Kealia Watt on NWSL Return, Motherhood, Husband JJ Watt NFL Retirement

  • Kealia Watt and her husband, JJ, became parents with the birth of their son, Koa, in October.
  • The soccer star spoke to Insider about adjusting to motherhood and planning her return to the pitch.
  • JJ’s NFL retirement came as the couple discovered that “once you have a kid… all [you] care about is this child.”

The Watt family — one of the most powerful and beloved in the world of sports — is growing and changing in real time.

JJ and Kealia became parents to son, Koa, back in October. Ever since, the couple has come to understand that their lives, both personally and professionally, will never be the same as they once were.

“The biggest thing about parenthood for us is you have never worried so much about something before,” Kealia told Insider. “That’s really all that you care about. That’s really all that matters.

“Once you have a kid, you really go from being very selfish and very self-centered, and then you’re like, ‘all I care about is this child,'” she added while discussing her and JJ’s decision to preserve Koa’s newborn stem cells via the Cord Blood Registry. “So to have something that brings you that peace of mind and just to know that you’re doing everything you possibly can for their health is huge.”

A post shared by Kealia Ohai Watt (@kealiamae)

Kealia, a star forward in the National Women’s Soccer League who most recently played for the Chicago Red Stars, has been cleared to resume training after giving birth via C-section. She told Insider she’s “gonna train and plan to play” in the NWSL again, although she’s “still making that decision” regarding her return as she gets further into her recovery.

Both Kealia and JJ know just how much time and dedication it takes to be successful as professional athletes. She’s watched as JJ, an All-Pro defensive end with the Arizona Cardinals, has spent the past few months learning to juggle his NFL career with his newfound parental responsibilities.

“I see this with my husband right now because he’s in the middle of his season,” Kealia said. “You add in the most important thing you’ll ever have — your children — and you’re not used to that extra part of it. And so then you have to balance training, getting back, playing, being a professional athlete with this as well.

“It is a lot,” she added. “And I think it does take time to adjust to that and to figure that out.”

Kealia and JJ Watt embrace their 2-month-old son, Koa, after an Arizona Cardinals home game.

Kealia and JJ Watt embrace their 2-month-old son, Koa, after the latter’s final NFL home game.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images



JJ has chosen to make this season — his 12th in the NFL — the final of his illustrious football career, he announced more days after his final home game in Arizona.

It’s unclear how much Koa factored into his decision to retire now, at 33 years old, but Kealia says she’s definitely considering whether playing “is the best thing for my child” and “the best thing for my family and for me” before returning to the soccer pitch.

“I’m lucky enough my husband is so supportive and he wants me to do whatever I want to do,” she said. “But that part of it has been really mentally hard for me to go back and forth and try to decide what I wanna do.”

Now a free agent, Kealia considers herself fortunate to have a choice to make in the first place. Early on in her NWSL tenure, she recalls that “it really wasn’t common to keep playing if you got pregnant.”

Kealia Watt (left) outmaneuvers Portland Thorns defender and USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn during a game with the Red Stars.

Kealia Watt (left) outmaneuvers Portland Thorns defender and USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn during a game with the Red Stars.

Daniel Bartel/ISI Photos/Getty Images



But as time has gone by, the league has made accommodations that have enabled mothers to continue their professional soccer careers. And while she concedes “there’s still a long way to go,” Watt knows it’s possible to do it all after playing alongside several teammates who were also moms.

“Now it really is kind of expected that you would still play and you can keep playing, and that’s what’s been so cool to see,” she said. “It’s just so cool to even have that support. We just had a call with the league and the teams about all the travel accommodations they’re making and how they’re setting up rooms for moms.”

So she’s leaving her options open by fielding calls from teams across the league about a potential return. While her free agency experience has been unique because of her new-mom status, Kealia says “everyone I’ve talked to and spoken to has been so patient and kind” as she tries “to figure out what me and my husband wanna do. “

A post shared by JJ Watt (@jjwatt)

She’s “taking it slow” with her return to physical activity, too. The former North Carolina Tar Heels standout is constantly reminding herself “to be really patient” in the early days of her training, since she “basically got ab surgery” and “can’t just do everything [she] did before.”

She likened her comeback from childbirth to her recovery from the pair of ACL surgeries she’s undergone over the course of her soccer career. And while she “was hoping I would just jump back and feel the same” after Koa’s birth, she knows deep down that “that’s really not how it goes.”

“It takes time to heal and to get back to where you wanna be,” Kealia said. “And that’s been the hardest thing for me.”

Kealia Watt (right) takes off down the field.

Kealia Watt (right) takes off down the field.

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports



“It was really weird for me to be pregnant and still working out, because I wasn’t able to train like I’m used to,” she continued. “And then you have your baby and for at least six weeks you can’t do anything. And so it was a challenge for me. It was a really hard thing.

“But now it’s cool because you get to build back up again and you’re almost starting from nothing,” Kealia added. “I think high-level athletes love that, and I’m excited to really start getting into my training.”

The 2023 NWSL regular season kicks off on Saturday, March 25.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: