April 14, 2024

PVL: How a full volleyball arena led Koji Tsuzurabara to Petro Gazz

PVL: How a full volleyball arena led Koji Tsuzurabara to Petro Gazz
Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

Japanese coach Koji Tsuzurabara immediately made an impression in his first day of court drills with the Petro Gazz Angels.

They had just finished a set inside the Filoil EcoOil Centre.

"Tapos may inexplain siya, mabilis lang. Nagulat kami na, 'Okay, break,'" new team captain Rem Palma recounted to One Sports on their second day of court training with Tsuzurabara.

The Angels were just walking from the court to the sidelines to get some water. Then coach Koji started counting from ten.

"Bumilang siya, andito kami lahat," Palma said, motioning on how her teammates were still lining up for water at the sidelines.

"'Yung iba, 'di pa naka-inom. Kami, 'Oh no, tawag na tayo,'" Palma recounted, laughing. "So parang okay, nung hapon nag-remind ako sa [group chat] ng players na magdala na tayo ng kanya-kanyang tumbler kasi medyo mabilis magpa-break si coach."

"Parang sip na lang para 'pag tumawag na siya, mabilis makabalik."

On the second day of practice with coach Koji, the Angels were drinking from tumblers.

"Strict siya sa time, sobra. Saka naka-programa 'yung gusto niyang mangyari," she explained.

When asked about the incident, coach Koji smiled. "It's my style.

"Today, the second day, they have sit down time. But maybe later, fourth day or fifth day, they will not have [time] to sit down."

He likes to keep everyone moving.

"Come on, come on, let's go, let's go," he said, smiling, shaking his head. "I don't like to wait. I don't like."

And Palma, hailed the Best Middle Blocker during the 2023 PVL First All-Filipino Conference, welcomed what the Japanese tactician was trying to implement.

"Nakakatawa siya kasi parang bago sa amin yung experience na ganun," she said as she recounted the story. "May kaakibat na discipline. Sinisimulan sa maliit na bagay. 'Dun naman nagsisimula eh, small things na nag-aaccumulate."

"Siguro that's the Japanese culture na gusto niya ipa-implement dito, which is a good thing kasi part of the discipline. Tinuturuan niya kaming maging disiplinado," Rem added.


But Tsuzurabara doesn't see it as a Japanese method of teaching. It's his own.

"Everyone expects me to do Japanese style. My basics are not Japanese style, but my own original style," he said in a statement posted by Petro Gazz.

During practice, he would have everyone do all aspects of volleyball. Libero Babylove Barbon would receive an attack in one instance, then she would jump to block, and then at one point she would even spike.

Coach Koji knows what it's like. He's played as a setter before in the juniors before shifting as outside spiker.

"I don't like basic book. I like other volleyball, original volleyball," he told One Sports in English. "Today, I said to the players, always look out [for your] teammates. What do you think? I [ask for] more judgment, quickly first."

It's something the players have appreciated, as they became vocal and lively during training.

"He wants us to use our minds, because volleyball is a very situational game," shared Petro Gazz's newest player Brooke van Sickle. "He wants us to use our brains and develop a higher IQ as volleyball players," she said.

[ALSO READ: PVL: How Kalei Mau, Lindsey Vander Weide led Brooke Van Sickle to Petro Gazz

He also makes it a point to get to know his players. Even before court drills started, coach Tsuzurabara already had a file of the Angels and asked the Petro Gazz management about them.

He's working his way on having one-on-one conversations with all of the players.

"I want to understand the player's character. I must make players of good character," he said.


This was a homecoming of sorts for coach Koji Tsuzurabara, as Petro Gazz became his beacon.

The Angels didn't seek him out. Tsuzurabara had actually submitted his resume to the Philippine volleyball federation.

He had coached everywhere from Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan. But the PVL crowd had made a deep impression on him.

It was 2018, and it was in the very same Filoil EcoOil Centre where he was teaching the Angels now, where he watched a PVL game.

"This gymnasium. I was sitting there," he said, pointing out to the bleachers of the arena. It happened to be a Petro Gazz game.

"There were a lot of spectators. Full!" coach Koji explained. "[So] much people. Oh, very surprised!"

"After one week, I went to Taiwan. No spectators," he added. "So this time, I have the chance. Thank you so much, I appreciate the Petro Gazz staff."

And he has plenty of chances to witness a crowded arena once again, as the Japanese tactician has been handed the reins of a champion squad which fell to sixth in the 2023 PVL Second All-Filipino Conference.

Palma is admittedly already one of the veterans of the team, but she says they're embracing the idea of learning something new. Actually they get excited for it every day.

"As a veteran na team, parang mas macha-challenge ka kasi coming to our training, 'di mo alam 'yung mangyayari eh," she reflected. "Mae-excite ka na anong gagawin natin ngayon? Laging bago lahat."

"Pero after the training, masaya kang uuwi kasi may bago kang natutunan," Palma added.

"Ang sarap sa feeling. Kunwari, feeling ko, akala ko eto na 'yung skill ko na pwede kong matutunan," she said, motioning her hand near her head. "Pero hinde, may mag-a-add up pa pala. Madadagdagan 'yung alam ko."

"'Yun 'yung nafi-feel ko kay Coach Koji. 'Di ka pwedeng mag-stop mag-learn. Every day is a learning day."

Don't get the Angels wrong. Coach Koji may be strict with time, but he's letting them learn. It's the one thing that Palma remembered most with the two days they had so far with Tsuzurabara.

"Para sa'kin lagi niyang sinasabi try and try. Walang masamang magkamali. Kailangan mong magkamali para matuto ka. Siya naman 'di ka niya hahayaan kasi tuturuan ka niya," Rem said.

That's coach Koji's style.