Not many players make it to the top of men's beach volleyball standing just 1.77m tall.

But not many have Jason Lochhead's determination and remarkable ability to read a game.

The 34-year-old, who revelled in the nickname of the Ginger Ninja, was a tenacious defender on court. He grew up learning the sport while at Otumoetai College and finished his playing days with 116 international tournaments from 2004 to 2012 — a record for a New Zealander.

"That was a lot of learning experiences and it was pretty awesome being able to tour around the world and we had some great results. It was a little brutal missing out on making the Olympics twice for Kirk Pittman and me," Lochhead says.


Now he has reinvented himself as a top-class coach.

He mentors the world number one men's pairing of America's Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.

"I was super lucky we had good connections with the superstars of the tour from Brazil, America and Germany and we could go and train with those teams. I picked up a lot on all those different styles and how they coached, which was really lucky," Lochhead says.

"I had help from [Tauranga-based coach] Mike Dudson and Craig Seuseu, plus Jeff Conover who worked with the US women's team that won silver at the Olympics.

"I always tried to hear their side of the story and then figure out what I thought was right."

Lochhead's first major coaching assignment was certainly way out of left field.

The Vanuatu women's team of Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu contacted him to help them. They were ranked 60th in the world and wanted to make top 16 to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

In two years he helped them to eight top-10 finishes on the world tour. They missed making Rio by one place.


"I was really lucky because those girls had good talent and they worked really hard. They were good listeners on how to change and how to adapt and try new things. It was a really cool experience," Lochhead says.

While working with them, he was approached by highly regarded Canadians Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk.

He coached them to ninth at the Rio Olympics and finally achieved his Olympic dream.

"Rio was amazing as I had always wanted to go and came so close myself a couple of times. The whole process of meeting all the other athletes, the Olympic village and everything, was pretty mind-boggling."

While working with the Canadians he had an approach from the best men's team on the world stage.

"[Dalhausser and Lucena] were training with the Canadians when I was coaching them and Nick [Lucena] rang me and said they wanted me to join them a coach.

"It was pretty crazy when I think about it and it was really tough, as I was really good friends with Ben and Chaim. It was just an amazing opportunity to work with such great players and a tough one to turn down."

Lochhead says winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics is now their only focus.

"That's all we are looking forward to. We are hoping everything will go to plan and we will get there."