Kate Barber: A Legacy of Leadership
Orginal Post Date: February 19, 2009
Featured in Spring 2009 edition of Field Hockey News
By Jeffrey Gamza
USA Field Hockey Women's National Team captain Kate Barber retired from international hockey competition in February. Known throughout the international field hockey community as "Tiki", Barber spent eleven years as a member of the Women's National Team and recently captained the U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Field Hockey at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The 32-year-old Barber boasts one of the most illustrious careers in the history of USA Field Hockey. She appeared in over 200 international competitions, earning three Pan American Games silver medals and playing on the U.S. World Cup teams in 1998, 2002 and 2006. She was honored with the USA Field Hockey Female Athlete of the Year five times.
As the Women's National Team captain, Barber led the National Team through a difficult phase from an uncertain future in 2000 to the Olympic stage in 2008. She provided hope and courage for a program fighting through a tumultuous and sometimes frustrating evolution. She helped to elevate the potential of U.S. field hockey far beyond expectations.
"Kate Barber is the greatest leader of a group of athletes that I have come in contact with in our sport," said Lee Bodimeade, Head Coach of the Women's National Team, "from the way she trains, both on the pitch and on the track, to the way that she selflessly performs on the field. Her competitiveness is her greatest quality, but that never gets in the way of the respect she gives to the sport she loves. The way that her teammates embraced her and enjoyed her approach means that her passion will be present with the USA team for a long time."
"Tiki is one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life," said National Team midfielder and teammate Kelly Doton. "Her selflessness and passion carry over off the field, as well as on."
"Tiki is a role model, a captain, a teammate, a friend and a granny. What she demonstrated and taught us will carry on with the team forever," said National Team striker and teammate Dina Rizzo.
"Tiki is the standard for consistent excellence," said Steve Jennings, assistant coach for the Women's National Team and head coach at American University. "Every day, she gave her best whether it was in the weight room, on the track or on the field."
"The Kate Barber story is one of those truly great sports stories," said Bodimeade. "If it had been any other sport, it would have been a movie by now."
Kate Barber began playing field hockey at age 12, in a hockey-by-night summer camp in the 7th grade. By the early 90s, she had competed in the three straight AAU Junior Olympic Games.
She played collegiately at the University of North Carolina under head coach Karen Shelton. Between 1994 and 1997, she earned All-America honors three times. As a freshman in 1994, she was voted ACC Rookie of the Year. In 1995, she was named Conference Player of the Year. She also earned All-ACC, All-ACC Tournament and All-NCAA Tournament honors in 1996 and 1997. In her senior year, she was a finalist for the Honda Award.
"She's a blue-collar, hard-working player," said Shelton, "and probably the softest hands I've ever seen. She was an outstanding leader at UNC."
By the end of her college career, Barber was a three-time National Champion. She started all 92 games of her Tar Heels career.
"When I think back on Kate Barber's career, I think of a player who has led by example and a player who has been tough as nails," said Shelton. "She has been an inspiration to her teammates and a fabulous representative of our sport, of the University of North Carolina and of our country."
It was at North Carolina where Barber picked up her handle "Tiki." A college football running back was tearing through the ACC at the University of Virginia: Tiki Barber. Teammates nicknamed Kate "Tiki", and the name stuck.
Barber joined USA Field Hockey as a member of the Under-18 team in 1994. By the next year, she graduated to the Under-21 team, and in 1998, Barber made her international debut with the senior team, scoring two goals in a 3-3 draw with New Zealand.
The Women's National Team fell one spot short of qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2000. The USA finished sixth in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Milton Keyes, England. The top five finishers continued on to Sydney. But Kate Barber persisted; she held on to her dream of being an Olympian and fought through the disappointment, helping to lead the team to the 2002 Women's World Cup and the 2003 Pan American Games.
Epitomizing the toughness and resolve of the Olympic spirit, Barber overcame a broken jaw just prior to the team's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2004 to return to the lineup and lead her team to the brink of the Olympic Games. Barber scored a pair of goals in the tournament to help the U.S. to victories over Spain and Russia, but her inspirational return and leadership were not enough however as the USA narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic Games by one spot in the final standings.
Following the heartbreak of missing the Olympic Games yet again, a disappointed Barber retired from competition.
A new quad brought a new coaching staff. A few months later, new Technical Director of High Performance Terry Walsh and new Head Coach Lee Bodimeade convinced Kate to return. Her leadership was a vital part of team development.
"She took the leap of faith when the whole program began its resurgence," said Walsh.
In December 2006, Kate's mother, Barbara, passed away from lung cancer. Barbara's strength and courage was a tremendous inspiration for Kate, feelings she draws upon in her work as captain. To honor her mother, Kate would write "MA" and "BB" on wristbands and wear them in competition.
