Competitive Excellence with 22-Time National Champion Anson Dorrance

Anson Dorrance is quite possibly the most successful coach of any sport all-time, having led the UNC Women’s Soccer program to an astounding 22 national titles. On the show today, Anson talks about how he quantifies competitiveness, lessons learned from watching Dean Smith run practice, his perspective on the Black Lives Matter protests, and why he’s much more focused on human development than athletic development.

Coming Soon – Anson’s Book, Vision of a Champion, will be available on audiobook and adapted into a podcast series. For more information including sponsorship opportunities, check out the Vision of a Champion website.

Anson Dorrance: I had an opportunity in 1994 to sign a contract with U.S. Soccer and become a full time U.S. Women’s National coach.

And honestly, I was never interested. What I absolutely love is where I am. I love the collegiate game, and it’s not just the soccer side of the collegiate game I love. I love the fact that my moral imperative is human development.

It’s not soccer development. During the ages between 17 and 21, 22, there’s an extraordinary amount of opportunity for a young person to go from a girl to a woman.

Donald Thompson: Well, welcome to the Donald Thompson podcast. And I am smiling ear to ear because I have a very esteemed guest, Mr. Anson Dorrance, UNC women’s soccer coach with us and Anson, welcome aboard and thanks for spending time with us.

Anson Dorrance: Donald, my absolute pleasure.

Donald Thompson: One of the things I wanted to do to have our audience get to know you a little differently, right?

You have national titles. You have been obviously a world renowned coach in your space and soccer, tell me about where you grew up – brothers and sisters, mom and dad. Let’s get to know Anson the person, and then we’ll dig into some of the things we want to talk about, about leadership and sports and different things like that.

Anson Dorrance: Sure. Well, I was born in Bombay, India to American parents, so I was naturalized at birth.  A year later, my sister was also born in Bombay. Then we moved to Calcutta, India, which is, of course, across the subcontinent and in Calcutta, Pete, who’s in the restaurant business in Chapel Hill, he was born.

And then we moved to Nairobi, Kenya where my youngest brother was born.  And then from there we went to  Ethiopia, where I met my wife. We met in the second grade. Her father was, the air out of shade, shader the Ethiopian Air Force. Mine was there as an oil businessman. And then we moved to a Singapore, Malaysia, which is where my youngest sister was born.

And then we moved to Brussels, Belgium. And while my parents were in Belgium, they sent me to a Swiss boarding school. I went to La Villa Saint Jean in Fribourg, Switzerland, and from high school, I applied to four colleges. I was rejected at my first three choices. Ended up at the same Catholic University whose teaching order also ran the boys’ boarding school in Fribourg, Switzerland, I guess they felt they had to admit me. I had such a terrifying experience in San Antonio, Texas at St. Mary’s University, and we can certainly get into stories about that. I fled to my home state university and transferred into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and absolutely fell in love with everything about that great university and loved it so much. When I graduated with my English and philosophy degree, of course, it didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew where I was going to live. I got married that summer to the woman I met in Ethiopia,  she was a very successful professional dancer. She was hired immediately to teach dance locally, and we have lived here happily ever after.

Donald Thompson: That is awesome. That is I – thank you so much for doing that because that is, one, I wouldn’t have been aware naturally just of your global perspective, right? In terms of how you were raised and your view of the world. And so that’s something I think, unique, for our listeners.

And then also, it digs into some of the things we’ll talk about in terms of appreciating people’s differences and things about that a little bit later. But I want to jump off and give you some room to share. One of the things about being successful in any sport where you replicate things again and again, is you learn and refine, learn and refine your system.

Tell me a little bit about, when you think about leadership and in particular working with young people to get them to create effort, consistency. What are some of the things you think about, twofold, in the type of players that you are looking to recruit and be a part of your program, and then how you get them to be the best self that they can be?

Anson Dorrance: Well, obviously this has been an evolution because my thinking changed constantly. And when you’re a really young coach,  you boil your, I guess, respect and your recruiting attraction to talent. And by talent, you know, a player that’s particularly fast, or particularly skillful, or particularly smart, and you have a very, sort of, simple idea of what you’re looking for.

And as you gain perspective, as you have learned that, you know what that talented kid I brought in a couple of years ago, never really made it. And even though, you’re sort of wondering why they didn’t make it, you don’t really know. And then eventually, I guess maybe for me, I would have to say it was eventually, maybe other coaches, you know, come to this conclusion a lot faster and earlier than I did. But, sort of, eventually, you sort out, you know what? Talent is overrated.

