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Gio Reyna Getty Images

The Reyna and Berhalter Situation – 7 Takeaways

It’s been hard to watch the Reyna - Berhalter situation play out across national and world-wide media this week. I won’t go into the details of the situation as it’s truly impossible to understand the complexity of the personal relationships and conversations between Gregg Berhalter, Claudio and Danielle Reyna, and Earnie Stewart. However, on a big picture level, we can use this Gio Reyna situation as an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow as a soccer community.

While learning moments in this saga are vast, here I highlight 7 Key Takeaways from the Reyna - Berhalter situation.

1. Watching Your Child Sit on the Bench is Hard

There was a moment during the World Cup where the camera scanned over to Claudio Reyna in the stand as he watched the USMNT play, without his son Gio on the field. The commentator mentioned the looming questions around Gio’s lack of playing time in the tournament and speculated on the stress Claudio was feeling in the moment.

My heart was suddenly taken back to moments I spent on the sidelines when my daughter was little, my heart racing, stress elevating through my body, as she sat on the bench during a game. I don’t consider myself a crazy soccer parent, but I do have to acknowledge the lack of rational thought I had in those moments. Watching your child sit on the bench when you know they desperately want to be on the field…well, it’s hard. Of course, you can choose to enjoy the game and appreciate the efforts of their teammates. You can cheer for good through balls, tackles won, and goals scored. But when your child isn’t getting the playing time they want – your heart hurts a bit.

I think it’s important coaches and parents both validate this parental emotion as normal and understandable while at the same time acknowledging the parent response to the emotion needs to be controlled and measured.

2. Playing Time is the Decision of the Coach

Gregg Berhalter did his job and crafted lineups he felt would win the games, and Gio didn’t get the playing time he desperately wanted during the men’s World Cup. Ultimately, playing time is the choice of the coach.

In the youth game, it is essential clubs have published playing time policies in place to facilitate a culture of development. Understandably, as the level and age of players increase, and the primary determining factor of success becomes winning, soccer becomes a meritocracy and the best players the coach feels will win the game are on the field.

The team is not always going to win, and the coach is not always going to make the right decisions. However, if the playing time standards of the team or club are being met, the coach has fulfilled their obligations.

Learn more about the

Our Youth Soccer Education Platform for Parents and Coaches.

3. Parents of Youth Players Should be Invited to Important Conversations

One of the great gifts sports gives our children is lessons in how to have difficult conversations with people of authority, namely - coaches. These lessons will help our children navigate their college learning environment with professors and/or their workspace environment with their boss.

While it is important children learn to lead in difficult conversations, as adults, we must recognize this is a learning moment and support children as they develop this challenging skill.  For some children, this will come easier than others.

At Soccer Parenting, we believe, when possible, youth soccer parents should be SILENT OBSERVER to these difficult conversations for a few important reasons:

  1. Parents can, after the fact, provide good feedback to their child on how they handled themselves.
  2. Parents will have an accurate understanding of the actual conversation that transpired. Afterall, expecting a 15 year old to accurately relay details of a stressful conversation between them and the coach is not reasonable.
  3. Hearing the conversation will help parents support their child when it comes to ways they can improve.

Am I saying Gregg should have invited Claudio and Danielle Reyna to be a bystander to the conversation he had with Gio about the limited role he would play in the World Cup? No, I am absolutely not saying that. This is the Men’s National Team and Gio Reyna has just turned 20 years old.

Ultimately, we want the coaches of our children to understand where they are developmentally, empathize with our children, and be self-confident enough in their communication skills, decision, and player management  they handle these conversations with grace and humanity, and therefore our children remain motivated and optimistic.

4. Parents Stress is REAL

We talk about parent stress often at Soccer Parenting. Unregulated parent stress is generally unproductive and can lead to unhelpful interactions between parents, players, and coaches. We believe that education, plus trust-filled and collaborative relationship (with appropriate boundaries) with parents and coaches, will help regulate much of this stress. Our education platform SoccerParentResourceCenter.com provides lots of helpful guidance to parents on navigating their stress related to their child’s sporting experiences.

I often try to explain to my soccer coaching friends without children how deeply a parent feels for a child as it relates to the stress parents feel when their child is struggling. It’s a very difficult emotion to navigate as a parent. I have heard people without children of their own mention the tragic loss of Jack Reyna, and try to explain this loss as to why Claudio and Danielle were so stressed in this situation. While in no way am I going to try to understand what Claudio and Danielle feel, I want to be sure we acknowledge the fact that parent stress is real, regardless of the personal history of the family. It does not take losing a child to cause parents to want to protect their child. Our love and urge to protect our child is deeply embedded in our hearts and when our child is struggling, even if we know it’s a good lesson for them to learn, it can be extremely hard. 

