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Friday, December 14, 2007


The thing about Don Fabio Capello is that he doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t care if your name is Brooking, Barwick, Beckham, Terry, Ronaldo or Totti – he knows he’s forgotten more about football management than the lot of these combined idiots will ever know, and he has no reason to think otherwise. With an unparalleled record of 9 league titles with four different teams in 16 years of management, why should he doubt himself? That’s the thing – he doesn’t.

Unfortunately the ink from the contract isn't even dry yet, and already the problems with managing the English, have arisen. There were rumours recently about the FA holding up negotiations to insist that he put an English coach or assistant on his staff. The reasons for this may be obvious – the FA want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to hire the perceived best candidate available, and to have an English presence on the staff, so the public don’t feel so bad about having to admit that they lack the management acumen in England.

But the English FA could be in for a surprise - because in having their cake, they may discover they'll have to eat it too. If you want someone strong enough to stand up to public pressure and star power, you'll also have someone strong enough to stand up to the FA. And that's exactly what they'll get with Capello.

The best thing about Capello is that he does it his way, and nobody will tell him differently.
The worst thing about Capello is that he does it his way and nobody will tell him differently.

I'm not sure that, based on the evidence so far, the English FA know what they're getting into. Why in the world would the FA insist on disrupting his method – why would they insist on forcing an Englishman on him when his own formula has proved so successful? Maybe because the English FA care more about looking like they're "in control of the situation" than it does about winning – if they didn’t, they would have hired Capello with no strings attached, and told him to run the team as he wishes.

You see, when you care more about looking good than winning, you get Sven Goran Ericksson. And when it turns out that he's not the man, rather than starting from scratch, and admitting you've gotten it all wrong, you hire his lieutenant after the next best candidate (Luis "Felipao" Scolari) turns you down. That way, you can say, "We were just a little bit wrong with Ericksson - the only problem with him was that he wasn't English!"

Capello could never be accused of caring more about looking good than winning. His teams are characterized by defensive discipline, accurate and controlled passing with a majority of possession and few easy chances donated to the opponent. At the other end of the pitch, he typically goes for strikers who are capable of slotting into his system, doing all the other work required of a striker aside from scoring goals, and finishing the chances that come their way. It is in this area that I would be most interested to see what is his solution, because there aren’t too many strikers in England that can do this, and fewer still with the ability to possess sufficiently to score in this setup.

At Madrid he had van Nistelrooy, at Roma Totti, at Juventus Ibrahimovic. There is some confusion surrounding his first stint at Milan – although Papin, van Basten and Gullit were on the books at the time, these were not the strikers that were in his line-up – this was left to the likes of Daniele Massaro and Dejan Savićević. Not big names, but players who knew the strategy, and had the skills to execute the tactics necessary to bring that strategy to fruition. Frankly, I don’t see those kinds of attacking players in England (remember when Rooney got sent-off against Portugal in the World Cup, how they blamed it on Cristiano Ronaldo and the frustration of having to play alone up front).

Despite Capello’s record, I think it is a mistake for the FA to take him on as a manager, not because he isn’t good, but because what he’s good at is senior team management, and not player development. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem they have in England. In France, all the good French players know each other from a very young age, because they’ve all trained together for years at the national training center at Clairefontaine. By the time they become full professionals, they’re so in synch with one another about how to play the game, and how to combine, their value is multiplied by each French player they encounter.

There’s a camaraderie amongst the French players that doesn’t exist in England, and it comes from the fact that they’ve mostly come through the same development system, been through the selection wars, and come out the other end with the same competitiveness and sense of allegiance to the team. The English are a band of mercenaries, who rarely play with one another unless they’re in the same club growing up – outside of that, there is no commonality, and little understanding of how to play together. Young English players are brought up in the club youth system, and not in a national youth system like what they have in France. The English have good players, and as a national team if they’re playing Moldova or Lichtenstein they can manage, but let pressure come through and that same group of players is just a band of step-brothers.

