In recent seasons, USC’s women’s soccer team has been one of the Trojans’ most successful programs, due in large part to head coach Keidane McAlpine and his staff.
But when McAlpine took over the program after the 2013 season, the Trojans had not posted a winning record in the previous three seasons.
“We looked at the group and we were like, ‘Man, this is one of the most talented rosters in the league,’” McAlpine said. “The question is, what’s the disconnect?”
Whatever that disconnect was, McAlpine found it and elevated USC to not only a winning record but a national championship in just three seasons. In his last four years at the helm, McAlpine’s Trojans have a record of 68 wins, 14 losses and eight draws, posting a staggering .756 winning percentage. They are now considered a national powerhouse.
Last season, the Trojans reached a ranking as high as No. 2 in the NCAA, tying their highest ranking in program history.
McAlpine’s ability to turn a program around is not unique to USC. Previous coaching stints at Birmingham-Southern and Washington State have helped McAlpine find success in Los Angeles.
When transitioning to a new school, McAlpine says he hopes to galvanize the team before tweaking anything on the field.
“One of the things that I try to do is instill a belief, a direction … those two things together,” McAlpine said. “That’s the first step, and then in doing so, trying to create discipline, attitude, technique and skill.”
McAlpine said he never says anything negative to his players — and that that’s highly intentional.
“I always felt like if you told them exactly the ‘why’ behind what you want, they’re going to work hard to give it back to you,” McAlpine said. “Correct the little things, but try to catch them doing it right and celebrate those things as loud and as much as you can because everybody loves a compliment.”
While McAlpine brings a positive approach to his coaching style, he also brings a perspective no other women’s soccer coach in the Pac-12 can: that of a Black man in the United States. McAlpine said being Black in the U.S. helps him understand the importance of the discipline and hard work necessary for success.
McAlpine said he does not feel any extra pressure being a Black women’s soccer coach at USC but that he does feel a responsibility to those that he hopes follow him.
“I do feel the weight of being the only Black coach in the Pac-12 — not necessarily for myself, but if I have success, it allows people to view the next person of color that may interview or reach out for a job an opportunity to maybe get a look that they might not have gotten before,” McAlpine said.
With the coronavirus pandemic keeping the team’s meetings over Zoom, McAlpine said he has been able to have conversations with the team about the ongoing battle for social justice in the U.S. and globally.
“During that stretch of two weeks, the world got to watch two men die on film, right?” McAlpine said, referring to the police killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks on May 25 and June 12, respectively. “And let’s take the race out of it — how does that make you feel as a human?”
McAlpine has seen his own players recently take action at USC. In response to police brutality against Black Americans in recent months, sophomore midfielder Olufolasade Adamolekun co-founded the United Black Student-Athletes Association, earning high praise from McAlpine.
“I’m super proud of her, especially as young as she is,” he said. “It’s not like she’s been on campus a long time.”
For McAlpine, being a successful coach and mentor starts with his faith, a foundation for bringing out the best in the women he coaches — on and off the field.
“We’re going to go through some things as human beings and every player is going to have some things they have to go through,” McAlpine said. “And if I can stay compassionate and come at it from a place of love, empathy and compassion, then I think we as a group will be grounded in the right things.”
McAlpine said he did not truly understand the impact he had as a coach until winning the national championship in 2016.
“I had some coaches who were at the semifinal and final games who basically came up to me [and] said ‘The only reason I’m here is because you’re here,’” McAlpine said. “That was a pretty eye-opening experience.”
Through his compassion for his players, McAlpine has fostered an environment where young women are able to find success on and off the field — all under a coach who celebrates their every win as loud as he can. Not only is Keidane McAlpine a break from the norm; he’s an example of another way to find immense success at a high level.
“If you think more about how this is going to affect the whole rather than the I, more people are gonna want to be around you,” McAlpine said. “If you have discipline, do the right things and leave things better than you found it, all of those things play into creating an environment where people learn more, they enjoy themselves more … If all those things are true, it sort of funnels itself into success.”