I’m always shocked at how many players don’t really make it in my program. because some of the kids have made it, but my most recent national championship was in 2012. Four of the kids on the field for me as starters were walk – ons. OK, let me say that again. Four out of my starting 11 were walk-ons that won the national championship, which means my bench was littered with scholarship players that didn’t make it.

And so obviously, when I’m looking at these walk-ons, I’m not seeing any talent. And obviously when I’m looking at my scholarship kids, I’m seeing overwhelming talent. So where am I depositing my scholarship money? Well, I’m giving it to the talented kids. But the longer I’ve been coaching, the more I’ve sorted out there’s so many other factors involved in a player’s success, which is why when we have our player conferences, we certainly, you know, set some goals and we certainly talk about that sort of thing, but that’s not where I spend the most time at a player conference. The time that I spend and invest the most in a player conference is I’m talking about their human character, their personal character, and I’m talking about their athletic character. We divide our human character into 13 different sort of silos of representing, what I call, our principle centered living list of core values. And we’re certainly talking about that. If they need to work on any given particular character trait, but we’re spending even more time, because obviously I’m a sports coach, I spend more time talking about their athletic character. So yes, we discuss self-discipline, we discuss competitive fire, we discuss self-belief, but also love of the ball. Love of playing the game. Love of watching the game, grit, coachability and connection.

So we talk about nine different elements, and then we have the player evaluate themselves in each of the nine elements. And here’s what’s interesting: because I have an analytical mind, I try to reduce everything to numbers – it’s much better and easier to deal with numbers then, you know, those esoteric psychological things or philosophical things, by the way, I studied English and philosophy.

So I know all about how philosophy engages people in conversation. And of course, in all of my philosophical debates and conversations, there’s no real, I guess, end point to this conversation, which is why numbers are so much better because they’re quantifiable. You can see improvement in them. You can see, basically, a falling off in them.

So whenever we’re talking about these nine qualities, I’m having the kid evaluate themselves on this scale. If they consider themselves a full national team or an Olympic caliber athlete in this particular silo, give yourself a five. If you consider yourself a professional level in this area, give yourself a 4.5.

If you consider yourself a UNC women’s starter, give yourself a four. If you’re the sort of kid that can play in each half in a game that hasn’t been decided for UNC, give yourself, you know, a 3.5, et cetera, all the way down to, you know, two, and of course we don’t give anyone zeros or ones. I mean, the minimum thing we’ll give someone as a two or a 2.5. And then of course, the game begins because what you want to do is you want to sort out.

What this player’s narrative is because let’s face it, every player has a personal narrative. The personal narrative is designed to protect you from pain, but also it’s designed to protect you from accountability. So almost every player that comes into my program have their own narrative.

Their narratives are basically shaped by their parents and their influencers, whoever they happen to be. And usually in athletics it’s certainly the parents that are shaping their narrative, and obviously, maybe their youth coach has a piece of this narrative, and the trouble with narratives of most players is they compromise the potential of the player.

And what we try to do is we try to get that player’s narrative to the truth as fast as possible. So if you can get a kid’s narrative to the truth quickly, that kid’s going to be in a position to change where they are. But as long as you’ve got this excuse-ridden athlete who is involved in a circular conversation with their parents that are protecting them from the chaos of the universe, basically the responsibility for why they’re not starting or playing maximum minutes or performing. Now, all of a sudden you’ve taken the only opportunity that is given to this kid to change their situation and improve. So part of this lengthy player conference is to figure out what their, basically, their narrative is.

Those numbers are going to project where they’re going to end up in their soccer lives. And so what’s really cool about this, I guess, conversation is what happens when we immediately start talking about self-discipline, because of course, the players sitting across from me wants to start. And let’s assume the player sitting across from me is not a starter, so we start out with self-discipline. So I’ll ask the kid, “Well, what would you give yourself in terms of self discipline?” And let’s assume they think, “Well, I want to start, and I’m not starting yet, so I’ll just give myself a four.” And I’m going to say, “I don’t think you’re a four,” and now they’re wondering, you know, what I’m using to determine their self-discipline, because they can create any kind of scenario in their head of the one day in their life when they actually woke up and did some real work, and so maybe that’s what they’re looking at as a definition of their self discipline. So what I’ll say is, “I think your self discipline is not a four. I think it’s a 2.8.” So then we talk about competitive fire. I have this thing called the competitive cauldron where every player is ranked in 28 different categories throughout the entire season. At the end of the season, we have an alchemy, or some sort of algorithm, where all of those 28 categories are blended together and they’re given a team rank in terms of practice performance.

