The Inspiration of Paula Navarro: Chile’s Strong-Willed Female Soccer Coach
Paola Andrea Navarro Alvear is the first woman become the soccer coach of Chile’s women’s team. Like many other women in sports, she earned “the first” title many times, in many forms, overcoming discrimination in a changing world challenged by the onset of gender equality.
Her audacity drives her as she’s refused to take “no” for an answer—and according to her, those slights only gave her the strength she needed to move forward.
She proved everyone wrong when the Chilean women’s soccer team she led started a winning streak that placed them on top of Chile’s rankings for both masculine and femenine clubs.
Read ahead to get to know this revolutionary woman who set a precedent for many other female soccer players, trainers, and leaders. Find out what obstacles she encountered and how she dealt with them in order to prove the world that talent does not depend on gender.
Paula Navarro’s Background
Chilean soccer coach, Paola Navarro, started her career 17 years ago when she majored in Physical Education. Unfortunately, she had to abandon her studies and get a job due to financial struggles. She has always been into sports, and played tennis, basket, handball, futsal, and volleyball in her early career. Soon enough, she began to realize she had a natural talent for managing groups, selecting talents, and leading teams.
Paola says she had to reinvent herself, so she graduated as a sports coach. She was the first woman to ever get a degree from the National Soccer Institute, among 30 male students.
Paola felt the need to continue to study and prepare for a brighter future. She did internships on soccer strategy, methodology and psychology of the game, and Olympic management in major clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilbao Athletic.
Paula’s biggest career highlights took place in 2018 and 2019, when the Chile women’s national soccer team—better known as the bohemians (las bohemias)—were the three-time champions of the tournament and got to the quarterfinals of the Libertadores Cup in Ecuador.
The Chile national soccer team coach also started earning the same amount of money as her male counterpart, which aside from being a personal accomplishment, it set a precedent in Latin American soccer culture.
After this successful campaign, the Professional Soccer National Association (Asociación Nacional de Fútbol Profesional) decided to put an end to national tournaments. They also declared men’s clubs as winners, and didn’t even mention the women’s clubs.
Paula wrote a tweet to the soccer authorities to ask how it had been possible that they were not the champions in spite of having led the Cup as an unbeaten team. They were the best soccer performers in Chile and were even the first ones to qualify for the Libertadores Cup 2020—but nothing happened.
She kept training with her team in spite of this, and even started a new routine and schedule via zoom due to Coronavirus. Moving forward is clearly one of her core strengths.
The Inspiring Chile Soccer Coach
Like many other “first” women, she struggled to stand out due to sexism (machismo)—the biggest wall she encountered. They even had to adapt the facilities in order for players of either se could use them. This opened her eyes to the reality she was facing, and will face every day of her career.
She had always wondered why there were any differences between men and women. Why did men have more freedom, or didn’t ask for permission, and why could they do more things? Those questions made her decide to change the situation.
As soon as the word got out that the Santiago Morning men’s soccer team drafted Paola as a coach, controversy started. No one believed a woman would be fit for this challenge, and even the rival team coach questioned the decision openly.
Paola later stated that the only way she would accept the position was if they offered the same conditions as if she were a man. Meanwhile, her colleagues pressured her by saying all eyes were on her and that she needed to win the championship leading that team. She responded that in order to guarantee the results, she had to have a vote on who would stay and who would go—but the club didn’t offer that, and they never got to an agreement.
Nevertheless she stayed at the front of the Chile women’s soccer team, getting involved in good campaigns and training great players. She actually aspires to be the first female president of a soccer association.
Paola is the first woman to have a professional coach licence and has delivered results time and time again. And she kept working to make way to other women in soccer. Under her leadership, 4 players were the first women to sign a professional soccer contract in Chile. She often emphasizes the power of sorority and empathy while training, and reminds them that every girl and woman in the industry goes through the same thing.
It is remarkable how everyone around her is very impressed by her discipline and talent. She is famous for her strong character, which is natural in someone with such hardships. But people that get to know her, care for her deeply. According to her coworkers it is impressive how she has never felt small or less. The Chile women’s soccer team respects her and she has clarity on her goals.
According to one of her students, she loves to have a woman as a coach, because male coaches assume that female players are weak and fragile, but they aren’t.
Isabel Allende is one of her personal heroes, but she insists that besides her, she only admires herself.
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The Chile Women’s Soccer Team
Paula is aware that success and effectiveness in soccer relies on playing as a team rather than as protagonists. She used to think differently as a player, but she learned to adapt to the many variants at play. It is important to confront the rival at a strategic level.
She thinks the key to getting to know how each of the players will play is getting to know their individual identities. Paola believes that coaches and soccer clubs have to train good players and hold on to them instead of “selling” them to other teams. According to her, the athletic development process for a young boy or girl is 12 years, or 3 Olympic cycles.
The Chile soccer coach has created a very special relationship with the team players and she often sees them as her daughters. “I only want them to be kind people, to see that they need to generate change. When I need to challenge them, I challenge them, when I need to motivate them, I motivate them, and when I need to be sincere, I say things the way they are.”
To Paola, what the Chile women’s soccer team needs in order to have more protagonism in South America is to have a broader vision, more exposure, and improved competence. Also, they would need a reasonable budget to generate the admissible corresponding work conditions.
Paola openly criticizes the business men behind the curtains, as some of them want the coaches to deliver results immediately. She realizes that getting to know a new team, the players’ talents, and to be able to manage them is something that takes time. According to her, the best teams of the world are the ones who have less coach rotations. In order to win this game in the long run, you need to have patience. Excellence is not immediate. She believes that sports projects need to be solid and feasible. The entire team must be on the same page in order to win—the coach is only one piece of the puzzle.
In this sense, she thinks that the Chilean soccer industry is not ready for a woman to lead a men’s team—that men worry about women having power positions. Her message for all women who wish to lead in soccer is to be persistent, strong, and willing to move forward in order to face this hard industry. She believes professionalism and commitment are close to one another, and that “you need to reinvent yourself everyday.”.
Paola would like to be remembered as a person that transformed soccer into a social tool. She hopes to be someone who changed these kid’s lives, their families, and Chilean soccer for the best—and she hopes that they change other people’s lives at the same time. What is most important to her is to leave a legacy.
Where is Paola Today?
Paola Navarro has left the Chile women’s soccer team recently. Marco Olea, who she trained and was her assistant for many years, took over her place. Paola was very discrete towards the speculation that she left the club due to a rupture.
She has stated that she could use a change of air from all the work leading entails for a woman. She thinks it is time she dedicates some of her time to her personal affairs such as writing a book.
In an article she wrote recently, she explains she is disappointed and tired of machismo ruling the soccer league. But she is very proud of what she and the bohemias accomplished together. She says, “We will keep fighting and kicking stones until women have the same rights and opportunities.” (“Seguiremos luchando y pateando piedras hasta que las mujeres tengamos los mismos derechos y oportunidades.”)
Did Paola Navarro Make an Impact on You?
The former Chile soccer coach made an impact on everyone near to her work. She was able to stand out due to her tenacity, sports expertise, and decision-making abilities.
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