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Irish Pagarao is now the first A license soccer coach in the CNMI

If you want to learn how to play soccer or level up your game, make new friends, be more physically active—or all of the above—look no further than the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association and be coached by the first A licensed coach in the CNMI, Lalaine Pagarao.

Known to everyone as Irish, she has dedicated herself to the sport, developed her skills as a player and coach, progressed and refined her coaching abilities, and achieved the A Diploma coaching license in the Philippine Football Federation under the AFC Coaching Convention just last year. With this license, she is able to use it anywhere in the United States or Asia and is able to apply for the Pro license—the highest soccer coaching license, after two years.

Part one of her training was online in 2021, then in 2022 in Carmona, Cavite, in the Philippines, where she had to go through rigorous and long hours of hands-on training. As to why she took the A license, she said she wanted to show that “even if we’re from a small island, we can go out there and develop and learn more about soccer or football. I just wanted to show them that we could do it—and I did it.”

The 31-year-old is a Saipan Soccer School administrative assistant for sports who organizes sports tournaments in the CNMI that range from basketball and badminton, to volleyball and others.

On weekday afternoons, you will find her at the pitch in the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville as she coaches the CNMI soccer national team as assistant coach. She is also a coach for the Kanoa Football Club’s U17 boys and men's teams. On Thursday nights, she collectively coaches women from different football clubs in the intermediate league. Unsurprisingly, she not only coaches players, but is also a mentor to her fellow Kanoa coaches and conducts clinics with them.

Her coaching style depends on the age division. “With the younger kids, you have to have more fun so that they will like the sport, have fun, come back, and not quit. With the older ones, we focus more on discipline and how to work as a team or other values that I try to input. I have to be able to change and adapt in how I handle each age group that I’m coaching.”

Now that she is just one license away from a pro license, Pagarao has gained more confidence in her coaching abilities. That her Kanoa U17 team is currently the No. 1 seed in the TakeCare NMIFA Youth Spring League 2023 at the time of writing this story speaks a lot about her current capabilities.

“I think I'm pretty decent as a coach. …All the things that I learned from the A license [course], I apply it to my boys and the men. …Right now I think we're doing fine and I feel like I have more knowledge now. I guess I’m more open-minded,” she said.

Pagarao, who credits both Merlie Tolentino from Saipan Soccer School and NMIFA president Jerry Tan for their tremendous support in her soccer career, is thankful to them both for everything. “The support we have, especially with the coaches, is so good because boss [Jerry Tan] fully supports coaches to have certifications because it’s really important.”

The Asian Football Confederation, of which the NMIFA is under, requires coaches to have at least a C license, which most NMIFA coaches have.

Although basketball is her first love, soccer has provided Pagarao with a career and more opportunities. Her commitment and love for what she does is evident in the sparkle in her eyes when she not only talks about coaching her teams, but also helping grow and expand the grassroots and women’s soccer program, which shows her dedication to the sport and wanting to see the longevity of soccer on the island.

Failing in obtaining the A license course was not an option for Pagarao. Everything was paid for and all she had to do was pass and that’s what she did. “This is for the younger kids. I just wanted to finish it so that I can come back here and help out with the grassroots especially and the women. I had to make sure I passed so that I could come back and help out and give back to everyone what I learned,” she said. “Honestly, as long as you love what you're doing, you will pass. Like, you don't even have to think or try too hard, because If you love your job, it will just follow.”

When asked about soccer’s future in the CNMI, she said, “It’s going to be here for the longest time.” Although soccer is not one of the longest organized sports in the CNMI, she said the support from NMIFA for the coaches and everyone involved will continue soccer’s successes on the island. “As long as we have a good leader, everything will be successful,” she said.

Published by Saipan Tribune - Sep 5, 2023


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