mom jocks

Sydney Leroux Brings New Meaning To The Phrase “Soccer Mom”

When Leroux had her children, the National Women’s Soccer League had no formal parental leave policy in place and very few colleagues could give her advice.

by Melissa Dahl
Winning Look

You can ask Sydney Leroux how she did it — how she came back to professional soccer just 91 days after giving birth to her daughter, Roux, in 2019 — but, really, she doesn’t have a great answer.

“I just … came back?” said Leroux, an Olympic gold medalist and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner who is currently playing as a forward for Angel City FC. The question mark hangs at the end of the reply, like, Well, what else was I supposed to do? At the time, it was the only advice she got.

“We really didn’t have much to go off of,” she said of her fellow mom players back then, though she did ask around. “All the moms before me were like, ‘Well, we just came back.’”

At 7 and 5, her kids are still little. But in the professional soccer mom timeline, they may as well have been born a lifetime ago. When Leroux had her children, the National Women’s Soccer League had no formal parental leave policy in place, and there weren’t many of her colleagues to turn to for advice; in 2019, the NWSL Players Association estimated that there were just seven moms playing on the league’s nine teams. It wasn’t until 2022 that the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association announced a collective bargaining agreement, guaranteeing parental leave.

That leave policy didn’t exist when Leroux needed it. Still, even without much in the way of concrete advice or institutional support, in some ways Leroux did feel ready to return to the sport after having her daughter. (Her son, Cassius, was born in the off-season, but Roux was born mid-season.) After all, soccer had long been the center of her life: At just 14, she left her family in Vancouver, B.C., and moved to the U.S. in pursuit of her lifelong obsession of playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team. “I did absolutely everything I possibly could to put myself in that position [of playing for the USWNT], and I did that starting at a really young age,” said Leroux.

“Now that I look back on it, I’m like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t ready.’”

Mentally, she was ready. Physically, maybe not, she says in retrospect. She felt like her body was looser, less controllable, than it used to be — and she was probably right. Relaxin, the pregnancy hormone that causes your joints and ligaments to loosen, may stay in the body up to a year postpartum, especially if you’re breastfeeding. And Leroux was indeed breastfeeding, before games and at halftime. “My body was all over the place,” she said. “Now that I look back on it, I’m like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t ready.’”

Over the years, Leroux has been interviewed countless times about what it’s like to be a professional athlete who’s also a mom; it’s often at the center of her deals with various brands. (Currently, she’s partnering with Barilla Protein+ pasta.) Though as policies for pregnant and postpartum athletes (slowly) improve, it’s becoming less of a novelty to be a soccer mom. Last year, three mothers were on the U.S. roster for the Women’s World Cup and five were at training camp — a modest number, sure, but still a record number.

These days, Leroux gives her teammates the motherhood advice she didn’t get. “Now that more people are having kids in the NWSL, I have a lot of people come to me and ask me about it,” she said. “And it’s really nice to be able to help other women in the league.” They always ask the same questions: What’s it like coming back, and how long does it take? “I think it’s important to let them know that it takes time and not to rush into anything,” she said. In other words, she tells them to do the opposite of what she did.

Last year, she had to remind herself the same when she fractured her ankle. It was her first major injury ever, and all she had to compare it to was her postpartum experience. “I’m so used to rushing — everything is so chaotic,” Leroux said. “But when I was injured, I couldn't do anything. It allowed me to just be OK with where I was at.”

She returned to the game exactly 311 days later, with Cassius and Roux in the stadium. (And you need to watch this clip from that game, of her son Cassius crying tears of joy after watching his mom score.) It’s a level of patience she didn’t give herself after having her daughter, but it was exactly what she needed.

The difference now, she said, is that having her kids put soccer into perspective. “It’s just a game,” she said (and repeated three times in our brief conversation). “It’s not a life or death thing,” she said, sounding less like a former Olympian and more like an everyday girlboss who finally realizes her job in marketing should not, in fact, be the center of her life. “I don’t have to be so stressed.”

Of course she loves the sport, and she’s thrilled that she gets to model that passion for her kids. But it’s just a piece of the life she loves now, not the whole thing. Leroux’s own mom was a professional athlete, playing third base for the Canadian national softball team. Maybe Leroux didn’t have much in the way of advice from her peers, but she did have her own mom as a model.

“The other day, I saw a photo of my mom in her jersey picking me up — that’s what I do with my own kids,” she said. “It was such an amazing thing that I got to share with her when I was younger, and now my kids get to share it with me.”

Melissa Dahl is a health journalist covering psychology, fitness, women's health, and more. Previously, she was the executive lifestyle and wellness director for Bustle Digital Group. Before that, she held a range of titles at The Cut, including executive editor. She is also the author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, published by Penguin Random House.