One of UTM’s Golden Eagles, leaders, and mentors isn’t a student and isn’t an athlete. She doesn’t sink buckets on the basketball court or serve volleyball aces. She’s a humble presence in the UTM Athletics Program Office, a role-model for athletes and her co-workers, and is an incredibly important piece to UTM’s Athletic program’s growth and continued success. She is Varsity and Intramural Sport Coordinator for UTM Athletics, Sonia Carreiro.
Carreiro was born in Brampton, but moved to Mississauga when she was very young. She grew up in an athletic family, her mom and dad played tennis and soccer, respectively. Her parents enrolled Carreiro in a variety of sports when she was a child, including soccer, basketball, karate, and gymnastics. They wanted her to be involved. Carreiro’s older brother was someone she always looked up to. When he picked up soccer from their father, Carreiro wanted to follow his lead.
It was always about soccer in Carreiro’s house while growing up. Most weekends, Carreiro and her family spent Sunday mornings watching Premier League and Portuguese league soccer matches. It became a family tradition, made all the more special by a little family rivalry between her and her father. His favourite team was Porto, hers, Benfica.
She grew up a fan of Manchester United, and considers their coach at the time, Sir Alex, one of the best coaches in the game and a key component to the club’s success. David Beckham was a player she liked to watch too. Carreiro grew attached to the team and its history. Most notably, the plane crash in the 70s which lead to the loss of players. “But they came back years later to build the team into one of the strongest in the premier league. An incredible feat after an accident like that,” said Carreiro.
When Carreiro realized she wanted to become more competitive in soccer, she dropped all her other activities. As a youth soccer athlete, she competed in many different soccer clubs in both Mississauga and Oakville. She played for Erin Mills, North Mississauga, Dixie, and Oakville. Carreiro fell in love with the competitive atmosphere. She realized that not only did she love to compete, but that she thrived in the competitive atmosphere as well. She always wanted to be a better player.
Her family was just as invested in helping her develop her talent, and enrolled her in skill training programs. When her dad came home from work, they’d kick a ball around in their backyard. Although her mom wasn’t great with her feet, she’d practice with Carreiro as well, wanting to help her daughter further her competitive ambitions.
Carreiro’s involvement in different clubs in Mississauga and Oakville lead to a couple of scholarship opportunities in the U.S., but she opted to stay close to home instead. But like most young women her age, Carreiro wasn’t looking to pursue soccer during her post-secondary education. Carreiro was a walk-on at Humber College, after a friend of hers playing rugby for the college encouraged her to try it out. She played there for five years, from 2008 to 2013.
It was an adjustment at 18 years old. Like most people her age, she needed to figure out what to do with her life. Being a student-athlete was a challenging experience, with practices and condensed schedules. But it was a rewarding experience as well.
“A lot of young people, especially young women, tend to quit after they leave the youth league at age 18,” said Carreiro. “They just quit when they get to post-secondary. They don’t want anything to do with the sport. But [playing at the post-secondary level] is more rewarding than just playing the sport. You create friendships that last lifetimes. I’ve seen some of my soccer friends get married and have children, and we still keep in contact. I built relationships through sport that strengthened and carried on well beyond the soccer pitch.”
“It’s not just a sport for me. It’s become something I can turn to when I just need a break from life. You can just go out and kick a ball or watch a game.” Carreiro and her husband now have season tickets to the Toronto Football Club (TFC). “We love the game and the overall atmosphere—how a sport can bring people together no matter their ethnicity, religion, or anything else that may be different between us.”
In the summer in-between seasons with the Humber Hawks, Carreiro played in the GS United Scarborough Women’s league. Her Senior Women’s group won the Ontario Cup, an accolade she never achieved as a young athlete.
Like most athletes, one of the hardest obstacles Carreiro ever had to overcome was an injury. During her Hall of Fame competitive career she suffered broken fingers, dislocated shoulders, and a broken collar bone. In her third year as a Humber Hawk she suffered her greatest challenge and worst injury to date: a torn MCL.
“It not only impacted my ability to play—I couldn’t […] It changed how I physically moved and operated. I couldn’t walk. I had to change my work. I had to adjust my entire life around this one injury.”
The adjustments she had to make to her life were unlike any she’d ever made before. Unfortunately, the one thing she used to relieve stress, soccer, was off limits. “You get in your head a little bit. You start doubting yourself, doubting if you want to keep playing, doubting if you want to come back from this.” Her solution was to stay involved with the sport.
In those five years, her teams (outdoor and indoor soccer) won 10 OCAA medals, eight of which were gold. In 2018, Carreiro was recognized for her competitive drive, humbleness, and valuable contributions she made to her teams during her time at Humber.
Carreiro felt she grew a lot as a person during her time with the Humber Hawks. They helped her develop and accumulate the skills and experiences she uses today in her career with UTM Athletics. “If something doesn’t work out the first time, you just get back up. Ask yourself what you can do to make it better for the next time, and then move forward. There’s no point in dwelling on it. Try to do better the next time around.”
