AAU Spotlight: Perry Cabean
left: Perry and Coach Cabean at Perry's first AAU Junior Olympic Games, the 2004 Games in Des Moines, Iowa. right: Perry and Coach Cabean at the 2015 NCAA Southeast Regional Cross Country Championship.
Parents often position themselves as coaches of their children’s teams. But very few are as qualified to do so as Perry Cabean, the assistant track and field coach at North Carolina AT&T who oversees cross country.
He has helped develop numerous All-American athletes in AAU track and field, AAU cross country, USATF track and field and USATF cross country – among the many is his son, also named Perry Cabean. Perry Cabean, the coaching version, has been training his son full-time since he was 11. Now the two are paired on the track at N.C. A&T. Perry is a senior and the captain of the Aggies cross country team, which his dad presides over.
It presents its own set of challenges,” said coach Cabean. “But we’ve been doing it so long that we are able to separate dad and coach.” Echoing his father’s sentiments, Perry said: “He always talks about when we’re on the track he’s my coach and when we’re off the track he’s my dad.”
Both men admitted to a learning curve. Coach Cabean jokingly reminisced that when Perry was in high school, Mrs. Cabean would act as a moderator to make sure track issues did not come into the house. In his collegiate career, however, the gentlemen found their own form of mediating.
“Sometimes I had trouble, like last year I had trouble trying to separate the two – whether he’s being my coach or my dad,” said Perry. “Sometimes at practice, if I was having a bad day or something, I might need my dad at practice but he has to be my coach at practice. But I’m kind of used to it now.”
Keeping personal conversations away from the track, and vice versa, has been essential in their relationship. Coach Cabean noted the two have had some times on the track, but once they leave and the stadium is off in a distance, their relationship returns to normal.
“It’s a father son thing so they clash sometimes of course like anyone would with their parents. Especially if your parent is your coach and you feel like you’re right, and they try and tell you otherwise,” said sophomore runner Imani Coleman. “You can’t get mad like you want to because it’s your dad at the end of the day. It’s a good thing and a bad thing because you know that it’s a loving relationship but you’re also trying to push it and get things done.”
For the Cabeans, the separation between personal and sport is especially important because coach Cabean has an aggressive coaching style, and his son tends to get most of the brunt in practice.
“I’m harder on him. Everybody knows it,” said coach Cabean.
Perry agreed: “I feel like he is harder on me. It gets annoying sometimes but I know he is harder on me because he has more expectations from me (than the rest of the team) – more expectations for me to be an example (to the rest of the team). He tells me that I’m a representative of the coaches of what to do and what not to do on and off the track because I’m his son basically.”
While both father and son recalled a couple disputes on the track, they assured that the respect boundaries are never crossed and the teammates actually get a chuckle out of it. “I think the best thing that we’ve been able to do is when things get tough, we just have to stop and laugh about it because it’s never perfect.” said coach Cabean.
As for the home front, coaching does not impede on family time. Coach Cabean made it very clear that Perry does not need a year round trainer and is very good at maintaining his own dieting and exercising habits during off time. Instead, coach Cabean insists that track is discussed solely in a positive light during family time.
“I’ve been around them all my life almost, ever since I started track,” said sophomore Steven Stowe. “On the track it’s pure business. He treats him like he treats all of us. Off the track I really don’t even see them talking about track honestly. I actually see the separation in him being coach to a track athlete and him being his father. I see it personally. I’ve been with him (coach Cabean) so long that he pushes me the same way he pushes him (Perry).”
This is the second and final year that coach Cabean will be training Perry at N.C. AT&T, and both men are appreciative of the experience. Although Perry started off at Western Carolina, he came to N.C. AT&T specifically to be with his father.
“When I heard he got the job here, I wanted to transfer,” said Perry. “He came down one weekend and we talked; I told him I wanted to transfer, and he got me out of the school. From there we got even closer. We were close when I was in high school but we got even closer now.”
Very appreciative of their close relationship, coach Cabean also expressed an appreciation for their unique bond, calling it a blessing to be around his son as he goes through the most important part of his life.
“I know that’s a rare treat for any father to be able to spend this particular time with your son,” said Cabean.