The Passion of Coach Keife

October 7, 2011
by Justin

Any athlete will tell you that long after their final whistle, their passion for their sport never really dies. Some live vicariously through their children; some join an adult league to keep their competitive fire lit. Chris Keife’s second chapter in his first love of volleyball, has brought him to coaching; ironically, coaching was never in his plans.

“I have no influences in my family that made me want to coach. Truthfully, I had no idea I wanted to coach until I actually started,” explains Keife.

Coach Keife is the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Azusa Pacific University, a NAIA Christian college in Azusa, California. He has over 15 years of coaching experience, from junior high to the PAC 12. Keife’s coaching fire was lit in of all places, his high school alma mater, Whittier Christian. That’s where he first met Coach Dave Herron.

“Coach Herron is the person that taught me fundamentals and how I approach the game with my players,” says Keife.

Keife’s approach to his athletes is different from most college coaches.

“I want a well-rounded athlete,” says Coach Keife. “Most college coaches want you to focus solely on your sport, yet they want you to maintain your passion for it.” Passion dictates Keife’s whole coaching style. “Once your passion is gone, you’ll fall out of love with anything,” says Keife.

Keife can empathize with losing love for a sport. He played volleyball at Biola University, a Southern California Christian college, before he had a change of heart and transferred to CSU Fullerton. After he graduated from Fullerton, he furthered his education at Azusa Pacific. He had no idea Azusa or coaching would end up being  the location of his full time profession.

“Volleyball was an afterthought at that point,” says Keife. “I just wanted to move forward with my life.”

As he tried to divorce his first love, the game came calling him back. He volunteered with a junior high school before he became a full time assistant at the place he first developed his passion. Coach Herron needed an assistant, and he reluctantly took on the responsibility.

“I knew about the game but coaching was a new challenge,” says Keife. “For the first time, I was on the outside looking in.”

The coaching perspective is a different experience for all athletes to encounter. Not every former athlete can communicate what he or she wants their players to execute.

“The toughest thing was not having control over the game’s outcome, being that I’m so hands-on,” explains Keife. “I eventually found satisfaction in coaching up my athletes and getting them to execute the game plan.”

He spent five years at his old high school before he took on a volunteer coaching position at the University of Southern California. He found his first taste of coaching success in his second year, when his Lady Trojans won the 2002 National Championship.

He had officially caught the fever once more and he took his rejuvenated passion to Hope International University in Fullerton, California. This time he went from volunteer to head coach and coincidently, he took Hope International’s volleyball team from obscurity, to its first ever playoff appearance. Hope International had never seen a turnaround like this in the history of their entire athletic program. Keife coached them into their first winning campaign in school history, and he coached the first team in HIU’s history to ever make it to the playoffs.

It wasn’t long before the job offers started coming. He settled on his grad school, alma mater, Azusa, in 2004. It was there that he finally found his home.

“Before I started coaching I was at a fork in the road, wondering what direction I should head in,” says Keife. “Azusa is one of the few places I’ve been in my life that feels like home.”

Azusa has been a success since he stepped onto campus. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in one of the nation’s hotbeds of volleyball talent.

“Southern California is the best place for volleyball talent to develop,” explains Keife. “The weather is great enough to play outside year-around, and the AAU system has athletes playing volleyball everyday from the age of 10.”

His experience in coaching at every level helped him land some of his former athletes, who probably wouldn’t even consider a NAIA institution. His current team is top heavy, with seven seniors who are the team’s lifeblood. He finds it hard designating his favorite player, but he will acknowledge his biggest star.

“My team is filled with senior leadership, but when the team needs anything, I can count on Amy [Alkazin],” says Keife.

Amy Alkazin is a senior, two-time All American, who is the Lady Cougars most decorated player. Alkazin, like most of her teammates, is from Southern California. This Carlsbad native is a Business Administration major, and is one of the nation’s best Middle Blockers.

“Amy has all the intangibles,” says Keife, “but what I love most about her game is how she gets everyone back on the same page; she helps us all keep our focus.”

The Lady Cougars’ current focus is a national championship. They’re currently ranked 9th in the nation and look to win their conference title, before they move into the NAIA tourney.

Any athlete wanting to come to Azusa should continue to expect high-level, competitive volleyball. They have defeated teams from almost every division of major college volleyball. Though they may not have a big recruiting budget, Keife recruits quite well. He has standards that keeps his process consistent.

“When I receive a highlight tape I want to see all of the fundamentals in your game,” says Keife. “Most importantly I want to see how you lead your team and how you react to adversity.”

He advises all high school athletes who want to play at the next level to use YouTube to generate their own national spotlight.

“If you do the legwork,” explains Keife, “…you’ll get recruited.”

Keife relies on his connections he’s made over time, to keep his team booming with talent. He depends on his passion and his holistic coaching style to shape his athletes. Volleyball has taken him all over the United States, but Coach Keife is so much more than an ex-athlete and coach. He is, most importantly, a husband and father. Coach Keife has his passion back and he, like his team, is experienced and balanced. It’s funny how everything goes hand in hand; his life is all together just like his team is, when they huddle after every point.

 

 

Yorick Hempstead is an ex-college athlete who is a sports blogger for Scoutme.com. He is always talking sports on twitter @HempsteadHuddle.

 

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