That practice performance is going to project where they’re going to end up as a player in the future. So basically, let’s assume you are, let’s say, 15th on the team in the competitive cauldron. So now I’m asking the player again, what do you think about your competitive  fire thing? “Well, I’m very competitive. I’m always fighting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I say, “What do you give yourself?” And they say, “Well, I think I’m a four.” ‘Cause they all desperately want to start. And I’m going to say, well, where’d you rank in the competitive cauldron? And now they’re going, “Uh-oh, oh, we’re using some more objective criteria for my number here in competitive fire. And I’m going to say, “Well, anyone that’s in the top 10 in the competitive cauldron can give themselves a four or above. Where were you?” Well, I was 15th. All right, so then do the math. Now, of course, they’re now down around a 3.5 or something. So basically we have an algorithm for every single one of these things, and then all of a sudden, the end, while I’m continuing to talk with the student athlete, my director of operations, Tom Sanders, sitting next to me with a calculator and he gives me the number, you know, within minutes of when the nine different categories are assessed. And then based on that number, I tell them at their current rate, here’s where they’re going.

We had a player that had huge potential, but just didn’t check any boxes for me. But she was so talented, I had to play her. And all of a sudden we’re in January of her senior, or junior, year, and I’m having my player conference with her. And we went through the algorithm and basically I said, “You know, I know your dream is to sign a pro contract, but Bridget, you’re never going to sign a pro contract and I’m looking at the numbers. You’re just not going to do it. You don’t check all the boxes, and from my experience, ’cause I’ve been doing this forever this isn’t projecting a professional.” And of course this is her dream. And tears are streaming down her cheeks, and I’m just saying, “We’ve got to, you’ve got to be better. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this.” And there were so many different things. I mean, she was overwhelmed. And then all of a sudden, I guess this come to Jesus speech, you know, resonated and she got to work and all of a sudden she started checking all these boxes, and by the end of her senior year, we’re playing against Stanford in the national championship final, Bridget has the game of her life. A nd she plays absolutely out of her mind, but in the interim between that January meeting and her December performance, she’s starting to check these nine boxes. She was the first player drafted by the Houston D ash in the NWSL draft, and she called me a couple of weeks ago just overjoyed because she had signed a professional contract. Well, what had happened in between January and December is she started checking the boxes. She took her narrative that was protecting her from pain and accountability, and she jumped in with both feet and started to go to a completely different level, and I think she’s going to be a very successful professional athlete.

Donald Thompson: No, that is awesome. There’s a couple of things that I want to unpack a little bit.

Anson Dorrance: Sure.

Donald Thompson: is the competitive cauldron something you started out with or something that you developed, right, as a way to bring it forward? Because regardless of soccer or life, you’re kicking out knowledge and nuggets that are about how to identify, grow, and build that championship fiber and the components you need for any winning team.

So I’m super interested in a little more detail there.

Anson Dorrance: Donald, thank you. I’d love to expand. And I really appreciate you allowing me to sort of drill into this because I’ve got to give Dean Smith full credit for this. When I was a young coach at UNC, he was just an extraordinary man and just so gracious for all of us that knew absolutely nothing about, you know, what we were doing, but he was just so accommodating and so kind to me, and he would say, “You know, Anson, you know whenever you’d like, if you and your staff would want to come in and watch us work with our basketball teams, you know, please come in. We’d love to, you know, have you guys sit there and I’ll have a manager bring you my practice sessions so you can look at it and see if there’s anything in our environment that you could steal to take back into the soccer world. You know, please, you’re always invited.” And I always felt so guilty to, you know, impose on him, but I’m finally thinking ” This is crazy.

I have this take advantage of this great man,” and so I did. So I show up with my entire staff.  We have to sit in a certain section, first in Carmichael and then in the Dean Smith Center, whenever we went to practice and sure enough, we’re sitting there and as we’re sitting down the manager’s handing me and my entire staff, this perfect printout of practice.

