By John Canalis, Staff Writer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram
Posted: 10/02/2009 05:38:50 PM PDT on www.presstelegram.com
Reprinted with permission from John Canalis
Natalie Canalis, my 3-year-old daughter has never played soccer, but she already says she loves it.
One night Natalie refused to take off her shin guards before bed.
The next night she jumped on the couch when Manchester United scored and yelled “goal! goal! goal!”
Then she insisted on wearing her soccer headband to daycare.
Today we’ll find out if her enthusiasm translates into passion when she takes to the pitch for the first time at El Dorado Park.
Natalie is enrolled in a Parks and Recreation soccer class for tots, but she and I are so excited that it may as well be the Women’s World Cup.
Becoming a soccer dad is a rite of passage that again reminds me of how I now play the role in Natalie’s life that my father played in mine. As welcome as it is, parenthood hasn’t entirely sunken in for some of us in “The Breakfast Club” generation.
Soccer was something my dad and I shared. I remember him in the 1970s, wearing his bright yellow Los Angeles Aztecs jersey, instructing me from the sidelines in his thick accent.
My dad was born and raised in Peru to Italian parents. Coming to the United States as an adult, he never took an interest in American sports, but soccer is a fifth food group in his part of the world, and he encouraged my interest.
I played – fullback, mostly – from about age 5 to 17. I was OK, neither good or bad, but I appreciated being there and thought I looked pretty tough with the long socks pushed down to my ankles. Shin guards were not required after a certain age in those days, and the cool kids I tried to emulate went without them.
There wasn’t much televised soccer in 1970s and 1980s, at least for those of us without cable, save for the games on Spanish-language stations.
Every four years dad and I would watch the World Cup on TV, rooting for Italy, which was always a pretty good bet, unless they were playing Brazil. One of my best childhood memories is from 1982, when Italy defeated West Germany.
Fast forward to 2006. Right after Natalie was born, Robin and I, like most new parents, were getting little sleep.
Nevertheless, I woke up early every morning part of that summer to watch the World Cup matches – in English even. When Italy made it to the finals, my dad and mom watched with us.
Dad never pressed me to like soccer or any other sport. I am going to nudge, but not push, Natalie toward the “beautiful game.”
But my cleats are crossed that Natalie will at least like the sport I love.
Though Parks and Rec is not AYSO, the course description implies some serious stuff for players 3 to 4: “shin guards are required after (the) first meeting.”
Good thing Natalie already has hers on. She’d never follow the cool kids anyway.