The key to the French success is that there is a club mentality in the national team, and as such a synergy that has made them successful in the last few years. In my view Mourinho would have been a better choice, because he understands how to create an effective club atmosphere that he could have translated to the international level. But we’ll never know why it is he took his hat out of the ring AFTER being interviewed. That’s extraordinary. The idea that he was just using the England job as a ploy to get a deal from Real or Bayern is, in my opinion, silly. In management, you never know what the next opportunity is going to be, and even for "the special one" to assume that he’ll get an offer from one of the other G14 clubs in the next year or so, would be extremely presumptuous. We've all had interviews where it seemed like the people across the table were interested in something (or someone else). If Mourinho he had gotten a positive response from Barwick and Brooking, I'm sure he would have taken the job, because given his record, he would have walked on water in England as long as he got results. Unfortunately for him, the FA had other ideas – namely Capello.

Now they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to concede in their first public spat over something that really ought to be left up to the manager they wanted to hire in the first place - or maybe that's just what they wanted?

In politics, when a story like this leaks to the press, you assume it's a plant, and I wouldn't put it past the FA to do the same here. What better way to show the public that you did your best to bring in English coaches (assuaging an idiotic groupthink mentality that has no merit on its own, but has resonance if enough people echo the same thoughts), while at the same time, being able to blame it on someone else (namely Capello) if the England staff isn't the least bit English. And what about this idiotic "search" for the best candidate? All the people they (told us they) consulted along the way, including Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, and whoever else. Are we really to believe that if any one of them had said, "Hire Mourinho", they would have offered him a contract?

This is another shameless publicity stunt aimed at looking like they've taken all the right steps and righted the ship as best they can. So that they can't be accused of "rushing into" the decision, like they did when they hired McLaren. The truth is, they've had their eye on Capello for months, and nothing in the world would have stopped them hiring him. All this intentional voyeurism into the process of hiring a manager is just another way these jerks are trying to indemnify themselves if they turn out to have made a mistake - again. They can always say, "Hey we consulted all the greatest minds in English football and they recommended Capello!" As if he needed their endorsement.

My guess is that all of this is sowing the seeds of a terrible relationship, because Capello will have noted all of this hemming and hawing, and is definitely the type to hold a grudge. He’s moody and dictatorial, even to those who pay his wage – and at $12M a year for 4 years, what a wage it is.

If they hoped to get someone they could manage a little better than Mourinho, I think they’re sorely mistaken. And if they think he’s going to waste his time looking around the country for the next great English player, they’re barking up the wrong tree. To me, Capello smells of the old English ideas that have proven so wrong in the past. Building a team from scratch, and finding the manager to do that, means a admitting that you're not "right up there with the best". Capello's reputation is for taking a team that's underperforming and turning them into winners

Let’s just see if that remains the case when he's through with England.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007


If you had your choice between paying £20 million for Ashley "Cashley" Cole, or one-tenth as much for Gael Clichy, which would you choose? Cashley may be English, but he's definitely not ten times better than his french counterpart at Arsenal. He's definitely ten times a better marketing tool. If you saw Clichy on the street, you probably wouldn't recognize him, but somehow, through some slick marketing and the irresistible force that is the English FA PR machine, we've been fooled into thinking that Cashley Cole is the best left back in the world.


Recently, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his counterpart Michel Platini of UEFA, have publicly expressed a desire to limit the number of foreign players at club level.

Ostensibly the reason is to protect the quality of available players for the various national teams and at face value seems like a good idea. But let's just examine this proposition, and see if can't determine if this is the true motivation.

Since the advent of the Bosman rule ("HOW THE BOSMAN STOLE EUROPEAN FOOTBALL", September 7th, 2006 entry on this blog), the movement of European players across borders has been unabated and the face of European football has been altered considerably. You could scarcely identify a club's nationality today by the nationalities of its players. Recently, in a match between Juventus and Inter Milan in Italy, Roberto Mancini saw fit to field not a single Italian player in his line-up, whereas his counterpart from Turin fielded seven. Guess who's 8 points further ahead in the Serie A table?

