TJ Sanders’ Olympic dream began in 2007 when Volleyball Canada hosted a weekend of FIVB World League action in his hometown. He worked as a floor wiper, running around to clean up the sweat from the players. From that moment, he knew what he wanted to do. Sanders joined the senior national squad after helping Canada to an 11th place finish at the World U-21 Championship in 2011, as well as a fifth place finish at the 2013 Universiade.
As a member of the senior team, Sanders was a part of Canada’s best ever seventh place finish at the FIVB World Championships in 2014. He continued his stellar play in 2015, helping Canada to a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto as well as a gold medal at the NORCECA Continental Championship. Sanders’ increasingly consistent setting ability, a role likened to that of quarterback in football, has earned him praise from his more senior teammates. In his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, he helped Canada to a fifth-place finish, including preliminary round wins over eventual silver and bronze medal winners Italy and the United States. In 2016 he ranked third amongst all setters at the FIVB World League Group 2, which Canada won to earn the team a spot in the elite Group 1 in 2017.
While playing in Group 1, Sanders and the Canadian team had their best ever finish at the FIVB World League, winning a bronze medal in 2017. They also won bronze at the 2017 NORCECA Continental Championship. The following year, in the inaugural FIVB Nations League, Canada would finish seventh.
Sanders fractured his L5 vertebra as a child and it never properly reconnected. Though he has gone on to an outstanding volleyball career, he suffered a serious back injury going into the 2018 FIVB World Championship. He would sit out the entire 2018-19 pro season and leave his 2019-20 pro season in Poland early. After not being able to really walk for the first few months of the injury and undergoing 18 months of rehab, he was able to play one game for Canada at the NORCECA Continental Qualifier in January 2020. That was a crucial five-set win over Cuba that Canada needed to secure its second straight Olympic berth. At Tokyo 2020, Canada finished eighth after making it to the quarterfinals.
In 2021 he helped Canada to eighth-place in the FIVB Nations League, missing out on the final four playoffs despite ending the season on a five-match win streak.
Sanders turned pro in 2014 and has played in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, and Turkey. Highlights from his career overseas include being Swiss Champions in 2015 with PV Lugano, finishing second in the Turkish Championship with Arkas Spor Izmir in 2017, and winning the Polish Cup with Trefl Gdańsk in 2018.
A Little More About TJ
Getting into the Sport: Started playing volleyball at 12 after his sister had joined the Forest City club in London and he was convinced he had to do the same… Outside Interests: Technical director with the Nunavik Volleyball Program, a nonprofit sport intervention organization in northern Quebec; during his injury rehab he went to camps and clinics up north… Enjoys reading and watching other sports… Studied at the University of Manitoba, and later transferred to McMaster University… Would like to pursue a career in psychology… Odds and Ends: Older sister Sam played volleyball at Cape Breton University…
Notable International Results
Olympic Games: 2020 - 8th; 2016 - 5th
Pan American Games: 2015 - BRONZE
FISU Universiade: 2013 - 5th
FIVB World Cup: 2015 - 7th
FIVB World Championships: 2018 - 9th; 2014 - 7th
FIVB World Championship (junior): 2011 - 11th
FIVB Nations League: 2018 - 7th
FIVB World League: 2017 - BRONZE; 2016 - 13th; 2015 - 15th; 2014 - 13th
NORCECA Continental Championships: 2017 - BRONZE; 2015 - GOLD; 2013 - SILVER
NORCECA Continental Championships (junior): 2010 - SILVER