Naomi Chinnama – Every Setback Makes Me Stronger

Australian football fans know Naomi Chinnama as a reliable centre-back, a young leader, and – as of the CommBank Young Matildas game against Korea Republic – a clutch, last-minute goal scorer.

She is currently competing at the AFC U20 Women’s Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2024™, where she has been a key part of the team reaching the semi-finals of the tournament and qualifying for the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Colombia 2024™.

How does the 19-year-old Melbourne City defender describe herself?

“Very focused,” she began. “Focused, but also when I can kick back, I do have a good time. I will socialise, and be there for people. I would like to think people someone see me as some who is considerate and kind, but then when I’m on the field – I’m not a monster, but has that mindset that they’ll do anything for their teammates.”

Naomi Chinnama (21, centre) rises highest to make a defensive header against Korea Republic. Photo: AFC
Naomi Chinnama (21, centre) rises highest to make a defensive header against Korea Republic. Photo: AFC

Chinnama has been a feature of Leah Blayney’s CommBank Young Matildas for several years now. She was part of the squad that played at the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2022™ and is also in the middle of her fourth season at the A-League Women’s level for Melbourne City.

That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t faced setbacks. A non-linear journey, including struggling for game time at different times at club level, has not stopped her driving to succeed.

“With every setback or every bit of adversity that I face, it only makes me stronger,” she explained.

“It’s also about embracing those negative emotions, because they are valid, especially when things don’t go your way – but that’s life, that’s a career as a footballer. Knowing that if you just stick to it and you stay consistent, things will work out.”

The young defender was born in Australia, but her father was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and her mother’s parents were born there as well. Her cultural background is very important to her in that it has shaped her personality, but also because she can be a role model to others who may want to follow in her footsteps.

“I’m proud to be a woman of colour,” Chinnama said. “Me being able to represent all those girls is so important. It just gives me even more drive and adds to my purpose of why I play, and why I love what I do.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have one person in particular I could really look up to. Especially when it came to football, looking at players, I would look at more men’s players. When it came to people of colour, the names that jumped out to me were Usain Bolt, and Sarina Williams – those few people that really represented us in that way.

“Now seeing myself as potentially becoming one of those would be amazing and like I said, gives me more drive.”

She says that her personality – both the serious, and talkative side – derived from her parents.

“You have to be focused but you also need to enjoy it because at the end of the day, we’re doing something that we love,” she explained.

Chinnama was named CommBank Young Matildas vice-captain for the U20 Women’s Asian Cup. When captain Jessika Nash was substituted off the pitch in the second group stage game against Uzbekistan, she got to pull on the captain’s armband for the first time in the tournament.

Naomi Chinnama, wearing the captain's armband, on the ball for the Young Matildas against Uzbekistan. Photo: HASAN PIRMUHAMEDOV, AFC
Naomi Chinnama, wearing the captain’s armband, on the ball for the Young Matildas against Uzbekistan. Photo: Hasan Pirmuhamedov/AFC

“It’s an honour to represent the girls in this way,” she said.

“[Leadership is] not only leading by example, but it’s showing support for my teammates and making sure I feel the pulse of the group. I know how everyone’s feeling and if we’re all on the same page, and I feel like that translates to when we’re on the field.

“It doesn’t matter regardless of how the game’s going. Being able to be a rock for the girls I think really helps us progress and push through whatever challenges we face. I would like to think that’s my nature. I try and be as positive as I can be at all times, regardless of how I’m feeling myself.”

The success that the team has had on the pitch is a big part of her contentment mid-camp. However, she knows that it is just as important to have a balance off the pitch.

“You can’t just have pressure, pressure, pressure, and no release,” she explained. “So for me a pressure release will look like reading a good book, speaking to a good friend or family, spending time playing Bananagrams – there’s many different ways.”

When asked what she loved about her world, there was one theme that stood out – gratitude.

“I just say I’m so grateful,” she reflected. “Right now I feel like it’s so important to have gratitude for everything that you have. My world – I love my football life, I love my family, my friends. I love being Australian and growing up in Australia. I am just so grateful for all of my experiences so far.”

Naomi Chinnama and the CommBank Young Matildas will play Japan on Wednesday in the semi-final of the AFC U20 Women’s Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2024. You can watch live and free on 10Play at 10pm AEDT.

Australia v Japan

Date: Wednesday, 13 March 2024

Kick-off: 4.00pm (local) / 10.00pm AEDT

Venue: JAR Stadium, Tashkent

Broadcast: 10 Play

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