A Dad on the Ball
Claudio Reyna is considered by many to be one of the greatest soccer players the United States has ever produced. The captain of the U.S. Soccer team for two World Cups (in 2002 and 2006), he was just the third American ever appointed to the World Cup all-tournament team. He played years of professional soccer in Europe and had a brief stint at the New York Red Bulls, before retiring in 2008.
So, the guy knows how to kick a ball. But there's something else he's especially good at: raising children, both on and off the field. First, there are his own four kids, ranging in ages from 11 to 1, and then there's his Claudio Reyna Foundation, which mentors and trains underprivileged kids across the country.
"There's so much pride in being a parent," Reyna says during a phone interview. "More than anything, I like being a good role model and leading by example." Reyna adds that he loves every day that he gets to see his own children grow. "And it's great being their guide, letting them find things on their own rather than controlling them. There's nothing better than being with them."
Reyna, who lives outside of the city, calls himself a "very active" dad. He picks his kids up at school, and is coaching the older ones at soccer. Having a dad who's a soccer star gives the kids high hopes, but Reyna says he consistently reinforces the importance of "patience and understanding that you have to do things correctly every day to be successful. It doesn't happen overnight. "
"Good old hard work will never die and I learned that from my dad," says Reyna of his father who was a laborer who grew up poor in Argentina. "He worked very hard. All of the humble and hard work are traits that I picked up from him," says Reyna, who was also coached by his dad.
"He worked me hard and was demanding, but in the right way."
Maintaining a healthy relationship with kids on and off the field is hard work, and Reyna has witnessed a lot of dads who take sports too far. "There is a large portion of dads who let themselves down. It's as if they live through their sons. I can see that a kid will not be playing in two or three years because of the pressure and tension being applied by the dad."
Maybe it's not so surprising that, according to Reyna, it's the dads who have played on a competitive level who are most quiet on the sidelines. They know that mistakes are part of the game, he says, that success is measured in the long term, and that a combination of support and the instilling of a good work ethic are what can build a champion. But, again, it's most about leading by example.
To that end, Reyna dedicates a lot of his time helping the needy. His Foundation gets kids on the field for free. "It's a safe haven, and we have fun in a club environment," he says.
Of course, in sports, there's a line between support and pressure, and Reyna is very sensitive to creating a positive environment for young athletes. Reyna sometimes asks kids to raise their hands if they like it when their dads yell at them or at a referee. Time and again, he says, no hands are raised. "I'm confused why parents don't understand this," he says.
Reyna adds that, overall, he loves seeing dads get involved with their kids' interests, and he especially appreciates seeing dads picking up their kids at the afterschool program. "Moms used to be the only emotional support for children," he says. "But I think dads should be too."