Chongyi Feng '23 interviewed Athletic Director Mr. Masa Yo ’04, whose long association with TASIS included stints as a student, Summer Program administrator, teacher, coach, dorm head, and duty administrator before he took charge of athletics in 2019.
What different roles have you filled at TASIS over the years?
I started working at TASIS in 2003. For the first few years, I only worked for the TASIS Summer Programs, which I have continued to do until now. I officially started working in the academic year in the spring of 2009. I initially did office work and helped organize Middle School activities, and then I began teaching Physical Education and Math in the Middle School, which I continued doing until 2019. At that point I became the Athletic Director, which is what I do now.
Can you please describe your educational background?
As you may know, I was actually a student at TASIS. I went to an international school in Tokyo through seventh grade, and then I came to TASIS for eighth grade and stayed until I graduated in 2004. After that, I went to Tufts University, where I majored in Italian Studies and minored in Economics. I have since completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from the University of Nottingham, and I am currently working on a master's degree in Educational Leadership and Management from the University of Nottingham as well.
Can you briefly summarize your professional experiences prior to working at TASIS?
Well, pretty much my whole adult life has been spent working for TASIS. As I mentioned, I started working here in the summer of 2003, which was just after my junior year of high school. After graduating from Tufts in 2008, I did work briefly for a Norwegian IT marketing firm that was opening an office in Tokyo. But the job ended up not being what I was expecting, so I left that pretty quickly. Afterward, I worked as a translator for the educational division of the Japanese national TV station. And then I came here because the Headmaster at the time was Mr. Ulku-Steiner, who was my Dean of Students. He knew me well, and we had seen each other in the summers, so he offered me a job.
What are your primary responsibilities as the TASIS Athletic Director?
I am in charge of all the sports teams and athletic activities in the High School, including the competitive teams— such as the varsity and JV teams that compete against other schools in the different conferences we belong to—and the recreational sports that students can choose to participate in if they don’t want to try out for a competitive sport. I am also in charge of the Middle School’s competitive teams, and I work with all three divisions to manage the use of facilities for all of our after-school programs.
How have you seen the TASIS Athletic Program change since you took over this role?
I took over as Athletic Director late in the fall of 2019, and then of course Covid hit not long after that. So it was kind of a trial by fire. I was already involved with the Athletic Department not only by association as a PE teacher but also since I have been the head coach for the Varsity Girls Volleyball team since arriving here in 2009. My first step was making sure that all the teams were prepared for their upcoming trips and arranging as many games and tournaments as possible.
Covid has definitely made athletics very difficult, especially last year when there were a lot of students who were not allowed to attend anything. I did not really find spending too much time on screen to be a very healthy thing for our students because many students were already zooming into classes often. Thus, I asked the supervisors of sports that could be done remotely (such as yoga, pilates, zumba, etc) to try offering a remote option but certainly did not require it. I was thinking of different ways we could get students engaged in healthy activities by still following the rules somehow, which is very complicated, as you can probably imagine.
Now, with Covid hopefully beginning to wane soon, I think a big thing is to get back to the routine where everyone is interested and involved in all these sports. Hopefully we can travel farther, as in the past, to different parts of Europe—not just Switzerland and Italy. I also want to build a stronger foundation for some programs, similar to what we have with Varsity Boys Soccer and Varsity Girls Volleyball. These are two very popular sports, and we always have a varsity team and a JV team. It helps a lot with development when you have underclassmen playing for the JV team and eventually working their way up to the varsity team. I hope we get more interest from more students so that we can develop almost all sports to maintain that level of consistency. I have seen how this can affect team morale, both as a coach and as an athletic director.
Another thing I did with [Director of Communications] Mr. Chevalier and [Associate Athletic Director] Mr. Zanecchia was a rebrand of the Athletics Program. We put new banners on the wall to showcase our past successes. We have a new and redesigned floor in the Palestra, which looks great, and we have also redesigned the athletics logo. Our uniforms used to come in a variety of different colors, so we’ve unified that as well. Now, we have a TASIS image with red tops and navy shorts for each team. I want to convey a clear and strong image of TASIS that will represent our school well when we travel elsewhere.
How have you seen the Athletic Program change since you were a student at TASIS?
It has developed so much, largely thanks to Mr. Sonny Lim, who was the Athletic Director before me. When I was a student, we had one major competition per sport, the SGIS championship, which made going to Zurich or Geneva the biggest competition of the season. I played on the soccer and volleyball teams in the fall and on the tennis team in the spring. In the fall, our major competition outside of SGIS was a trip to TASIS England for either volleyball or soccer. We almost always lost, but we beat them in soccer once my senior year, which was a huge deal. For tennis, we would go to the Aviano Air Force base. It was fun, but what I remember the most was all of us going to the commissary (essentially a huge US supermarket in Italy) and stocking up on American food! Times have changed since then, and going to the Air Force base might no longer be possible, but I have been in touch with TASIS England over the past few years and we are hoping to revive competition between the two schools once Covid is no longer an issue.
What is your vision for the future of athletics at TASIS?
For the immediate future, I just want to get everything back to pre-Covid times. Well, not everything necessarily, but a lot of it so that students are as engaged as possible. Mr. Lim did an excellent job strengthening and expanding our program. I want to build on that and focus on some of the areas we can make even stronger. One of the biggest things I want to see at TASIS is school spirit and engagement. It is kind of sad that we haven’t had many fans at a lot of the games we’ve hosted over the past few years. Now with Covid, it is hard to get everybody to come and watch games, and we can only have limited seats. I am hoping that moving forward, we can develop a culture in which students want to come and support their friends, want to support their school, and want to project an image that “We are TASIS, and we have a lot of pride in our school.” I think sports are a great way to bring the community together. And I am hoping that the Athletic Program can be a key part of building that school spirit as we all start to recover from a difficult couple of years.
How does your personality affect your career?
I always considered myself a jack of all trades and a “go get it” kind of guy. And I think this has definitely helped me become who I am. I think the Athletic Director job is a great fit for me because I love doing travel management for the varsity teams and getting students involved in sports. After all, there is a lot of research showing how much physical exercise not only helps being healthy physically but also mentally and emotionally too. I am also pretty outgoing, and having that connection both with employees and students has a huge impact on developing the athletic program. Overall, I would say that it’s a combination of personality and skills that makes me a good fit for my role.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
There are many things I love about working at TASIS, but my favorite is the community. As you know, I was a student here, so many of the friends I made at TASIS are still my closest friends. I have not seen some of them in 20 years, but it is nice that we share a very special bond because TASIS is a unique place where we are in an English-speaking bubble within Switzerland. I feel like this helps us build a stronger sense of community, and I’d like to develop that further through the Athletic Department.
My fondness for this community was definitely a big reason why I wanted to come back to work at TASIS. Now on the employee side, I find the TASIS community to be a very supportive group of people. Whether it is the students or teachers you work with, you can always rely on each other. I personally see myself here for the rest of my life!