All in the family

Central dads and daughters share special relationships as coaches and athletes

The first year junior Tessa Barber swam at Hinsdale Central High School, she wasn't sure how to address her coach. After all, he was her dad.

"My freshman year, I used to avoid calling anything," she said. "I used to raise my hand in the pool my freshmen year. We call him 'Pop' at home, so I just started calling him that at practice."

Other than that glitch, Tessa and her sister, Vija, generally appreciate the opportunity to have their dad, Bob, at practice and their coach at home.

"When I came in as a freshman (earlier this year), I was comfortable because I knew what was going to happen," Vija said.

Tessa said knowing her coach so well eliminated a level of worry she might otherwise have had.

"Worst-case scenario, I could always ask my dad. I was never really scared of my coach. It was an advantage," Tessa said.

Although both girls swam for years before high school, Bob said he was intentional about not getting involved before they arrived at Central.

"I'm thankful and really grateful that I waited until they were under my leadership," he said. "There are things I finally provided input for that may or may not work, but at least now I can have a voice and I think they respect me for that."

Cross country runner Catie McCabe had a different experience with her sport. She moved from having her mom, Sarah, coach her at Westview Hills Middle School to having her dad, Mark, coach her at Central.

"Since I started running, I've just been coached by my parents through all those years," she said.

She agreed with Tessa and Vija that it's easier to talk to a coach who is also your dad and appreciates ready access to his expertise.

"It's just nice to have someone who's knowledgeable about my sport who I can ask questions to whenever I need," Catie said.

Both families agree there is a need to set boundaries.

"You have to find a line when you're going to stop talking about running as you get into the house and vice versa, like not talking about stuff at home at practice," Catie said, "Otherwise it would get to be more of a confusing relationship than it needs to be."

Mark said his goal is to separate the roles of parent and coach as much as possible.

"You're not going to do that 100 percent," he admitted.

Tess and Vija said their dad won't discuss their performance unless one of them brings it up.

"If we want to talk about it, he'll turn on coaching mode," Vija said. "If we don't want to, he won't talk about it."

With so much time spent at practice and at competitions, the dads and daughters are able to spend much more time together than they would otherwise enjoy.

"When I took the job at Hinsdale, one of the main reasons we moved to the community was so our kids could go to Central and I could be their coach," Mark said. "My wife knows me very well. She knows I'm 100 percent all in on my job and on my coaching.

"This way, we could combine things," he added. "It's a blessing to be my daughter's coach. I get to see her for three hours a day in addition to any time at home. It's worked out really well."

Vija said she didn't see her dad all that often before she arrived at Central.

"I would be busy with club swimming and he would be here and it would just overlap," she said. "I see him a lot more now that I swim with him."

Bob said the time he spent driving Tessa to and from practice her freshman year gave them an opportunity to connect.

"That was probably the closest year that we had available," he said. "I am not grabbing the same thing from my two younger daughters because they will always have an older sister to drive them around."

His youngest, Lilia, will be at Central in two years.

"She's faster than both of us," Tessa said with a laugh.

Mark also had the chance to coach more than one child. His older daughter, Grace, graduated in 2018. Catie said she appreciated the opportunity to learn from her older sister as she went through the program.

"It was cool to see her go through that whole experience, and now I'm basically going through the same thing," Catie said.

The situation is not without its challenges. Mark said he works hard - maybe too hard - trying not to show preference to his girls.

"If I'm going to err, I don't want to err in terms of favoritism," he said. "I want to be tougher on them."

Bob said his job as coach really prevents him from enjoying the role of parent during meets.

"I don't get to sit in the stands and just watch my kid," he said. "I'm watching everyone and trying to make sure we're putting on a good show."

But neither he nor Mark would trade the arrangement.

"Catie makes it so enjoyable to be both a parent and a coach at the same time. I'm just proud of her for what she's done and will do in the future, but even more importantly for who she is," Mark said.

"For me, it's going to be a lifelong memory of watching them have fun together," Bob said. "So many times I've seen them be sisters, which can be combative at times and supportive at times. In this environment, they tend to be more supportive and it's been fun to watch.

"It's 'bring your kid to work' every day."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean