Katarina “Kat” Tarr’s love of coaching is simple: “I feel best when I’m here; I feel best when I’m giving back to the players,” she says.

Coaching came naturally to Tarr, who has built a life out of soccer. But not everything has been simple, including surprises on and off the pitch that might crush others. Not Tarr, who possesses a phoenix-like ability to ascend adversity. She always seems to find a way to rise again.


As a toddler, she learned to play soccer alongside her younger brother, Connor. Kat was the only girl on the team.

The Tarr family moved to Vancouver in the middle of her sixth-grade year, and Tarr attended Alki Middle School and Fort Vancouver and Columbia River high schools. When she wasn’t commanding River’s offense or engaged in other school activities, Tarr played for the Tacoma Royals, a club team, and commuted north four days per week. She also spent time on and captained an Olympic Development Program team, playing with other elite youth players from around the country.

Jois Brownstein, teacher, Columbia River

Learn more about teacher Jois Brownstein.

Along the way, teachers such as Jois Brownstein helped keep her on course. And Tarr loved the River culture, where accomplishments were social currency. “I never felt pressure to have the perfect hair or outfit,” she says. “It was almost like if you did, it was strange.”

From offense to defense

When it came time for Tarr to consider colleges, she selected the University of Missouri. A five-year full-ride scholarship sweetened the deal for the 2005 River grad.

At UM, she was placed in a new role as a center defender. “Center defender is the one who holds down the show, communicates,” explains Tarr. “It was the time I really started to fall in love with defense.”

Tarr led the team school records in fewest goals allowed and most shutouts in a season. She also was seventh all time in matches played and ninth in matches started for the Tigers. In her senior year, the UM women’s soccer team captured its first Big 12 tournament championship, and she nabbed a spot on the Big 12 All-Tournament Team.

The Chicago Red Stars drafted Tarr before she graduated. She spent four months training with the team and later was picked up by the then– New York Buffalo Flash.

But finishing her bachelor’s degree remained a priority, so Tarr returned to Missouri. She also became a student coach on her former team. “That was the first time I felt a wholeness inside of me,” she remembers. The team continued to win, capturing a Big 12 league championship.

Far from home

After Tarr’s 2009 college graduation, she was signed by Tennis Borussia Berlin, a German football club. Despite speaking only English, she hopped on a plane and was greeted in Germany by a club-appointed interpreter named Fabian Wöpke. Though she picked up the language quickly, some things required no translation. The pair began dating and eventually married.

After 10 matches as center back for the Berlin club, Tarr signed with SGS Essen, a well-regarded club in the main women’s league.

Knee injuries began to complicate her playing, requiring surgeries and injections. But Tarr powered through, landing three goals in her first season and becoming co-captain during her three seasons.

When she found out she was pregnant, the couple made a choice. “I wanted to go back to the community that I love,” says Tarr. After their son, Elias, was born in August 2013, the family moved to Vancouver.

Living a legacy

Just months after giving birth, Tarr tried out for the Portland Thorns. She not only made the team, but also earned her way onto the Thorn’s 2014 starting roster. Then a match versus the Boston Breakers handed Tarr a loss: a torn meniscus in her left knee. She underwent her sixth surgery, hoping to return to the team in 2015.

But she was given a choice: retire or ultimately lose the mobility needed to play with her child. Tarr chose the former.

The end of her playing career was the beginning of her professional coaching career, however. Tarr landed positions with the Washington Timbers Junior Academy and Clark College women’s soccer team. The Penguins’ coaching staff was set to become a family affair with the addition of her brother Connor on the goalkeeper staff when he was killed in a car accident days before Christmas 2014.

Thus began a dark period. Says Tarr, “You have all these plans in life … and it was all taken from me.”

Coaching was a way to heal—and thrive.

“As a college coach, Kat approaches her job in a very competitive manner. I’m sure Kat sees some of herself in our athletes at Clark, and she is very good at getting them to play at a high level, both technically and physically,” says Sean Janson, Clark College women’s soccer head coach and Washington Timbers executive director. “As the Junior Academy director for the Washington Timbers, Kat is very uplifting and fun. She creates a great environment for her players to learn.”

As Tarr pursues additional coaching opportunities, it’s clear that her coaching is a gift: for her and her family, for the community and also for Connor.

Says Tarr, “This is how I can live a legacy for my brother. This is how I can take my playing career and give it back.”

This and other stories originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.