Each weekday morning, before the first light has painted the Arizona horizon, Desert Ridge High School head swim coach Brock Harr gets out of bed, jumps in his car, and makes the 25-mile drive from his home in Mesa to his full-time job as a senior computer analyst at the Salt River Project.
A few hours after Harr has departed the household, his daughter, Karina, arises and drives herself to Desert Ridge High School. She typically arrives before 8:30 in the morning to begin her school day.
Once it’s over, she drives herself and her brother to swim practice. It’s there that she sees her dad for the first time all day. But he isn’t known as “dad” while there, he’s known as “coach.”
“It was a little weird and hard to get used to,” Karina said. “Since it’s his third year coaching, I definitely have gotten used to it, and I see him on the deck as my coach, not my dad.”
Harr stands on the pool deck, coaching his daughter and the rest of the Desert Ridge swim & dive team at the Skyline Aquatic Center. The team is one of the best in the state and is coming off of a seventh-place finish at last year’s state championships.
But, as Harr mentions, where this team was when he took over as coach in 2017 is what makes his recent success with the team incredible.
When Harr’s daughter began swimming at the high school level during her freshman year in 2016, Harr was just another parent in the stands. He remembers watching Desert Ridge at a particular meet in Queen Creek, where several swimmers were disqualified because they were not wearing team-coordinated caps or suits.
Coming from a background of swimming since he was five years old in New Hampshire, Harr was appalled at the lack of structure he saw throughout high school swimming in Arizona. He wanted to make sure his daughter had the same sense of stability within her high school team that he had in his own high school days.
So when Desert Ridge’s previous coach stepped down in 2017, Harr was one of the first to express interest in the vacant position to athletic director Jim Lavin.
“I reached out to Jim Lavin and told him, ‘hey, I can do this,’” Harr said. “I told Jim flat out, the way to change the team is to change the culture.”
Not long after, he was hired.
Harr adopted his style of coaching from the influence of his high school coach, Bill Lederhouse, who was an intense, detailed, no-nonsense type of coach.
Harr emphasized just how important details are to him as a coach, and his authoritarian style is something he accredits to the success of his team.
“I’m the disciplinarian, I’m the football coach as the swim coach,” Harr said.
Luke Walker, one of Harr’s swimmers, had a reputation around club swim as a talented swimmer who did not put forth a lot of effort into developing his abilities, according to Harr. Under Harr’s guidance, however, Walker has become one of the best backstrokers in the state, finishing top-3 in the 100-yard backstroke at last year’s state championship.
“Brock is a very encouraging coach,” Walker said. “He always praises me after good swims and practices. He expects a lot from you but will praise you if you do well.”
As a coach, one of Harr’s first orders of business was to consolidate his team into one unit. Many times, in high school swimming, the best swimmers view high school as their second priority to their club teams. Harr instituted a rule that no person would swim on the team if they didn’t show up to practice.
Harr’s assistant coach, Dixie Dixon, also has a daughter and a son on the team. She said Harr’s passion is one of the key reasons the team has found such success recently.
“Brock pours his heart into every practice and works these kids hard and has very high expectations for them,” Dixon said.
While on the pool deck, Harr is akin to Mr. Hyde, a fictional character from Robert Louis Stenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At home, however, he is associated more as Dr. Jekyll, according to Karina.
While their relationship as father and daughter is unconventional, at home Harr describes his family as the stereotypical nuclear American family that sits down as one unit to discuss the day.
“That is the most important time for us,” Harr said. “Having that 45 minutes to check-in is everything.”
Juggling being a father, having a full-time job and a high school coaching position is an everyday challenge. But as evidenced by his 4 a.m. wakeup call, dedication is what has allowed him to succeed at all three.