By 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?
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.