Native Brazilian and new Grambling State University Soccer Coach Maria Oliveira embodies two traits synonymous with her country: a warm demeanor and a passion for soccer. If soccer is a religion, then Brazil is the holy land. The country has won more world cup soccer tournaments than any country on earth. It has been said that their children learn to dribble a ball before they learn to walk. Oliveira does not dispute this.
“Everybody in Brazil plays soccer,” she laughed. “They used to say if you don’t play soccer, you’re crazy.”
However, she admits that it was not always that way for the women of her generation. While she grew up as a very athletic individual, deeply involved in the sport, she realized at a very early age that there were different rules for her gender.
“I had my heart broken at about 12 or 14 years old … soccer was not allowed for women back in my time,” she lamented. “For the last six years it has been very nice, but twenty-plus years ago it was difficult.”
Undeterred, Oliveira joined the basketball team and soon found that she was adept at play making and scoring. She worked her way onto the team at Howard County Junior College in Texas.
Oliveira then moved on to The University of Mary Hardin Baylor to complete her bachelors degree in psychology and exercise and sport science before joining the US Military.
There, she served as a medic in the psychology department of the hospital and as the head women’s basketball coach.
Then soccer slowly started coming back into the picture. She teamed up with those on the base who had returned from playing in Europe and recaptured her passion for the sport.
“I think soccer was my first love and it’s so nice to be able to get back to your first love,” she chuckled.
As soon as her military contract ended, Oliveira began working with clubs and eventually returned to build the program as head coach at Mary Hardin Baylor. She then took her talents to Sam Houston State where she successfully rebuilt that team as well.
Her next move was to the University of South Dakota before she arrived at Grambling to take over the spot left vacant by Tamura Crawley.
She found a program facing many challenges including a lack of eligible players and a rash of injuries among others. It was a task that she relished. “I think there is a lot of potential. We are going through a lot of difficulties because rebuilding a program is not easy, but we take it one day at a time.
I think the team is progressing a lot and I think the wins are going to be a consequence of getting better.” She also heaped praise on her girls for their positive attitudes.
“I think the girls are doing hard work,” she effused. “They want it. They care about it, and those type of things you don’t coach.”
It is clear that Coach Oliveira is enamored with Grambling but Brazil and the beautiful game is never far from her mind. Since 2002 she has been a liaison and scout for the Brazilian national team and she is already looking forward to World Cup 2014 in her native land where she hopes to see them capture a sixth trophy. By that time she also wants her girls to have their own titles as well.