As parents, how we respond to this stress matters.

If we complain about the situation to our child and are negative about the coach and have a lack perspective of the team, our child will likely not develop the resilience and optimism they need.

5. Trust Matters

Foundational to our work at Soccer Parenting is trust. We believe trust filled, collaborative, relationships with appropriate boundaries between coaches, parents and players is in the best interest of player development. While establishing trust in relationships begins with personal reflection and self-trust, the bond of mutual trust between the coach and parent maximizes the learning and development of the child.

Trust matters.

Playing time decisions must be made. What positions players take must be decided. Ultimately, these decisions fall to the coach. When trust between the parents and coach is strong, these decisions result in less stress. When a child is struggling with their sporting experience, a parent trusting the coach really matters.

Trust is earned through our actions, behaviors, and communication. Sadly, in youth sports, trust is in short supply. The historic lack of focus on establishing trust in youth sports has led to a culture of misunderstanding and assumption-making. At Soccer Parenting we often start our coach education sessions with a simple question: What do you believe to be true about youth sports parents?

With Gio Reyna, the lack of trust between Gregg and Claudio and Danielle has been played all over social media. While it’s impossible to navigate the backstory to the backstory and understand the nuance of this complex and personal relationship – it is clear the struggle is rooted in a genuine lack of trust.

We can all learn from this situation when it comes to our coach-parent relationships as we seek to earn the trust of one another.

6. Learning from Your Mistakes is Sports’ Gift to Us

When Gregg spoke after the World Cup, albeit not naming Gio specifically, at a leadership summit in New York about a player that caused issues with team dynamics, he made a mistake. It quickly became apparent it was Gio Reyna he was referencing. I loved Gio’s social media response acknowledging his behaviors and mistakes, asking for some grace, and highlighting his learning process. “What a mature thing for a 20 year old to do!” was my immediate response to reading his post.

This is a gift sports provides. We are constantly making mistakes in sport and, if we choose to learn from them, we see incredible personal growth and development. 

This same lesson goes for coaches and parents too.  As a parent, I am so grateful for the lessons sport provided me to show up as a better parent for my child. As a coach, I am so grateful for the lesson sports provided me to grow and develop my understanding of myself and my capacities to connect with players and parents. Mistakes were made by me along the way, but because I chose to be resilient and learn from them, the result is I am a better person thanks to my playing, coaching, and parenting experiences.

7. Player Safe-Guarding and Reporting Structures are Essential

I have no problem with Danielle calling Earnie Stuart to discuss Gregg’s public comments about her 20 year old child. If Gio was 25, I’d feel differently. If my child’s college coach publicly shamed her, causing unnecessary emotional harm, with my daughter’s permission I would absolutely feel comfortable calling the Athletic Director at the college to discuss the situation, express my displeasure, and to make sure the poor choice of the coach was being appropriately addressed internally so as to protect my child, and others, from potential future harm.

Let’s not get lost in how the conversation between Earnie and Danielle transpired, and if bringing up 31 year old actions was appropriate, and instead let’s have the takeaway here be the absolute need for clear reporting structures to be in place.

We have learned from the Yates Report and all the documented issues of emotional and physical abuse in youth sports, that player safe-guarding needs to be more of a priority. Safe reporting structures must be in place in clubs and leagues, and those in positions of power who harm athletes need to be held accountable for their actions.

The Reyna - Berhalter situation is unfortunate. It makes me sad to think about how all parties to the situation are feeling in this moment. That being said, this same situation plays out in youth sports regularly and we can use this very public situation to learn, grow and improve as a soccer community.

  • “I have no problem with Danielle calling Earnie Stuart to discuss Gregg’s public comments about her 20 year old child.”

    I disagree with that. At 20 years old, Gio is an adult. He should stand up for himself and not have his parent fight his battles. What Danielle Reyna did is in the worst tradition of soccer parenting and has no place on the Men’s National Soccer Team. All she has done has put Gio in a position where future employers may think twice about bringing him on, as they rather not deal with an unreasonable parent.

  • What a load of cods wallop! 20 is not 7. Inviting parents’ input is not how coaching adults works. Gio is a man not a baby though his behavior says otherwise. It’s also obvious that ir’s leaned behavior from his helicopter parents whose own behavior is highly suspect in this story. Undermining the USMNT coach with a 30-year-old incident is the height of arrogance and the lowest of actions.

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    Skye Eddy

    Founder, SoccerParenting.com
    Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF "B" License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.