Ecuador World Cup Coach Counts U.S. Trip Among Important Firsts in Her Life

Paul Teeple, Director of Sport-for-Development

26-year-old Coach Uses Lessons from Sports-based Exchange in Life and with Team

Vanessa Arauz has blazed a trail of firsts leading up to becoming head coach of Ecuador’s Women’s National Soccer Team.

As a child, she was the only girl on her local soccer teams in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She is the first female soccer coach certified by the Ecuadorian Soccer Federation’s official coaches training center. Now, she leads Ecuador in it’s first-ever Women’s World Cup appearance and, at 26, is the youngest coach to ever head a World Cup team.

There is another first that Arauz credits with helping her reach this important pinnacle in international soccer. In 2011, she left her home country for the first time and traveled to the United States as one of twenty-five Ecuadorians and Colombians selected to the U.S. State Department sponsored Youth Sports Management Exchange program.

“My trip to the United States is part of my success. It opened the doors of the world for me,” says Arauz.

Organized and led by Partners of the Americas, the two-week professional exchange took Arauz to DC, Lexington, and Miami to meet with sports leaders, learn more about working with at-risk youth through sport-based programs and develop leadership skills. “I’m very proud to be a youth leader,” says Arauz. “I try to share everything that I learned during the trip and everything that I’ve learned since then.”
According to Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, “One of the central pillars of our sports diplomacy efforts is developing programs that empower women and girls like Vanessa, who then go home and make a difference in their countries. We know that when women succeed, the world succeeds.”
Kentucky Visit Makes Lasting Impression
Arauz says that many of her U.S. experiences are etched in her memory. In Lexington, she stayed in the home of Charlie and Jane Spiegel, avid soccer fans who coordinated the Kentucky portion of the exchange. Charlie, an attorney and the former Transylvania University Men’s Soccer Coach, remembers Arauz as a “dynamic and competitive force.” Arauz says that she learned valuable technical tips from Charlie and others there.
Most important, perhaps, are the lessons she learned about working with young women that guide her today. For example, she focuses not only on developing a winning team but helping each young woman develop as a person. “I help them learn to deal with the press, I encourage them to read more; to be more than a soccer player,” Arauz says.
At the University of Kentucky, then-Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Orlando Antigua spoke to Arauz and her colleagues about motivating youth. A native Spanish speaker who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn, Antigua took a special interest in the group. Now the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Antigua says that he remembers Arauz as “a very eager young lady who was looking to absorb whatever we could give.”

Arauz continues to use lessons she learned in the U.S. with the national team. For example, A Ganar, a Partners-led youth-employment-through-sport program, taught her how to run practice sessions in which players must play without talking, a drill Arauz uses to teach the national team about the value of non-verbal communication.

When asked about the World Cup this summer in Canada, Arauz acknowledges that Ecuador has a tough challenge. They are placed in Group C along with defending champion Japan. “We are trying to win,” says Arauz, “this is the world’s first time seeing the Ecuadorian women’s team, and we want to show our best.”

Approaching perhaps the biggest challenge of her life, Arauz is guided by a lingering lesson from her trip to the United States. While in Kentucky, she read the famous John F. Kennedy quote imploring Americans to help their nation, but has since adapted it for use with her team: “Don’t ask what your team can do for you but rather what you can do for your team.”

A trailblazing individual, leading a trailblazing team, Vanessa Arauz is ready to take on the world stage.

Learn more about the Ecuador’s World Cup TeamU.S. State Department’s Sports Diplomacy Programs and Partners of the Americas.