Beach Volleyball Fathers

The Wonderfully Chaotic Life of a Beach Volleyball Playing Father

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Three weeks. That’s what the doctor told Jake and Jane Gibb in August of 2011. There was no way Jane was going to into labor within, at minimum, three weeks.

So Jake’s cleared to compete in The Netherlands?

Cleared.

No chance the kid’s coming early?

No chance.

It’s funny, those little tricks God plays sometimes in life. Think you have everything planned out? Think again.

While Jake was competing in The Hague with Sean Rosenthal, making a run at the 2012 London Olympics, Jane’s water broke at midnight. Jake stayed up all night. At the time, of course, there was no FaceTime, so to Skype in required a computer-to-computer effort. While Jane was in the hospital the next day, Jake played two matches and then went right back to Jane. At 4 p.m. Netherlands’ time, Jane gave birth to Crosby Gibb.

Another night staying up with Jane and their newborn.

Another day playing on no sleep.

“The stuff,” Gibb said, “you have to do as a traveling athlete.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way, Gibb. There is nothing easy about parenthood, and there is especially nothing easy about fatherhood when your job requires you to sometimes travel to 10, 11, 12 countries in a single spring and summer. Not that Gibb expected to being doing this for that long. He thought London was it.

And then life did that funny little thing it does: Plans?

Think again.

Another full Olympic cycle passed. Rio of 2016. Jake played with Casey Patterson. Another child was born, this time a daughter, Cora. More countries. More travel. More of this unexpected life the Gibbs never fully intended on living, but what a fantastic life it has ended up being.

“Wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Gibb said.

So he’s set a rule: Two weeks. That’s the most he allows to be gone from his family.

“I feel like two weeks is kind of my ceiling,” he said. “It’s an interesting thing, having to be gone from the family.”

There is, however, a flip side to that coin: long off-seasons. While Gibb is sometimes gone for lengthy periods during season, after the AVP year comes to an end and the FIVB begins slowing down? He gets to go to Crosby’s singalong at school. He gets to pick him up and play wall-ball.

“I get to do all of the things, as opposed to a 9-5 job, where you see your kids for an hour before they sleep at night,” he said. “Yesterday I played wall ball with my son after school. I get to do cool things like that. The trade-off is a no-brainer.”

And that, more than anything, is the unanimous mindset of fathers in beach volleyball: The trade-off is a no-brainer.

“You wake up at 6,” Stafford Slick, a father of two, said at a recent practice, “and you’re hustling.”

And sometimes you’re hustling because your children demand it. Literally. Billy Allen’s son, Ketch, who is becoming nearly as popular and well-known as his father on the AVP Tour, has been seen holding resistance bands as dad tries to run sprints. He’s been beating hard-driven balls at his dad, because somebody has to get him ready for World Championships.

Yes, Ketch is a regular attendee at Billy and Janelle Allen’s practices. Keeps the atmosphere light. They tried to teach him to cheer, but at the moment “it comes out as, ‘Go Dadda, kick your butt!’” Billy said. “But I love hearing it.”

It’s a complicated wrinkle, having a 2-year-old as your biggest fan.

“A solo plane flight to China can seem quicker than one to Chicago with a 2-year-old,” Allen said. “But we like having him with us, and it’s pretty cool he’s gotten to travel as much as he has.”

Each year, it seems, the traveling nucleus of AVP children seems to grow. This season, young Brody Bomgren can be seen stumbling around the sand. He was in Huntington Beach earlier this season, watching his father, Tim. And while Tim had already established a firm reputation as one of the all-around great guys on Tour, adding a child to the mix shifted his perspective on the game, somehow making the humblest guy on tour even humbler.  

“To finish a match and walk over to the sidelines and see your 2-year-old boy running up in the sand to give you a high five or a hug, it’s 100 percent changed everything,” Bomgren said. “It changes how you react to some calls. It changes how you approach yourself out there. It’s so awesome to see him kind of take that all in and then see him want to play volleyball all the time. That’s one of the big takeaways.

“You want to help your boy grow up and be a good individual but also have fun at the same time. It’s been such a game changer. Before it was all about ‘Let’s go compete, let’s do this.’ Now it’s ‘Let’s set a good example for this kid and let’s have some fun for him and see how he grows up and hopefully does the same thing.’ It’s been a total change of pace with my mindset. It’s really, really awesome.”

There is, however, one downside. Gibb couldn’t help but laugh when thinking about the precipitous letdown his children will one day face when they realize that work, for most people, involves more than hitting a ball around on a beach.

“We always joke ‘What are we teaching our kids?’ because I tell them I’m going to work, and then they come down to the beach and they’ll see me there, so they’ve attached work to me being at the beach, playing volleyball,” he said. “It’s going to be an eternally scarring moment for them when they see what work actually is.”

Maybe, though, just maybe, the beach could be their job. At least in some capacity. Keep up with Bomgren on social media, and you’ll see that young Brody is getting as many reps as dad.

“I came home from work the other day and he doesn’t even say hi, he just says ‘Daddy, play volleyball with me?’” Bomgren said. “I’m like ‘Yeah let me get outta my work clothes. Let’s do it bud.’ I’m loving it.”

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