Finnish coach Tommi Tiilikainen leaves it all on the court

Incheon Korean Air Jumbos Head Coach Tommi Tiilikainen has two very different sides to his personality: An avid volleyball coach whose passion for the sport even beats the players and a boring workaholic who focuses on nothing but work.

“Crazy about volleyball? I agree if you meant it in a positive way,” Tiilikainen said during an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at the Jumbo’s training center in Yongin, Gyeonggi last month.

Tiilikainen is always the most passionate person in the arena, running animatedly up and down the side of the court as he tries to encourage his players during games.

Off the court, however, the 35-year-old Finnish coach is a very different person. He rarely has private conversations with his players and often gives short responses to reporters’ questions.

Tiilikainen lives and breathes volleyball.

His huge passion led the Jumbos to success last season, winning absolutely everything available — the 2022-23 league title, championship title and the Korea Volleyball Federation (KOVO) Cup — for the first time in the club’s history.

His only other hobby is to run around the lake in front of his dormitory.

“That is when I commit time entirely to myself,” Tiilikainen said. “It is good for fitness and helps me clear my thoughts. I get some good ideas as I run and make a memo on my phone.

“Every home in Finland has a sauna, so I would have gone there every day, if I was in Finland. I always go there with my wife during my spare time. I went to Busan with her too. Other than FaceTiming my parents or friends, I always watch volleyball and think about what I can do.”

Tiilikainen usually stays calm and does not explicitly express his feelings — at least off the court — but the one crack in that stoic persona came when he congratulated his team for winning each trophy.

“That reaction is closer to my real character,” he admitted.

Tiilikainen started his coaching career at 25 at Finnish team Kokkola Tigers and moved to Germany and Japan, before taking charge of the Jumbos in 2021.

Despite his young age, he has already won five league titles with the teams he has coached so far — three with the Tigers and two with the Jumbos.

He was forced to start his coaching career early because he suffered a severe back injury at 18, ending his hopes of playing professionally.

“I played volleyball in my backyard since I was six,” Tiilikainen said. “Since my parents were both physical education instructors, I played ice hockey and football, but volleyball was always my focus.

“A professional team scouted me, but I could not sign a contract because my body was not fit and I was so sad. Finland also has military service, but I was kicked out two weeks after enlistment because I was not fit enough to serve in the military.”

Tiilikainen didn’t know what his life would look like if he couldn’t play volleyball, so he pursued a coaching career to stay in the sport. 토토사이트

“I had no idea what to do,” he said. “I had various jobs for three years. I worked at a nightclub and met many people. Then I came back to volleyball and tried to demonstrate the thoughts and energy I had when I was a player as a coach.

“There were some predicaments in the past, but I think those made the current me.”

Tiilikainen tells his players that they ought to get out of their comfort zone and challenge more, which is why the Jumbos competed in the 2023 Asian Men’s Club Volleyball Championship in Bahrain.

“I always ask my players to think about the ‘next level,’” he said. “It was the case for me and I want them to accept new things and be more open as they watch different leagues and different styles of volleyball, which I think will help Korean volleyball in general improve.”

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