Coach balances training with teaching life-long foundations

With his first year of coaching complete, new head volleyball coach Chris Willis has found his place at Missouri Southern.

Willis, a Kirkwood native, was an assistant coach at Southwest Missouri State University from 1999 to 2003 before taking over at Southern in the fall of 2004 replacing Debbie Traywich.

After nine years of assistant coaching experience, Willis said his ultimate goal was to take over his own program.

“Missouri Southern presented a great opportunity within one of the top athletic conferences in the country,” Willis said.

“And the athletic director Sally Beard made me feel so welcome and wanted here at Southern.”

Willis said he has learned to balance coaching and teaching, but his overall experience has been great.

“I love our players,” he said.

“These are kids that have just become very special to me.”

Replacing another coach and having a young team, Willis said while he did feel a little pressure coming in, he is in the process of building a great program and the player’s ages just means he has talent for years to come.

Last season under Willis, the girls tied for sixth place in the conference and Willis said there is only more room for improvement.

“The youth on this team has learned to grasp a new system that we’ve developed and they can see down the road where it’s going to pay off, whereas a older team would tend to be more set in their ways.”

Willis said he understands it may have been hard for the team to adjust to the changes that come along with a new coach, but he has received a lot of positive feedback from the players since his arrival.

Ashley Mehrer, team captain, said she and her teammates like Willis because he is not a coach of words, but of action.

“He doesn’t just sit there and yell at you, he’ll show you what you need to do,” Mehrer said.

“He’s the kind of coach that makes you want to work hard. You want to win for him and make him happy.”

For Willis, however, victories are not his main concern.

“I believe that players walk away not remembering the wins and losses, but the experience of being part of a team,” Willis said.

“I want them to walk away from their college experience knowing how to build something greater than themselves.”

He said this advice may come be of value when the players go out into the work force and will need the leadership and teamwork skills to deal with others.

Willis’s attitude may have come from his own experience as a volleyball player.

He was a member of Athletes in Action, a team consisting of college volleyball players around the country with the same religious beliefs, which he describes as a “life changing experience.”

“I was able to combine a personal passion of mine in my religious faith along with my physical passion for volleyball,” Willis said.

According to Mehrer, the other side of Willis makes him even easier to work with.

“He gets our inside jokes, and he cracks us up,” she said.

“He’s just a really fun coach.”

Willis said every team wants to come out on the top in the end, but he wants his team to realize what it takes to be true winners.

“Wins and losses take care of themselves by creating a foundation of work ethic and an attitude of getting better everyday,” Willis said.

“That’s how I really define success day in and day out.”