And I’m looking at this going “Holy cow,” because this is down to the minute. And of course, for me, I guess I look at my practices as a work of art, you know, I might do a little bit over here and then I’ll do a little bit over there and then I’ll do a little bit of this. And so I’m looking at this thinking, ‘This is unbelievable.’

And I’m just stunned at this. And then I am looking at my watch and sure enough. Yeah, on the minute there’s a water break and then they’re out of the water break in two minutes and then they’re onto this and they’re onto that and I’m following the schedule and it’s just incredible. But then I’m looking at something else – underneath every basket in the gym is an assistant manager. At the scores table is the head manager. And I can see this, this additional orchestra being played while Dean Smith and his staffs or orchestrating the players. And this other sub-orchestra is a data collection unit of assistant managers and head managers.

And so underneath every basket, you can see this manager with a clipboard, obviously recording if a guy hit or missed a shot. And then there are other baskets where you’ve got the two or the four big men playing two-v-two against each other, you’re seeing whether or not they box out, whether or not they’re, you know, scoring from in close, whether or not they’re fighting for the rebound.

So you can see all the different algorithms going on, you know, during the training environment. And so I’m not just watching practice as, you know, just a fan. I am watching the construction of practice. I am watching assembling the data. And then I’m watching at the end of practice, Dean’s assembling the troops.

They’re all standing in front of him. He’s chatting with them a bit. And while this is going on, every manager with a clipboard is sprinting towards the scores table. At the scores table as a head manager. And you can see him furiously writing things down. I mean, like he had like a time deadline to finish this as quickly as possible.

And then he looks around a bit and everyone starts to nod and then he gets up and he’s standing behind Dean Smith, doesn’t say a thing. And that eventually a Dean stops talking, turns around and the head manager hands him that day’s practice data. Based on where that kid finished in practice from one to 15, the players were told what to do. The kids that had finished the top five in practice got to leave and shower immediately. The next five started doing suicides and the last five were doing suicides until the end of recorded time. And I was thinking, “Holy cow.” Look at the accountability of this stuff, because usually here’s what happens in a practice.

If I’m looking in a certain direction, those kids are working hard. If I turn around and I look at this scrimmage over here, those kids are working hard. What happens in the environments that you’re not immediately supervising and watching? There’s a little bit of a drop off, not an enormous drop off because these are obviously elite players, but there’s a tiny bit of a dropoff.

One of my favorite Damon Nahas stories, and he’s my assistant at UNC, is he was talking about one day he was so disappointed in the performance of his youth team and he brought them together and he was really upset with them he says, “Let me ask you something. If the national youth coach that all of you guys want to play for we’re on that sideline right now, could you guys play at a completely different level?”

And everyone said, “Yeah, yeah. You know, we could all play at a different level.” And he said he wanted to shoot every one of them. He said, “Exactly. I can’t believe it. So the only thing that’s driving you is who’s watching you, so none of you guys internally have this capacity to drive yourself to your potential, unless someone else is the motivating factor.”

And that’s just a wonderful story because basically the people that are extraordinary, the ones that make it, they don’t need other people to drive them to their potential. There’s something burning inside them that takes them to a completely different level. And if all of us have to rely on other people for our own inspiration, yeah, we’ll be inspired occasionally, but that’s not the sort of person you want to be. You want to be intrinsically motivated.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. That’s powerful. And it doesn’t get you up at 5:00 AM when you’ve got to do your personal work. it doesn’t make you operate at a winning level when no one’s watching and that’s where the wind begins anyway, right? And obviously you’re aware of that. Let me, let me do this. I’m going to give you a couple of topics, and let’s hit them quick and then we’ll come back around to where we’re interested.

So there’s a lot going on in women’s sports in terms of pay equity, right, at the Olympic level, at the national team level.

Give us your thoughts there, right? Share with us your perspective when you look at the world of sport and let’s talk about, women’s pay, witty and go.

Anson Dorrance: Well, I love it. Thank you for throwing me into the deep end. I mean, talk about asking me something that will be incredibly controversial, no matter how I answer it.

And my problem is I’m not politically correct, and so that’s why, when someone asks me a dangerous question like this, unfortunately, I’m going to tell you what I think is the truth and this isn’t going to win many fans on the gender equity side of the equation, but this is what I absolutely believe.

