millions for Super Bowl ads because of their potential reach, Moawad stresses that Tak has his own "commercial" each time he's in the public eye.

"Tak is like a lot of athletes — it's not that they don't want to have a relationship with fans; it's the fear of saying something wrong," Moawad said. "It's the concern that you may not understand the language well enough to answer the question properly.

"Tak is learning to not be afraid to take a risk, that it's OK to make a mistake and that people just want to meet him and spend time with him. You don't have to be perfect when you're interacting with the media and fans."

With world-class athletes of multiple sports roaming the IMG campus, Tak interacts with many who've encountered some of the same challenges he faces. From mental toughness to media savvy, anecdotal input complements IMG's formal training.

"I can learn to live my lifestyle from those guys because their industries are way ahead of (fishing)," Tak said. "I can use (this knowledge) as an advantage in my sport on how to improve myself or how to handle the media or how to interact with fans."

Make no mistake: Takahiro Omori is breaking out of his comfort zone and improving his delivery — whether he's addressing bass, sponsors or the folks who enjoy what he does.

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