Yet somehow Italy found a way to win the World Cup in 2006, thus calling into question the assumption that a country where the best teams have little domestic talent, cannot compete internationally. Blatter's argument is even more absurd when you consider that the national team of France in 2000, fielded scarcely any players from their domestic league, and had no problem winning the European Championships.

So is it really a question of protecting the quality of the national teams, or is it something else? To answer this, you have to do like Woodward and Bernstein and follow the money.

It's an open secret in the business of football that there's a hidden tax on domestic talent. A few years ago, in the throws of their era of galacticos, now disgraced Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez, put a $100M price tag on Raul.


Not because he was $30M better than Zidane, or $45M better than Figo, but because he's a good domestic player in Spain. Nobody in their right mind would pay $100M for Raul, and as such, you never saw anyone - not even Chelski - shell out that kind of money for him. The price tag reflects an important maxim in professional football - Raul's value to his own team is far greater than it would be on the European market, because in most of the market he wouldn't be a "domestic" star.

Domestic talent can create loyalty to a club. Chivas Guadalajara and Atletic Bilbao have shown that it is possible to compete, strictly with domestic players. It's always been an issue in Spain. Espaynol - that other team in Barcelona - was created as a club restricted to Spanish players (hence the name and Catalan spelling thereof), unlike their Catalan neighbors who were actually founded by a Swiss man. In theory, a team that restricts itself to domestic players could engender the loyalty of the players themseleves, something that is an all but a forgotten concept in the more cosmopolitan big clubs of modern football. But they would pay heavy price for it today. Because in the world of modern football there's a hidden tax on domestic players, and is one of the reasons why some teams have decided to bypass domestic talent altogether.

So who stands to benefit from this hidden tax on domestic talent? Who benefits from restricting the flow of internationals across European and now continental borders? For starters, domestic talent.

The player union in England, overwhelmingly English, is notoriously stingy about allowing internatioal talent to play in England (a player is supposed to have played in 75% of their country's internationals in the last year, and that national team has to have averaged a FIFA ranking of at least 70). They can't do anything about European players - they are free to come and go without incumberance - that's down to the European Union. But non-European internationals are another story.

The players union in the UK seek to keep their opportunities to break into domestic clubs plentiful, so the obvious solution is to restrict the flow of internationals. ( Domestic players won't have to worry as much about competing with better players from countries with worse economies, for whom a significant pay cut against inflated English transfer fees and salaries, is a signficant pay raise as compared to what they get at home. Furthermore, the harder it becomes to get foreign talent, the more expensive it becomes to get and retain domestic talent, and thus their pockets are lined again.

How about FIFA and UEFA? What's in it for them? Well, as we all know, there are two competitions in the World that are considered the most important - the World Cup and the European Championships. Why? Because we still believe that a team full of the best, say French players, is better than the best domestic french team. Nevermind that best players in French clubs are not French. But what about when there are no domestic players in the best club teams? Could the Italian national team beat Inter of Milan? Could the England team beat Arsenal?

You see where I'm going with this?

If the trend continues, very soon the perceived best teams in the world will not be the national teams - they will be the club teams that can claim this distinction. And then, why would anyone bother about the World Cup or the European Championships if the best soccer in the world is played in the Champions League? Very soon the luster comes off the international competitions, and with it the interest. And when the interest goes, so too does the money.

Argentine and Brazilian players are the most common export, with Brazilians in teams as far away as the Ukraine and the Far East. But other nationalities, such as those from the African continent, and eastern european countries, are fast filling the rosters of European teams, across the continent, not only because their players are cheaper, but because they are better. Where else in the world would someone like Michael Essien make less than Joe Cole? It's strange, because in most European countries, as in the US, entire industries absolutely depend on immigration, so why not European football as well?

So what's the solution?