Carreiro worked a number of different roles before coming to UTM. She worked full-time at the Woodbridge Soccer club as an administrative assistant, scheduling and running camps. She worked with nearly 5,000 youth females, from U4 to U18, ran a Women’s league on Sundays, and coached there part-time. She also worked part-time with the city of Brampton.
“It was hard to get jobs in that field right away—you really had to work from the bottom to the top… and stick to it.” Carreiro remained positive. “You have to stick to it. Things will come your way, and it may not be right now. But you have to keep looking at the long-term goal. That mentality led me to the position I have today.”
Carreiro has been credited for her never-say-die attitude and is no stranger to hard work and perseverance. She started at UTM working part-time in caretaking at the student centre. She eventually got a job at the control desk as a facility assistant at the RAWC, which gave her more insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the sport atmosphere.
Carreiro went to Humber for Recreation and Leisure and Sport Management. Today, she assists the Varsity Supervisor with the logistics and behind-the-scenes legwork of running a successful athletics program. Carreiro’s biggest task is UTM Intramurals, the campuses recreational sports league. To her, it feels like she has a hand in everything, but most of the time it doesn’t feel like a job.
Yes, there are tight deadlines and complications, but she genuinely enjoys helping teams get where they need to be. It’s also been a reward seeing the people she helps run the program for happy.
As well as being the Varsity and Intramural Sports Coordinator, Carreiro has held the position of Assistant coach to UTM’s Varsity Women’s Soccer Team. One of the reasons she became a coach was to remain involved with the sport.
“I knew I couldn’t play anymore. I had a lot of coaches that made me want to quit, but I also had a lot of coaches who made the sport extremely positive. So I knew I wanted to be that positive influence for young women in sport. I think on the youth side you need to have someone as a role model. A young girl needs to have someone she can see herself in. Even now there aren’t many female soccer coaches. I feel like I can give a lot back to the sport through coaching. I want to help our younger generation to not only be better adults, but better people on and off the soccer field.”
UTM’s Women’s Varsity Soccer program is in its fifth season. Carreiro is in her fourth term with the team. It was challenging for her because she had to learn how to be a voice for her athletes without being on the field. She’s also had to adjust to how she gives instructions, given how different people respond and receive feedback. She’s glad to have had the chance to see a lot of these young ladies grow. “One of the most rewarding aspects is watching a lot of these girls graduate from university. U of T is not one of the easiest degrees to come by, so to see them thrive has been rewarding in itself. They had a goal, and they got their degree.”
One moment sticks out the most for Carreiro when she reflects back on her time as assistant coach: when an athlete on her team scored their first goal after being with the UTM women’s soccer team for a couple of years.
Carreiro remembered the girl’s first goal vividly. “I saw it over her right shoulder. She dribbled through two people and shot it low corner, because we tell our girls to pick their corners, and she scored. I was always on one of my athletes because she had a phenomenal left foot, but she never wanted to use her right. I would tell her, ‘you need to cut with your right, and shoot with your left. You’ll be successful. Just trust me and do it.’ She never did it for the longest time. She did it once, came to me at half-time, and said, ‘look I finally listened to you.’ That’s when I knew I was doing something right as a coach. I could see the expression on their faces when they were successful. That to me is what’s made being a coach so rewarding.”
Carreiro is both a humble sports coordinator and athlete, and isn’t looking to cement her own legacy at UTM. Her focus lies in what she wants others to experience and take away when they come to UTM and participate in athletics. She wants to continue building the sense of community and belonging that many athletes feel UTM’s athletic program provides—a feeling that UTM will create even after she’s left.
Fourth-year varsity soccer athlete, Referee of the Year, and soccer MVP Noor Aldoori has had experience with Carreiro as a coach, and as a boss. “She treats everyone with the most respect,” said Aldoori. “It’s clear she truly cares about each player. She is always open to hearing opinions, criticism, and often asks for feedback. All her experience and the way she expresses herself makes each player trust her and want to make her proud.”
UTM Alumni, OCAA Soccer All-Star, and UTM Athletics Female Athlete of the Year Jayde Forde has not only looked up to Carreiro as a player, but now as a coach, as she too begins her own coaching career. “Sonia is a great mentor, coach and overall person. She’s always ready to help you out, both on and off the soccer pitch. She’s an amazing soccer player.”
“I came from a school that gives so much back to their athletes,” said Carreiro. She hopes to share that same experience and create that sort of atmosphere for UTM’s athletes. Not just for varsity athletes, but for anyone who’s willing to go out and do something different or try something new.
“I want people to be engaged, and enjoy the sports and activities UTM Athletics has to offer. I just want people to find happiness, and meeting new people because they stepped out of their comfort zone. It’s not just about playing, about shooting hoops, or kicking a ball, or volleying and getting that perfect spike. It’s more than that. It’s friendship-building and it’s team-building. It’s learning how to work with people who may not completely understand your way of doing things. You learn life lessons that endure beyond the playing field, and into your everyday life. Sports can give those opportunities to everybody.”