Yeah, I think we should figure out ways to have some transparency, certainly with our women’s national team. And the way that transparency should work is right now, what’s really interesting about the way U.S. Soccer can manipulate the women, is they can say things in a meeting like,  whenever we’re selling our promotional package, and trying to get money out of Nike and out of this sponsor and that sponsor, I’ll be honest with you.

They predominantly want the men. So even though we’re getting all this money, you know, for all of our operations, you know, 80% of the time, they want to just invest in the men. So the fact that you guys are getting any money, you should just be grateful for. and of course, they can make this case because whenever you have these business meetings with Nike or, you know, whatever the sponsor is, you know, Coca-Cola or Pepsi or whoever it is.

I mean, those girls aren’t involved in the conversation. what U.S. Soccer is doing is they’re selling the whole package. So in the meeting with the girls, when they’ve got this, you know, this collective bargaining agreement on what they’re going to play, the women on the team, as opposed to the men on the men’s team, they can invent anything they like, they know the women aren’t in the room. So the first thing that has to happen before we can sort out, you know, equity in terms of payment is to find out who’s making the money. Now in some years, it’s a lot more clear, and the incredible weapon our U.S. Women’s National Team had is in the last four year cycle, oh my gosh have our women been incredibly successful.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Anson Dorrance: So then they bring in all the other potential platforms for making money, which obviously is the division of the FIFA award for becoming world champions. And then of course, the trouble with that is the huge disparity on the men and the women’s side as to what FIFA awards a world champion.

And so then it comes down to, well, if you want to really pay the women exactly like the men, shouldn’t we figure out some kind of algorithm where that team has generated that income that you then give them a percentage of. And obviously that would be the most equitable way to do it. Or when you’ve got a game, the men are playing and then the women are playing, let’s figure out a way to divide up that, I guess, the ticket sales. But then you’ve got all sorts of arguments on both sides of this divide on the marketability of the two teams, because obviously the women’s team is incredibly marketable, but U.S. Soccer doesn’t spend as much money marketing the women as they spend marketing the men.

So then the women can come into this collective bargaining arrangement with the lawyers and say, “Yeah, so you want to pay us this for a game you didn’t even market when you’re spending this much money marketing the men’s team?” So they have all these different boxes that you’ve got to check. So I think what we need is an extraordinary transparency and the transparency has to go into these meetings with the Nike’s, with the Coca-Cola’s, you know, with all of the different, I guess, people that are factors involved in this and then divide it up equitably, which is in terms of percentage. That’s absolutely impossible, but there’s some areas where I don’t think you need to negotiate in this fashion and that’s the way you’re treating them. And this is where it should be completely equitable. So if the men are staying in a five star before their matches for World Cup qualifying, yeah, the women should stay in a five star.

If their per diem is, you know, $200 a day while they’re competing for the United States for the men, yeah, the women should get $200 a day for their per diem. So basically all these things – if the men are flying charter to, you know, Honduras to play their match against the Hondurans to qualify for the CONCACAF championship to represent this region in a World Cup, yeah, the women should charter. So those are the boxes that should be absolutely perfectly checked, which by the way, have never been checked perfectly.

And you know, I know that, you know, if you know, some of the women are listening to this, I’m going to get fried for not jumping with both feet where they should be paid exactly like the men. No, I don’t believe in that, which is why Hass and I are trying to figure out a way to sell out our small soccer stadium.

Why? Because we want to make a statement that women are worth paying to watch. And we think that all of us have an obligation to do that, not just the pro teams or the national teams, no. I mean, if we can’t figure out a way to get people to watch a college, girl’s soccer, it’s on us. So I’m just so sorry, Brianna, that at a pro level, you’re not getting paid, you know, 5 million a year. ‘Cause I mean, your dad and I failed in trying to sell our stadium out. So we understand the dilemma involved in you not being paid as much as Geo Reyna who’s playing for Borussia Dortmund right now on the men’s side, and so that’s the problem.

The problem is, you know, everyone likes to pass the buck to everyone else. I don’t want to pass the buck. Neither does Hass. So Hass and I want to figure out a way to sell women’s athletics. If we can sell that, and obviously it has been successful. 1999 World Cup, 90,000 people paid top dollar in the Rose Bowl to watch the United States win a world championship.

So for seminal events like Olympics and World Cups, yeah, the women’s stadiums are sold out, but if we want to generate the sort of income that our basketball players make, that our football players make, that our baseball players make, we’ve got to start somewhere. And so, we’ve got to start within our own environments.

