Volleyball coach trains potential Olympians

    TCU's associate head volleyball coach Jason Tanaka spent his summer coaching players that could become future Olympians. Tanaka's team consisted of players ranked in the nation's top-50 for athletes 15-years old and younger. Photo by Media Relations

    While the summer Olympics may be done until 2012, one man at TCU is coaching athletes who might find themselves competing for the United States in the future.

    Jason Tanaka is starting his seventh season as part of the TCU volleyball program, fifth as associate head coach, but he has spent the last decade being involved with Team USA volleyball.

    “I have been involved with USA volleyball for over 10 years, and you are always evaluated, whether through try-outs or what you have done with the program,” Tanaka said. “They basically picked coaches that have been through the pipeline.”

    Tanaka said the system for picking coaches is similar to how the athletes are picked to represent Team USA.

    “Sort of like how the kids run through the pipeline of USA volleyball, the coaches are put through a pipeline for USA volleyball too,” Tanaka said.

    That pipeline has four different divisions for the players.

    “There is the junior national team, junior A2 team, the youth national team and the youth A2 team,” Tanaka said. “It is like a minor league for the national team that you saw in the Olympics.”

    The junior division teams consist of players that were born in 1991 and 1992. The youth division teams include players that were born in 1993 or later.

    This summer, Tanaka coached team blue of the youth A2 program.

    “Fifty of the top kids in the country come and play on the youth A2 team, and we split them up into different teams,” Tanaka said. “This is the first year the youth group was competing; they were young this year, but next year they will stay together and have this year of experience.”

    Tanaka said he likes coaching this division because it is a different style than he usually sees at TCU.

    “It gives me a different perspective,” Tanaka said. “International play is very physical, and it’s not as technical as you would think. But there are a lot of game strategies that you are trying to imply into the game. You are trying to turn the kids into more well-rounded players.”

    But despite the differences, there are still some things that translate well from international play to the collegiate level.

    “It’s more about strategy, learning different blocking schemes, how we are going to be more efficient on offense and defense,” Tanaka said. “Those are things we are able to apply to TCU that I can take from Team USA volleyball.”

    Head volleyball coach Prentice Lewis said she is glad one of her coaches can be involved in something like this.

    “I think it is important to have one of my coaches there to see all of the young talent,” Lewis said. “Of course, not all of the best players are there because they opt not to go, but it’s just another way for my coaches to be out there.”

    She said this is not an opinion that all coaches share.

    “Some coaches want their other coaches to do it, and other coaches do not because of the time they need them in the office,” Lewis said.

    There is a simple reason why Tanaka devotes his time year round to coaching volleyball.

    “I love the sport or else I wouldn’t do it,” Tanaka said. “It’s great being able to be around a great group of young adults, and it’s a great experience to see how they can evolve. My challenge for myself is to make these players the best they can be.”