Anson Dorrance imparted his wisdom and experience on coaching women’s and men’s players. (Photo by Michael Lewis)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
WOODBURY, N.Y. — If there is one person is an expert on coaching men and women in soccer, it has to be the University of North Carolina’s Anson Dorrance.
He started off directing the Tar Heels’ men in the 1976 before taking on the reins of both teams in 1979 before deciding to put his full energies behind the women in 1989.
Unless you have been hiding in a cave, you already know Dorrance built a powerhouse-plus in Chapel Hill, N.C., earning 22 titles, including 21 NCAA Division I women’s championships.
On Monday night, Dorrance was the keynote speaker at the Albertson Soccer Club’s Hall of Fame dinner and imparted his wisdom and experience coaching both sexes at the school.
“Of course, being male, I understood training men,” he told some 400 players, coaches, administrators and parents. “The shock of course, in 1979 was when I was asked to coach the women. Honestly, I was unsure what I was going to do. The feminist literature back then was telling me there were no differences between men and women, only in environmental influences [that] have pushed us in different directions.
“With this understanding, I was going to correct decades of sociological influence and I was going to treat my men and women exactly the same. Well, I am first to testify that this was an absolute disaster. Time doesn’t allow me to share all my mistakes, but let me share some and honestly it was the correction of our mistakes that shaped our culture.”
First, Dorrance talked about the men’s team.
“In the mid-seventies, the dominant team in the ACC was the University of Maryland and we had a shot at them. We were going into overtime. It was obviously tied up. We had a chance to beat them and was trying to find something motivational to tell my men. I had seen this amazing movie the night before, The Great Santini. Santini was this Marine pilot in peace time and he was explaining to his wife how he wants to raise his kids. He said something that I thought was incredibly powerful. He said, ‘I want my sons to have the gift of fury. I want them to gobble up the world. I want them to eat life before it eats them.’
“So, I got the boys together: ‘Listen, I don’t care what you do in this overtime period, technically, tactically. Just get the ball and smack it into the Maryland goalmouth. Go charging in there like a bunch of Neanderthals. Take the ball, the Maryland defense, the goalkeeper, just stuff it into the back of the net. Reach down and find that fury that each one of you possess and just spew it over the heads of these Maryland players.’
“And sure enough in the overtime period, that’s exactly what they did. They smacked the ball in there. They went in there like a bunch of wild hyena and they just stuffed everything in the back of the net. They are carrying me off on their shoulders. I’m thinking to myself, Knute Rockne move on because the new motivational speaker has arrived in America.”
Maybe, maybe not.
“I couldn’t wait to unleash The Great Santini on my women,” Dorrance said. “I’ll tell you something about the evolution of soccer in the south. We were the first women’s varsity [college team] in the south. We didn’t play N.C. State, Duke or Wake Forest. They didn’t have teams. Back in those days, we played high school girls select teams. On this particular day we were playing against a team from the suburb of McClellan, Virginia. So it was the University of North Carolina vs. the McClellan Grasshoppers.”
The Tar Heels did not fare well in the opening half.
“The Grasshoppers were dancing all over our heads but I was not the least bit concerned because I knew we had Santini to unleash on the women at the half. We’re losing 2-0 at the half. I lined the girls up and I started talking about the gift of fury, about gobbling up life, about eating life because it eats them. And I am getting these vacuous stares back. I’m thinking, that’s OK. They’ve obviously internalized this information. And as soon the second half begins, we’ll start ripping legs off these Grasshoppers. It never happened. I think the final score was 7-3.”
A lesson learned, a hard one at that as the audience laughed.
“Men and women are obviously motivated differently,” Dorrance said. “Over time I gathered that my men’s and women’s teams were not the same and had to be coached differently.
“I stopped using videotape with the women. Let me tell you something about men. Men need videotape. I never met a male athlete whose felt he made a mistake in athletic competition in his life. Videotape is proof. If you make a general criticism of a men’s team, every guy in the room is nodding because he thinks you’re talking about the guy next to him. ‘I’ll tell you John, they’re going through you like a knife through butter.’ He can’t believe it. I roll the tape. ‘It can’t be me coach. Someone else is wearing my number.’ It’s amazing how they take no responsibility for their performance until you roll the videotape out.”
Then there’s the flip side.
“With women, if you make a general criticism, every woman on the team thinks you’re just talking about her,” he said. “Videotape is useless. In fact, its redundant if you use it, the way we do it for the men. We actually do the opposite with the video we do for the women. We show highlight reels and use it to build confidence and confidence building is so much what we do.”
Wait — there was much, much more.
“Halftime talks are totally different,” he said. “I’m going to give you the greatest halftime talk that I’ve ever given a men’s team in my life. We’re playing against Wake Forest. This is the second year Wake had a varsity. No freaking way should a second-year varsity be on the field with my team and we were tied at the half. So I come storming into the locker room and I’m pacing back and forth like a caged tiger.
“Of course, this is my men’s team and they’re not the most sensitive creatures. Eventually one of the brighter bulbs in the room says something like, ‘He looks pissed.’ As soon as I could hear a pin drop. I turned to face him and again I was so sputtering mad. There was no way I could correct all the mistakes that they made in the first half. There was no attacking personality, no defensive shape. There was absolutely no focus. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a waste paper basket and I went running over and with my right instep I kicked it through a window and stormed out of the locker room.”
Quite a show, but Dorrance had made his point.
“Let me tell you something about men,” he continued. “That spoke volumes to my men’s team. Is that interesting? You kick a waste paper basketball through a window. that actually communicates something to men.
“If you had done that for your women’s team, they would have correctly surmised that you’re a psychotic and that they should all flee the room. The second half was an absolute transformation. We had attacking personality. We had a defensive shape. There was an intensity that was fantastic. And obviously, the game had completely turned around.”
For his women’s team, Dorrance had to change his tactics and style.
“Now if you were a woman, and had a poor first half, the halftime ritual starts the same,” he said. “You come in and you start pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. They know you’re upset when you walk into the locker room. You torture them for a while, you keep going back and forth. When you think you’ve tortured them enough, you turn and face them and absolutely vital is your tone.
“You say, ‘Well, what do you think?’ Now there’s a chorus as self-flagellation as every woman in the room is taking full responsibility for the absolute nightmare that has just taken place in the first half. You’re not criticizing them, you’re not yelling at them. What you’re trying to do is build confidence. And then of course, you start to share your coaching genius. You say, ‘You know that girl who scored five goals against us in the first half? Try marking her this period.’ And again, all you’ve done is you’ve constructed confidence and they’re going to be doing for you in the second half.
“Praise has to be doled out differently. Men love public praise. If a guy has a great game, you can say, ‘John, on your back you carried us today.’ Every guy in the room is screaming ‘Yeah, John, you’re unbelievable.’ His ego is soaring like a hawk.
“I couldn’t wait to honor one of my young women in this fashion. Sure enough, Mary has a great game and I pointed to her in the locker room. ‘Mary, you carried us today.’ You can hear a pin drop in the room. Every woman now hated women with a passion [there is laughter in the audience]. Not only did they hate Mary with a passion, they hated me with a passion for not praising them. And to make matters worse, Mary now hated me with a passion for humiliating her in front of her teammates.”