Lorena Soto is a former professional footballer from Paraguay. She played for the Women’s national youth and senior football (soccer) team (football and futsal FIFA) and in a D1 College in the US. Lately her focus has shifted to Becas Deportivas, a social-development focused sports organisation that provides young Paraguayans with an opportunity to get an education through sports.
We caught up with Lorena Soto to discuss football, her career and more.
You have an impressive academic background with an MBA in Finance. How did you decide to partake in sports along with your academics?
My parents taught us by their example, they are great and they always encouraged my siblings and me to strive for excellence in everything we did.
As a young girl, it took me some time to truly understand my parents’ great lessons and I was not that interested in having good grades, so my parents would not let me play soccer if sports interfered with my school grades. So in the beginning, it was the other way around.
I decided to continue growing academically because I wanted to keep playing soccer. Later on, I understood how privileged I was for having a good education and being able to also continue playing soccer at a higher level; so I made a commitment to do good in sports along with my academics while in college.
Is there any other sport you enjoy apart from soccer?
I love sports. I enjoy sports in general, group and individual sports any day, any time.
What is the story behind your scholarship program “Becas Deportivas USA”?
It is an emotional question, but let me summarise like this, Becas Deportivas USA is my “pay it forward” program. It all started with the great honour of earning a full scholarship to play soccer and study at a US university.
My twin sister and I earnt the scholarship together and went to the same college becoming the first Paraguayan girls to do such a thing in soccer. It was my dream come true, since the Women’s World Cup in 1999 when the US won the World Cup and I saw that on the news (I was a teenager), my heart got on fire and I had a dream to play soccer in the US.
I was overwhelmed with joy by fulfilling my dream, but also I felt this strong responsibility to open the door for my National team teammates, and for all those talented athletes women and men that have the same dream or goal.
My sister joined me on this journey, and after 6 years with the Program, we have helped more than 65 Paraguayan athletes to earn scholarships to study and play their sports in US colleges.
I firmly believe that we have so much talent in Paraguay that unfortunately goes wasted many times due to the lack of opportunities; so with Becas Deportivas USA we want to be that one opportunity for athletes to use their talent in sports to obtain higher education in the US. Education is an important tool to succeed in life.
What is your plan for the future with respect to soccer and your career? How do you plan on taking the two along?
I always have been and always will be a fan of soccer. So I can not see myself not being involved somehow in sports and soccer in my future.
I would like to continue to play soccer for fun until I turn 100 years or close to there ?. My plan for the future is to continue to be involved working towards the development of soccer in my region (especially women’s soccer); and continue to work in my other passion outside soccer that is social development.
There are some great advances and milestones in women’s soccer in Paraguay that we never experienced before, yet there are so many thing to keep improving and acknowledging.
What are some of the major differences in soccer played in North America and South America?
There is a lot of difference. The culture is different, the philosophy is different, the history is different, in essence, the fundamental styles are way different.
These differences apply to men’s soccer and women’s soccer, and depending on the regions in North America or South America or depending on the countries that you compare, the differences can be greater (men and women).
What are some of your favourite football tournaments to follow?
Men and Women: FIFA tournaments, UEFA Tournaments (especially Champions League, Premier and Spanish League), Copa Libertadores, Paraguay National Tournament.
I also enjoy watching the MLS, the National Women’s Soccer League and even NCAA tournaments for different sports but I have to find them on the internet to be able to watch them from Paraguay.
How do you see this sport progressing in your country, especially for woman athletes?
In Paraguay, we are still in a development phase; whereas other countries in our region are in a more mature period, yet it does not mean we are not moving forward.
There are some great advances and milestones in women’s soccer in Paraguay that we never experienced before, yet there are so many things to keep improving and acknowledging. This is when I see myself trying to collaborate in this process to accelerate progress.
It is also encouraging to see how this new generation of women’s athletes are so naturally talented and they are just starting. If we do the right thing in my country with women’s soccer, we will have a bright future.
It is natural that I had to overcome gender stereotypes, sexism, inequality, lack of support, lack of opportunities, lack of a pathway to develop as an athlete, verbally or even physical aggressions by what we consider “Machistas”, discrimination, etc.
As a woman, and as an athlete are there any hurdles you’ve faced that were challenging to overcome?
Being a female athlete in South America is not an easy task and I am pretty sure there are thousands of girls and women that had to face the same challenges I had to overcome.
Maybe it is related to the culture, the tradition, the predominant religion or even the quality of education in our region, but the predominant perceived role of the women in society it is not to be a professional athlete.
With soccer, it is even worse, because the men’s game has become a part of national identities in the region, so women faced greater discrimination and exclusion.
Therefore, it is natural that I had to overcome gender stereotypes, sexism, inequality, lack of support, lack of opportunities, lack of a pathway to develop as an athlete, verbally or even physical aggressions by what we consider “Machistas”, discrimination, etc.
Any advice for aspiring athletes out there?
I would like to start by sharing advice that I received from my mom and today I think it is still relevant today: She said: “the only thing that no one can ever take away from you is your education”.
So the first and most important advice to any aspiring athlete is to get an education, never stop learning. Then, I would encourage every aspiring athletes out there to passionately follow their dreams, to be positive, to never fear defeat, it is part of the game, you just got to keep trying.
You career does not end when you lose, it ends when you stop improving. Understand the importance of winning and losing, never take any of the two for granted.
Get comfortable with pain, you will have to perform despite it (no pain; no gain). Work hard at all times, be grateful always (especially during the rough times) and never forget where you come from (especially during the good times).
Thank you once again for the opportunity to share my thoughts and a bit of my story too. I appreciate it very much.