And so I have a moral imperative to figure out how to solve this conundrum. Yeah, I would love to pay women maximum money. So what I’ll have to figure out, I want to get people to pay, to come to my games. And so I have to contribute to this.

Donald Thompson: No, that’s, that’s a great answer. I mean, two things that I will say that it caught me in the competitive vibe that I was raised with.

One is the personal accountability to make a difference. Number two was to transparency because there are levers in any kind of business discussion that the public doesn’t fully understand, right? And the third thing that is really important is there is a base level of treatment that should be exactly the same.

And so I’m, I’m really tracking with you on the way that you’re thinking about it. And we want to be a part of it with Creative Allies, helping you fill that stadium, right? So that’s a good, that’s a good thing, right? So next thing up is there’s a lot going on in the world today.

And I, and one of the things that I was interested in talking with you and super excited is certainly I want to hear about the success in the soccer program and those things, but also just as a leader and with your global perspective, what are some of your thoughts on our country right now, some of the things going on in terms of the race relations, different things, what is some of your perspective that you’re seeing, having led athletes from all different backgrounds over the years, and as a human being, as a person, as a citizen of the United States?

Anson Dorrance: Well, Donald, thank you. I really appreciate you allowing me to speak on this. Well, first of all, watching George Floyd was horrifying. And what was really interesting about that video is, no one can hide from what they saw, even the conservative pundits that would love to spin this, can’t spin it.

I mean, you go on Fox News, they can’t spen it although they’re trying. And anyone conservative, even Rush Limbaugh, couldn’t spin it and he can spend anything. He can spin absolutely anything into a conservative position, ’cause he’s obviously brilliant and he’s articulate and he’s, you know, he, he knows how to spin everything.

No one can spend this because it’s horrific. And if you can successfully watch that for longer than four seconds, you’re up, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I have because I think, this could be an incredible game changer in the most positive way. It certainly is within my own culture.  We have a zoom meeting after that with my entire team and Brianna Pinto and Rachel Jones spoke about this – two wonderful, Black athletes on my roster – spoke about it in the most impactful way for all of us about how all of us have to change, and we have to change our own cultures. And we can’t point fingers and make it seem like this is something outside us. It’s not outside of us. It’s us. And so we have to change. And so where do we have to start?

Just like I was talking about with, you know, we can’t be critical of, these, you know, gender equity issues and these pay issues if we’re not doing something ourselves, we shouldn’t be allowed to speak on it if we’re not working on ourselves. And so, we’re developing our own new set of core values around this because it’s something that is a systemic.

Systemic racism in this country is a matter of public record, and not with a one institution or another, within all of them. I mean, it’s so absolutely common and pervasive, but hopefully this can be an opportunity for us to change. And obviously again, you can spin what you’re watching. You can spin it, and all of a sudden make this, like, there is already a race war and now let’s shoot the looters. And I mean, we can do this in all kinds of negative ways, but we can also do it in other ways. And I listened to various extraordinary speakers. My favorite one following the event, was a Killer Mike in Atlanta.

And, Holy cow, was his speech spot on. You could feel his emotion. While he was speaking, you could feel that this wasn’t, for him, a political moment cause he was being ripped to shreds. And so often in these moments, obviously it’s all spun into some sort of political narrative and you can listen to this wonderful man, speak about it and you can actually feel his soul being torn in half while he is trying to address it.

And that the things he said about it and the way he said, we’ve got to come out of this was extraordinarily positive in a Martin Luther King way. I mean, he’s extraordinarily positive. and then to hear Obama speak a couple of days ago about it. All of us, when we were young were, we were hopeful and, on that call with my kids the last Monday, I spoke about what we fought against as kids.

when I was in college, we were fighting against the Vietnam war. And, as a second semester freshman at UNC,  the Kent State shootings took place and 13 students. we’re basically shot by the National Guard, four of them died. And so we fought as students. We actually shut the university down at UNC and of course, a lot of us were shutting it down because we enjoyed the entertainment value of not having exams.

But of course there were some students and I don’t want to pretend to be self righteously among them because I weren’t, but those students really knew what was going on. We had an opportunity to make a statement towards our government that could change our world in a positive way, and obviously that’s what’s happened.