"[My mother] led by example and discipline and did everything 100 percent and there is no in between, and I've tried to live by that motto and set the example of going after your dream," Barber told NBC.
"Knowing the promise she made to her mother before passing and gone through the disappointment of missing qualifications on two different occasions," said Bodimeade, "coming back and committing to the program at that time, she wasn't going to waste the opportunity; she wasn't going to regret her decision."
"I have never met someone who put so much heart and desire and dedication into something," said Rizzo. "Off the field, she overcame so many obstacles, and never for one second let them get in the way of what she was trying to achieve."
The Women's National Team continued to grow and evolve, depending on Barber for continuity and stability as younger, successful college athletes joined the program. Barber's age and experience would lead many teammates to call her "Nana" or "Gram."
"She led and the team followed," said Doton.
In 2008, after years of heart-breaking disappointments, Barber finally the ultimate step. She finally reached the pinnacle of her professional career as the National Team qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Competition is only part of the Olympic experience. Every athlete on the team was a first-time Olympian, and in an environment where it would be easy to be overwhelmed by new sights and experiences, Barber led the team with conviction and confidence.
"Even though Kate had played so many games at the international level, she was a virtual novice at the Olympics," said Walsh. "She was carrying the expectations of her teammates on her shoulders into an environment that was completely unknown to her."
"Her leadership and dedication to being successful at the Olympic Games was probably the greatest bit of leadership from an athlete I've ever been around," said Bodimeade. "It was critical. She had never been to an Olympics herself, and yet here she was, leading fifteen other athletes into the unknown. She was just a pillar all the way through. It was a fantastic way for her to end her playing career."
The team entered the Olympics ranked eleventh in the world, in a pool of only twelve teams. Pitted against some of the world's hockey powerhouses, the USA fought to a record of one win, three draws and one loss in pool play. Draws with Argentina and Japan, two of the top five teams in the world, and a victory over New Zealand were definite highlights.
"Without Tiki's example, it is impossible for me to imagine the U.S. team reaching the level we have attained," said Jennings, "and more importantly, the level we will surely reach. She is an inspiration."
Her Olympic dream finally fulfilled, Barber announced her retirement from international competition in November.
Kate Barber's most valuable contributions to U.S. field hockey go beyond wins and losses, honors and accolades. They are the intangibles of leadership: inspiration and confidence, unselfishness and determination. She passed on the drive to succeed and the will to persevere. She conveyed the sense that international success at the highest level is attainable and, most importantly, inevitable.
"Without Tiki as our captain and leader for the past four years, U.S. field hockey would not be in the place they are," said Doton. "She set the standard for the future players who will wear the red, white and blue."
"Kate carried quality, experience, respect from opponents and teammates," said Walsh. "She's able to read situations very well, not only on the field, but also off, regarding behaviors and feelings of the group."
"She always knew what was best for the team," said Doton.
"She has taught us how to compete and fight," said Rizzo. "She has taught us how to win."
Barber's nickname "Nana" not only reflects her relative age, but also a maternal instinct to shield the younger players from the disappointments she had to endure. The pain of not qualifying in 2000 and 2004 motivated her. "It's something I don't want anyone in this group to be a part of," she said. Her purpose was to "look over and protect the girls."
"Her voice of experience and the perseverance she displayed through injuries and bitter disappointments created the ultimate leader," said Jennings. "She pushed, pulled, motivated and nurtured our team over the last quad."
"I've got nothing but admiration for her," said Walsh.
"She deserves a standing ovation for what she has brought to our sport," said Shelton. "I know she'll go on to great success in the rest of her life."
Barber's legacy and wisdom continue to inspire the next generation of USA Field Hockey leaders. The Women's Under-21 National Team defeated Chile to claim the Pan Am Junior Championship in October; Katie O'Donnell, captain of the Under-21 Team, played alongside Barber on the National Team.
"I notice myself doing some things Tiki did without even realizing it," said O'Donnell. "I would give a pregame talk and I would say things, and think to myself, 'That doesn't sound like me. That sounds exactly like something Tiki would say.' I would shake my head right after and think how weird it was. She's a very mellow leader, and that's what I try to be as well. I do try to follow her examples."
While retiring from competition, Barber will continue to be involved in other areas of USA Field Hockey. She was recently named to the USAFH Board of Directors, to serve as the USOC Athlete Advisory Control. She also got engaged with her longtime boyfriend, Glenn, over the 2008 holiday season.
The Women's National Team headed to Bermuda last week for the 2009 Pan Am Cup, the first step in qualification for the World Cup in 2010. It was the first international tournament for the Women's National Team without Kate Barber since 1998.
"There will always be a part of Tiki there with us," said Rizzo.