By Susan Payne
Playing volleyball in a West Hollywood gym is where Alfred Reft became comfortable with his sexuality, alongside a group of gay men.
Reft, a volleyball lifer, saw his new volleyball partners living free and open lives and they taught him how to be comfortable in his own skin. Over the years, he’s come out to hundreds of teammates and coaches, Outsports reported.
In his career, Reft was a two-time All-American at the University of Hawaii and played seven professional seasons overseas, with over 12 years of U.S. national team experience as both a coach and a player.
He returns to the West Hollywood gyms, where his sexuality was realized, as the new women’s volleyball coach at UCLA.
“When I say this place holds a special spot in my heart, it’s those times coming to LA and developing friendships here at such a young age, and seeing what was possible for me as an openly gay male,” Reft told Outsports. “That was transformative for me. It’s pretty surreal that I’m here now.”
Reft has loved volleyball since he was a kid, going to UCLA games and seeing Asian players succeed on the court, which inspired him to pursue his own volleyball career.
“I remember at the time going, ‘That person looks like me,’” Reft told Outsports. “It allowed me space to dream and set goals and visions that felt a lot more realistic.”
Reft came out in high school but told Outsports he felt like he had to protect himself to fit in at UC Santa Barbara. He eventually transferred to Hawaii and decided to redefine himself.
“I think the biggest thing for anyone is to feel seen, and to feel heard for who you are. When I was able to be out with teammates at the University of Hawaii, my game started to soar,” he told Outsports. “I felt seen, I felt supported, and was able to play a lot freer. I think that’s no coincidence.”
His coaching style mirrors that of which he experienced at Hawaii. As an assistant at the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois, he accumulated 68-32 conference record at both stints, and reached the Final Four with the Fighting Illini in 2018, according to Outsports.
Last season, he coached the University of Santa Diego to its first Final Four appearance in history, according to Outsports. Reft said he priorities his players’ personal development along with winning.
“The way I coach these players is putting an emphasis that, this is a space where you are enough,” he said. “We want to celebrate those unique traits.”
Reft celebrates his life, and his husband, Ryan, outwardly.
“Our love is just real,” said Reft. “ I couldn’t be more proud of the love we share, and the impact we make with each other, but also with the ripples in the community we create around us. He is the absolute pride and joy in my life.”
Reft’s coming out life started in those West Hollywood gyms, and now he knows the difference representation can make.
“It is a big platform to stand on, and I really take it seriously to make sure that hopefully any other young queer person can think larger, because of what they see,” he told Outsports. “It pulls at my heartstrings for sure.”