Volleyball Magazine, July 2009
by Carrie Bowers
Regardless of whether she competes in 2012, Logan Tom has cemented her status as one of the best indoor players ever - in America and abroad.
Logan Tom, named the “Best Scorer” of the 2008 Olympic Games and a silver medalist on top of it, doesn’t believe in writing down goals.
“People say you’re supposed to define your goals, but I’m not like that,” says Tom, an outside hitter on the last three U.S. Olympic teams who is finishing her seventh season playing abroad professionally. “I don’t have tunnel vision until I reach a certain finish line. I’ve just found that a lot of the time, people get so focused on the outcome that they tend to bypass the present.” Tom prefers not to dwell on the future and simply concentrates on achieving the most she can in the moment.
At 28, the future is something that Tom has the rare fortune of looking forward to as someone who is arguably considered one of the best women’s indoor volleyball players in the world. And as the most recognizable face of USA Volleyball, the majority of people would think her success is a result of her passion, rather than her ability to separate her personal life from her life on the court.
“Who I am isn’t volleyball. I do it when I’m in the gym but, when I’m outside, I leave it behind.”
Just a day after returning from a travel-heavy, eight-month season in Japan playing for the professional team Hisamitsu Springs, the somewhat reclusive and fiercely private Tom looks weary.
“This season was tough for me. Lately it seems that my time is being spent on the volleyball side of my life rather than the personal side. Most of my time in Japan was spent alone as a consequence of cultural diffrences and being tired from training. Even if I wouldn’t have hung out with friends, in Japan it seemed as though my option to wasn’t there, and to have that option is mentally comforting.”
Given her penchant for near-brutal honesty on the court, Tom struggled not only with the seclusion and the new language (she needed an interpreter), but also with adapting to Japan’s more controlled and polite social culture. The Japanese are very conscious of manners and treating others with kindness and respect, which the former Stanford star found refreshing. But Tom also had to adapt to it on the volleyball court, where questions and discussions were uncommon.
“They have a different way of thinking. Being an American and having the mother I do, I’ve always been taught that if you don’t agree or have a question to ask, then have a discussion about it. Japan doesn’t necessarily work that way. It’s a very old culture and they do things completely without questioning. For me, that was hard to adjust to.”
For someone who braved an unfamiliar life of structure in Japan for eight months, Tom has an ironic answer when asked how much longer she sees herself with USA Volleyball, replying honestly, “I don’t jot things down. I don’t schedule things. But I do still see a future there.”
After amassing a successful volleyball career that has spanned over 10 years with USA Volleyball, Tom’s undefined personal and professional path is naturally startling. When asked what her plans will be for the weekend she answers, “I’m not sure. I’m just gonna get in my car and drive.” It’s not unreasonable to assume that Tom’s quirky deficiencies in planning have developed as a result of her flourishing volleyball career.
Tom was discovered as a gifted athlete in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City in 1994, and by 1997 she was training with the U.S. National Team, even taking breaks from school to be at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. With so many restrictive timetables to manage for school, homework, tests, flights, practices, matches, and tournaments over the last 12 years, a little spontaneity is perhaps understandable and even warranted in Tom’s case.
For the World Cup in 2007, Tom held true to her spontaneity by making a late decision to return to the U.S. National Team after an almost three-year hiatus to play for “Jenny” Lang Ping. She’d never had the opportunity to train with her formally in the gym but came away with respect for the former pro volleyball player and Chinese celebrity known as the “Iron Hammer.”
“I had a different experience than most of the girls. I was not there in the development stages. But my respect was already cemented because of the player she was. And with what she was given, she did a great job.” says Tom.
Lang Ping led the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team to a silver medal—its best finish since winning the silver in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Tom’s unusual inclination to focus on the present only, as opposed to the final destination, may have proven a blessing for the USA Team, as she scored the most points of any player in the tournament and consistently tallied impressive numbers on the path to the gold medal match.
“I came in late in the process. I didn’t have any expectations after what happened in Athens. We played each game second by second. Having played in so many tournaments you have to go in with a simple mindset. If you’re running around like you just got poked in the ass with a hot brander screaming ‘gold medal match!’ you’ve already psyched yourself out.”
Ironically Lang Ping’s American squad fell short of a goal she herself had achieved in that same ’84 Olympics. For Tom, coming up short of the gold after being seeded #1 (and expected to win gold four years earlier in Athens) was somewhat disappointing, despite the shiny new pendant she had the privilege of carrying home.
“First of all, it was silver. It did not look like gold. Its elemental composition was not structured like gold. It did not feel like gold….It’s still pretty though and I’m proud of it.”
Does an Olympic gold sound like it could actually be a long-term goal for Logan Tom?
“Gold, I think, is a goal that for most human beings signifies the highest attainable achievement. Being athletes we have the opportunity to win a material object that represents that idea. Of course I want gold.”
Tom has been exposed to various training styles and practices as a result of playing for three different USA head coaches in the quest for gold: Mick Haley, Toshi Yoshida, and the recently retired, Lang Ping.
“I don’t think I have technique. I learned a lot from Toshi having spent the most time with him of any coach, but I don’t think I was his vision of good technique. For me, thinking about it throws my game off. I like to just play.”
Tom may just wind up playing for a coach who represents what she does not from a technical standpoint. Hugh McCutcheon was hired as the U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach in December following a perfect showing at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where he led the U.S. Men’s Olympic team to a gold medal finish. Known as a technician and reformist of volleyball fundamentals, McCutcheon’s world has no “little things.” He depends on structure, analysis, numbers, and detail to form a technically systemic squad that will make the right choices at the right times.
“With Logan, I will try to implement change. She and I have talked and as far as I know she personally wants to grow and change to get better, which is a trait that most of the great players have. My goal is to move away from the coach-driven mode towards something with more player ownership.”
For Tom, the prospect of possibly playing for McCutcheon is unknown territory though she has known him and his wife, Elisabeth “Wiz” Bachman, for eight years. Having played with Wiz on the National Team from 2001 to 2004, Tom is more familiar with Wiz’s capabilities as a volleyball professional than she is with her potential future coach; but for both McCutcheons, she reserves high regard.
“I know [Hugh] only as a person. I respect him as a person. That’s a good starting point – better than most. Just the fact that he married Wiz and she married him makes him an unbelievable person.”
Will she play for McCutcheon? Tom doesn’t know. For now the only decision she’s been able to commit to since being back on American soil is to get a pinky finger fixed and get in her car and head North — possibly even as far as Alaska.
“I’m kinda playing it by ear. I haven’t decided where I’m going or how long I’ll be there.”