By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Entering her 19th season as Auburn's soccer coach, Karen Hoppa has instructed hundreds of student-athletes in the game's finer points.
But when it came time for her daughter, Bailey, to give the sport a try, a different Coach Hoppa did the teaching.
"It wasn't even me who taught her how to kick," Hoppa says. "It was my husband at one of our games. She was about 10 months old, and I'm at the spring game. It was halftime and I was walking away and I see him with this little toddler who just learned to walk, and he's showing her how to kick the game ball out on the field."
Bailey, a kindergartener who enjoys dance and is contemplating gymnastics, celebrated her sixth birthday this week. Like many children of coaches, the sport she's grown up around comes quite naturally.
"She's been around it since she was walking," Hoppa says. "She's been kicking, and she's really skilled. She's just a kid right now wanting to do a little bit of everything. If she decides to do soccer, she'll be really good because the ball is so comfortable at her feet."
Hired in 1999 after six seasons coaching at her alma mater, Central Florida, Karen married her husband, Scott, after the 2002 season, her fourth at Auburn. After nearly a decade of marriage, the Hoppas adopted their daughter.
"Having Bailey, it changes your outlook a ton," she says. "No matter how bad a loss is to me, she comes running across the field smiling and screaming, 'Mommy.' It really puts it into perspective."
'Harder than I thought it would be'
Not only did becoming a parent change Hoppa's perspective, it also altered her schedule.
"It's made me a better coach because I've had to manage my time even better and prioritize things better," she says. "In season, it's hard because the job is seven days a week. I just really prioritize when I go home, from 6 or so when I get home until 8 when she goes to bed, it's family time."
Hoppa, who led the Tigers to Auburn's first NCAA Tournament quarterfinals appearance in 2016, says she struggles to find enough hours to excel in her responsibilities as a coach and a mom.
"The time is the toughest thing. You give everything you have to the team, then everything you have at home," she says. "It's just like everything, there are positives and negatives."
The positives for Bailey include building relationships with the young women her mom coaches.
"She has 20 or so role models who are unbelievable," Hoppa says. "She gets that experience and she gets the experience of seeing me be in this type of position where you have to be a strong leader. I think that's really good for her, but it is tough with the time and trying to balance both. It's really a challenge, harder than I thought it would be."
Bailey will need to choose a new preferred player, now that the team's Unsung Hero Award winner has graduated.
"Two years ago, she declared Brooke Ramsier to be her favorite player," Hoppa says. "I don't even know why. She was 4. I didn't think she knew anybody's name. I was talking about one of our games to my husband. I said something about Brooke, probably getting an assist or something, and she screams out, 'Brooke! That's my favorite player!'
"I've told Brooke and her parents, 'If Bailey turns out to be half the kid Brooke Ramsier is, I would have deemed myself a successful parent.' I think that's really neat."
'You can do both'
Hoppa also believes that Bailey, as an only child, benefits from having her mom's attention focused on others in addition to her daughter.
"Obviously, she's my child and super important, and for her to see me care about these girls, I think it's really good for her and keeps her balanced," Hoppa says. "I think that's really good that they are surrogate sisters to her."
By her example and affirmation, Hoppa encourages young women who want to coach collegiately and raise children.
"My advice is you can do both, you just have to prioritize and you have to know you can do both. You have to really work hard at being present with your team when you're with them and present with your child and your family when you're with them."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer