Father-daughter goals: Balancing coaching and parenting on the soccer field


Photo by Susanna Tang

Seniors and varsity soccer players Livia Inojoza and Samantha Strand have been coached by their fathers for their whole lives.

Susanna Tang, Editor-in-Chief

Like father, like daughter — seniors and girls varsity soccer players Livia Inojoza and Samantha Strand have long been familiar with the title “coach’s kid.” Varsity Head Coach Leonardo Inojoza and JV Head Coach Claus Strand have both been fine-tuning their balance between coaching and parenting throughout their yearslong involvements in their daughters’ soccer journeys. Coaching your daughter isn’t easy — neither is being coached by your father.

“Yes, she’s my daughter, but she’s also a player on the team,” Claus said. “I must treat her just like I would treat any other player. I do my best to be a coach on the field and a dad at home.”

Raised in countries where soccer is integral to culture, Leonardo and Claus were both surrounded by the sport growing up and wanted to recreate their childhood milieu for their children. 

Leonardo’s 17-year coaching career began with Livia’s older brother; watching her family succeed as soccer players, Livia also developed a passion for soccer and requested to be coached by her father as well. Since then, Leonardo has accompanied Livia through all aspects of her soccer career, coaching almost every team she has played for.

“He’s a really good coach,” Livia said. “He’s really involved in the sport and he always fosters strong and successful teams.”

Claus’ first day as a coach ironically occurred at Samantha’s first game. The official coach of Samantha’s team at the time did not show up to the game, leaving Claus, the only parent spectator who was familiar with the sport, to coach the game. 

“His fun personality on the field really excited the sport for me,” Samantha said. “Ever since, he’s been as involved as he could be in my athletic journey — this season is the first full season in which he’s not my team’s head coach.” 

As Livia and Samantha entered their first high school soccer season as freshmen in 2019, their fathers followed them onto the field after being offered the coaching positions by the former varsity head coach, Art Zimmerman. Wanting the experience of coaching older athletes in a more competitive environment, Claus gladly accepted the offer. Leonardo didn’t initially intend to coach at Lynbrook — in fact, he thought that Livia’s high school season would allot a three-month break from coaching for him, as club coaches are usually on break during high school seasons.

“But when Coach Art offered me the job, I decided to take it because I really wanted to build a strong team for my daughter,” Leonardo said. “I wanted the team to know that, 10 years from now, they will not remember their losses and wins — they will remember special moments of their friendship.”

Nevertheless, the coaches’ persistent careers have set forth various challenges in dehazing the line between being a coach and a father. Leonardo and Claus make every effort to avoid favoritism on the field and to reinforce team rules for their daughters. 

“We keep our family-related discussions at home or on the sidelines and off the field,” Samantha said. “I listen to him like I would to any other coach, and he treats me like any other player.” 

Claus maintains the neutral coaching atmosphere by having his players nominate captains and MVP awards, which would otherwise be the coach’s responsibility. Leonardo’s intimate bond with Livia often allows him to channel greater emotions on the field.

“Sometimes I tend to be even harsher on Livia,” Leonardo said. “We have a very good relationship, so when I’m talking to her during games or practices, she understands that it’s not her father, but her coach who is speaking. Sometimes she even calls me ‘Coach Leo’ instead of ‘dad,’ which really helps create the separation between my roles as a coach and as a father.”  

Having been coached by their fathers for their whole lives, Livia and Samantha have faced similar pressures that come with being a “coach’s kid.”

“The extra pressure actually motivates me to work harder,” Livia said. “One of my biggest fears is people thinking that I’m on the team just because my dad is the coach. I always try to put 110% of my effort into my performance to prove that I actually deserve my spot on the team.”

At home, Livia and Samantha are exposed to more transparent commentary from their fathers. Both Leonardo and Claus review game footage with their daughters, openly analyzing their performance. 

“There’s also the post-post-game talk in the car,” Samantha said. “As we leave a game, my dad begins to fully collect his thoughts, and I get to hear his unfiltered reflection of the game.” 

Leonardo and Claus both believe that their coaching would remain the same even for a team without their daughters. As side jobs, Leonardo has served as a coach at Conestoga College for two years and in the De Anza Force Soccer Club for four years, granting him confidence to say that his coaching style is consistent for every team.

“Having my daughter on my team obviously gives me extra motivation,” Leonardo said. “But without her, I would still be coaching the same way.”

Claus has coached Samantha for the entirety of her 13-year soccer career, with the 2022-23 season being his first season away from his daughter, as she has been promoted to the varsity team.

“Now that I have the experience of coaching a team without my daughter, I can confirm that I’m not coaching the current JV team any differently than I did when she was on the team in prior years,” Claus said.

Being in each other’s company at home and on the field every day, the father-daughter pairs have been able to strengthen their bonds through their mutual passions for the sport. Both pairs enjoy watching professional soccer together on television and playing soccer at the park with their families. 

As Livia and Samantha prepare to graduate, they hope to preserve their bonds with their fathers over soccer, whether that be discussing the latest soccer news together or playing pickup soccer together during college breaks. Leonardo and Claus both love the environment and support they receive from their teams and plan on remaining as Lynbrook’s girls soccer coaches.

“We’re really fortunate to be able to turn our biggest hobby into a job that we can do with our daughters,” Leonardo said. “It lets us do two of our favorite things simultaneously — play soccer and spend time with our kids.”