Q&A with Naval Academy soccer coach and mom

NavyCoach1WBy Allison Eatough

The photos that line the windowsill in Carin Gabarra's U.S. Naval Academy office in Annapolis tell a story of an amazing athletic career.

There's a photo from the 1996 Olympics of Gabarra and some of her gold medal-winning teammates proudly holding up their soccer jerseys. Next to that is a photo of Gabarra and her husband, Jim, also a former soccer Olympian, posing with the Brazilian soccer legend Pelé. And finally, a black and white post-game photo of the Navy women's soccer team — a team she has coached for 21 years.

The photos reflect only a portion of Gabarra's success and accolades as a soccer player and coach. She's also a 1991 World Cup Champion and three-time Patriot League Coach of the Year.

Still, the photos closest to her desk show what Gabarra is most proud of: her children Tyler, 16, Abigail, 15, and Talia, 13.

Chesapeake Family magazine recently talked with Gabarra about soccer, coaching, family life, the state of youth sports, and how she and her husband balance it all. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Q: At what age did you start playing soccer, and what drew you to the sport?

A: I started at age 8. We had just moved to California, and it was just one of the things girls could do at that point. I loved the atmosphere and competitiveness of team sports.

Q: How do you think soccer has changed in the past 10 to 15 years, especially for women?

A: I consider myself a Title IX kid completely because when I started (in the early 1970s) there were very few opportunities, very few girls that played. There were a few high school teams, a few college programs. That expanded exponentially in that amount of a time. The sport has grown just tremendously — the sport and the opportunities.

Q: What do you enjoy most about coaching at the Naval Academy?NavyCoach2W

A: I love college coaching. It's what I've always done. But I also just love the Naval Academy and the type of players we get here, as well as the staff and the people who work here. ... One of the reasons I really love it here is the commitment, the drive and the passion, and the willingness to give back, and all the intangibles that players who come to play at the Naval Academy have. ... They come here to give back. They come here to serve their country. That's their number one goal.

Q: What is the most challenging part of the job?

A: It's different at the Naval Academy. In a lot of schools, the athletes go to play the sports. Sports are their priority. Some places they go for academics. ... But here, you come here for many reasons. You have to stay physically fit and be part of the physical mission. You have to do well academically. ... And you have to perform athletically. So, (the players) have to have an incredible balance. And it can be hard for coaches at times... Like exam week, you get these midshipmen, and they're pretty focused on their academics. You don't always get 100 percent of their focus in sports because there are so many different parts in their life here.

Q: Tell us about your family life. What's an average day like for you and your family?

A: My husband's a professional coach, so he's basically in New Jersey from March through August. (Jim Gabarra coaches Sky Blue FC, a National Women's Soccer League team.) So I'm home alone with three kids — two high-schoolers and a middle-schooler who play multiple sports. ... There are normal days. It depends on the time of the year. When it's the fall, and Jim's at home, he's with the kids and I focus on Navy and our fall season. And then in the winter, it's a little bit of down time. And then in the spring, he's gone. So, that's why I have to have a little bit better time management. Now that my son drives, it's a little bit easier. He plays for Celtic (a soccer club) in Baltimore, so I don't have to take him up there three days a week. ... (Jim) comes home a day or two a week based on where they play.

Q: What kind of organization works best for you, as a mom?

A: We have to write it down on the calendar at home ... to keep track of everything. Now that my son is driving and old enough, he can handle his own stuff. ... But you have to write it all down in one spot. You can't keep it in many different spots or you'll be in trouble.

Q: What's the key to staying organized when your husband is away?

A: I'm up before 6 (a.m.), getting the two ready and off to high school. My son drives and takes my daughter. Then I go for my run and come back and get my middle-schooler ready for school. Then, I come into work.

Q: How do you find a work-life balance?

A: Just time management. I think every parent nowadays has to do it because every kid is involved in something — music, art, sports, academics. Whatever it is, there are a lot of demands on our kids that there didn't used to be. So you have to have schedules. ... I rely on a lot of my kids' friends to get them places and carpool. ... You just have to be organized and make sure you plan ahead of time how to get everybody where they need to be.

Q: What do you like to do as a family?

A: We have a house in the Outer Banks that we rent most of the time, but we'll go down there a week in the summer and then for Thanksgiving. It's hard. ... One of us is always home for the kids and (their) sports. Sports are a big part of our family culture. Jim and I both played for the United States teams, we both played post-college for a while, and we're both in professional coaching careers. It is a big part of our life, and we have to make sure if that's what our kids want, it can be a big part of theirs as well. We make sure one of us is always there to get them to the proper places at the right time, and they show team commitment as well.

Q: What sports do your children play?

A: At this point, all three play soccer. My youngest (also) plays basketball and lacrosse. My son verbally committed to play (soccer) for N.C. State. ... He'll be a senior next year.

Q: What are the benefits of team sports?

A: I think playing team sports, you need to be able to deal with adversity. Team sports will teach you leadership ... character, integrity, how to stay motivated, focused — things that are important in your everyday life.

Q: What are your thoughts on youth sports today? Should kids specialize in a specific sport early on?

A: Kids do have a lot going on, and some specialize and some don't. I think you've just got to figure out what's right for your kids. I have two who are incredibly competitive and want to do something every day or their days aren't right. And I have one who loves it, loves to do it, but it's just fun to do. Winning isn't that important to her. If she has to miss here or there, that's fine as well. So, even within my three it's totally different. None of mine specialized until high school. I believe in multiple sports. I just think it's good for your health, ... (good to be) exposed to different things, to figure out what you're good at, what you really love. And I also really believe the injury rate in young girls is skyrocketing because of specializing. ... The seasons tend to overlap, and you're doing two sports a day. That's hard on your body. You're not really meant to be overdoing it that much.

Q: Do you have any tips for parents whose children are just starting sports?

A: You've just got to feel what's right for your kid. I really believe (the player) has to love it. You have to enjoy it. ... I still look back at the moments, the memories, the teammates — those are all the things that are most important to me. It's not just about the accolades. It's not about where I played or the level, but all the different cultures I got to see and take part in and all the time I spent with (people) I still consider my best friends. It was a part of growing up, and I think that's all very important for kids to experience — especially the travel. ... You've got to find what's right for your kid. And you have to really, really love it.