The Inside Secrets of Sport's Most Dominant Program
While most coaches desperately seek to win just one national championship, North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance has presided over 22 in his program's amazing history. That's an uber-Dynasty folks!
Being privileged to learn from Anson and his players through their passionate involvement in the Carolina Leadership Academy, I have come to understand and appreciate what a unique, special, and dominant program he has created.
The best insight however comes from a fantastic book called The Man Watching. Written by former Sports Illustrated writer Tim Crothers, who spent over four years imbedded in the program, the book provides an extremely thorough, unbiased, and revealing look into the inner depths of the enigmatic Anson Dorrance and the history of his storied UNC program.
Based on in-depth interviews with Dorrance and his world-class players, the author also provides an unvarnished view of the program by interviewing other college coaches as well as players who did not see eye to eye with Dorrance.
Through it all, you will get a rare look into the philosophies, practices, locker room speeches, and psychology of the polarizing, yet undeniably successful and significant Anson Dorrance and his women's soccer program.
I could not recommend this book more highly to you!
Here are just a handful of ideas from the book that you might look to implement in your program...
THE COMPETITIVE CAULDRON
Struggling to create competitors on your team? A cold-blooded competitor himself, perhaps Anson's most potent forte is the way he creates and fosters such a strong competitiveness in his athletes.
Anson says, "So much of what girls have been taught growing up is about cooperation and acquiescence... Girls would rather be accepted and liked than to be competitive and respected. We want the girls in our system to understand that we don't want you to be popular, we want you to be respected."
Crothers writes: "Watching Dean Smith run a basketball practice, Dorrance discovered how he could push his women to be more competitive. He started to choose the ingredients for what years later he would call the "competitive cauldron."
Following the example of Smith's practice, Dorrance decided that every single time a player touched a soccer ball, she could be graded in some way, and from those evaluations he could build a report card for the season. He could regularly post the rankings on a bulletin board for everyone to see, and players would be more likely to hold themselves accountable.
"Charting was a way for me to coach women without the intensity of my personality. Instead of whipping them verbally, the numbers would be whipping them. It would not be personal. We wanted to create a competitive fury in practice so that once they got into a game it would be like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. We wanted our kids to feel at home in intense competition."
Dorrance believes one of the primary advantages of the stats come in their shock value. Invariably they expose an established player who isn't performing up to her capability or a talented freshman who isn't psychologically prepared for the competitive cauldron."
Creating competitors starts with creating a competitive environment in practice. Think about what areas you might be able to chart to rachet up the competitiveness of your practices.
PLANNING SCHEDULED LOSSES
Like his friend and eerily similar coaching colleague Pat Summitt of Tennessee women's basketball, [Crothers writes] "Dorrance has tried to construct the most challenging schedule of any program in the country, facing as many ranked teams as possible, almost always away from Fetzer Field.
Seeking team development, recruiting exposure, and the financial guarantees that the Tar Heels earn for playing away from home, UNC typically plays at least twice as many games on the road as in Chapel Hill... It isn't so much a schedule as a gauntlet, but it pays off when UNC reaches the NCAA final and the Tar Heels have already played their opponent earlier that season in a more hostile environment.
Ever since his team began cranking out national titles, Dorrance has even tried to arrange what he calls "scheduled losses," a script that the Tar Heels tend not to follow.
"Early in every season we try to gain some humility by getting our ass kicked," Dorrance says. "We throw our kids into the fire by traveling to the farthest team away from Chapel Hill that can beat us, maybe take a loss, and then reconstruct ourselves the rest of the year, chomping at the bit to play them again and beat them."
If you have a strong and confident team, a diet of cupcakes on your schedule is ultimately not going to best prepare you and your athletes to have the knowledge and motivation to properly compete in the post-season.
At the Final Four each season, Anson writes each of his outgoing seniors a heartfelt Senior Letter. In the letter, he talks about the contributions each person has made to the program during her time, whether they are an all-American or a rarely-used substitute. The letters often cite an obscure yet important actual instance that many players are shocked he even noticed, let alone remembered.
Anson reads the letters to the entire team in the locker room as a tribute to what the seniors have meant to the program. Each player is then reminded and challenged to play in a way that honors what the senior brought to the team.
Crothers writes: "He knows that he's only got a moment with these letters, and that this could be his last chance to make sure each senior knows how much he cares about them. He wants each young woman to know that even though he has spent four years telling her this isn't good enough, that isn't good enough, she isn't good enough, that what he's been secretly searching for all along is what really is good enough in her. When he recounts a personal story or two about her that she'd never expect him to remember, he wants her to know what he thinks is her finest quality - and this is never a soccer quality, but a human quality - because he believes that's what his women appreciate most.
When he reads the copies of the senior letters to the underclassmen left in the locker room, he wants his admiration to resonate. As he shares the words he has written to each senior, no matter how large or small her role on the team, Dorrance wants everyone inside that room to be in awe of her."
Think about how you too might be able to show your athletes how much they mean to you for what they have given to your program.
While reading The Man Watching won't guarantee you a Dynasty, it will provide you with some excellent food for thought on coaching, leadership, and how to build a highly competitive program.