Well, when Obama was speaking, he basically said, you know what, to now we have to look to our youth. You guys are going to lead us out of this in a new direction, and this can be what you guys do. And obviously if you look at the youth on climate change, they are the leaders. I mean, this is an opportunity for a Brianna Pinto, Rachel Jones, to set the tone in our environment within our team at UNC. So let’s not pretend that all of a sudden we can command the town, or the County, or this state, or the country in this, of course we can’t, but where can we start? We can start within our own mini culture. And so that’s where all of us have to begin. And I genuinely feel that, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful ’cause I’ve seen every younger generation have their impact on the different issues.

Donald Thompson: No, I appreciate that very much, both your, your candor and your commitment to do what you can, where you can. And I think as an African American leader, a businessperson, all of those different things, what we look to in people of influence, like yourself, is do what you can, where you can. And that’s what you’re doing by giving that, that microphone to the folks on your team, and then looking inward and just saying, what can we do better? And I want to just tell you sincerely, I appreciate it. And, and that’s, that’s good stuff.

That’s all I got. Otherwise, it’ll go into a way different direction. So that’s good stuff. When you, when you look at your goals and your motivation. We’ve talked about your team. We’ve talked about leading young people in different things. You’ve been successful for 20 plus years. Accolades more than I could – I could spend the whole hour reading national championship coach of the year, all these different things. What keeps you motivated to keep pushing forward, keeping the standard high and staying at the top of your game?

Anson Dorrance: Actually, I had an opportunity in 1994 to sign a contract with U.S. Soccer and become a full time U.S. Women’s National coach.

In ’94, they were negotiating with me to work for them full time. And honestly, I was never interested. What I absolutely love is where I am. I love the collegiate game, and it’s not just the soccer side of the collegiate game I love. I love the fact that my moral imperative is human development.

It’s not soccer development. During the ages between 17 and 21, 22, there’s an extraordinary amount of opportunity for a young person to go from a girl to a woman.  I have an opportunity to be involved in helping her mature. So for me, some of my greatest satisfactions are what happened on Monday with my team, listening to Brianna speak and Rachel Jones speak and what they’ve navigated since what they’ve written for our social media, what they want to do to help us change within our own culture.

And I’m not one of these micromanagers. I don’t believe in having any rules. I wanted to design a program I’d like to play in. I’ve never been good with rules. I went to a boys boarding school, and one of the things that you learn in boys’ boarding school is “Yeah, just wait for the man to give me a rule. We’re going to figure out a way to break it. We’re going to try to figure out a way to break it and not get caught, and we’re going to try to figure how break it” – let’s assume the rule came out, during study hall at 8:00 AM that morning. We’re going to try to figure out a way to break that rule before midnight.

Well, two elements in the challenge of boys boarding school and breaking the rule: one is to break it, but the other one is to break it immediately and not get caught because we just hated, you know, being told what to do. So when I started designing my soccer program, I don’t have any rules. Oh, you mean the kids don’t have to show up on time?

No, I want him to show up on time. That’s not a rule. That’s an expectation. So what we have is we have principle centered living. And so basically, we want to help these kids attain adulthood as fast as possible. So how do you do that? You don’t do that by having them follow a set of rules. That doesn’t help, help them make decisions that doesn’t help them with their adulthood.

No, you have them make decisions every single second of every day to make good choices, because the way someone becomes an extraordinary adult is by treating them like they’re an adult and guiding them to make the correct decision. So for me, are you kidding me? This is a petri dish of trying to get this kid to adulthood as fast as possible with all those wonderful temptations along the way.

Franklin Street. Talk about a temptation. Oh my gosh. I mean, you could spend four years on Franklin Street and come out with an interesting kind of education.  But no, we want them to have a balanced life between obviously their character development, which is for us a priority, their academic development, which is our second priority, and then their soccer development, which is their third priority.

And we want them working on all three all the time. So we’ve got to teach them principle centered living. We’ve got to teach them to make correct choices. And for me, there’s no more enjoyable prospect than watching a young kid grow up in an incredibly positive way. So, for me, this job I’ve died and gone to heaven. I didn’t qualify for this job when I was given it,  and I just can’t believe what I have an opportunity to do cause I absolutely love it. ‘Cause I’m in the business of human development, not soccer development.

Donald Thompson: Oh, that’s phenomenal, and I appreciate that.

Read Full Transcript


The Donald Thompson Podcast is hosted by Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

The Donald Thompson Podcast is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on how to engage your community or build your personal brand through podcasting, visit