Open up everything to anyone. The solution to not having enough home-grown players is not to reduce the overall quality of the league, but to improve the quality of the players. If Argentina, Brazil, Holland and France produce the best players in the world on a regular basis, then why not study their recruitment and training techniques to determine if there is a flaw in the way your country produces players?

There is a myth that these kids spontaneously generate on the streets and walk into the biggest clubs in the country. It doesn't work that way. The art of finding talent in South America, particularly in Brazil and Argentina, is a pain-staking process of attrition that looks at all the qualities of a player, and ensures that any one who makes it to the top level has all the required skills and characterisitics to add value, and not detract it.

Can the same be said, for example, for England? How many Francis Jeffers have we had to suffer through before we get to a Wayne Rooney? How many Kieron Dyers before we get to a Steven Gerrard. And would any other country in the world go ga-ga over the likes of Joey Barton, Alan Smith and Lee Bowyer? Only in England, my friends, only in England.

Take Alan Smith - I heard an Englishman (of course) the other day on a podcast claim that Smith's versatility has worked against him as striker. In other words, if he weren't such a good winger or midfielder, he'd be used more as a striker. As if Smith is as good as, say, Louis Saha, but he's just too valuable as a midfielder to waste as a striker. As the English like to say, that's bollocks.

Smith's versatility is THE ONLY reason he still has a career. In most countries, a striker with his scoring rate would be in the 3rd division. In his career Smith has made 248 club appearances and scored 45 goals, earned 20 caps and scored once. Steven Gerrard - strictly a midfielder - has scored 50 goals in 281 appearances at club level and 12 goals in 62 caps - you do the math. But because Smith is an Englishman playing in England, he's gone from Leeds, to Man U, to Newcastle without earning his keep as a striker or midfielder - and has changed positions regularly with each team he plays for.

In Brazil, you're a flavor of the month (if you're lucky) before the next phenom is waiting in the tunnel to take your place. It's one reason why their players are so determined to succeed. They will play almost anywhere in the world to make a good living, even in the Ukraine. They know what they've been through to make it, and it would take a lot more than some crap weather, crap food, hard fouls and the Cyrillic alphabet to keep them down.

Not so for English players. All they have to do is be English, and a marginally good player, and they can make a great living raising and then dashing the hopes of English supporters across the country. At the end of the day, English players can't cut it in England because they're not good enough, but as I've said many times, that they're not playing for the big clubs is not what makes the English players so bad.

Anyway, all the foreign talent they've had in Italy didn't seem to hurt their World Cup campaign in 2006, so why do the English need this special consideration? It isn't the case yet in Italy or Spain that there are so few good domestic players available to play for the national team, but if they don't qualify for a major competition, you'll hear the exact same rubbish from them. Because they, like the English, don't produce as many good players as the French, Brazilians and Argentines.

If UEFA and FIFA are honest about it, the real problem they have with the movement of foreign players is the big advantage the club competitions will eventually have over national team competitions, in claiming which produces the highest levels of play, and thus garnering the most interest.

That, and the money that goes with the biggest stars, is the reason they want the clubs to restrict the quality of their players by making quotas. They don't want the clubs to get too good by not limiting foreign players, because pretty soon people will care more about club competitions than international ones, and when that happens, the balance of power (and money) in world football tips in favor of the clubs.

At the end of the day, follow the money, and you'll see why so much nonsense seems to be coming from such high places as Zurich and Nyon.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Once again, Hope Solo is apologizing to her teammates, and anyone else who will listen, for her very personal diatribe against Greg Ryan and Briana Scurry, following the US WNT’s disappointing semi-final loss to Brazil in the 2007 World Cup.

But if you ask me, every single one of them ought to be sending her a gift-basket this Christmas with a microphone and tape recorder. Despite her teammates castigation' of her for her tirade, and grotesque display of selfishness and self-aggrandizement, the truth is she did them an enormous favor by focusing all the attention paid to their failure on the issue of goal-keeping…as if that alone was the problem.

Each time I watch the US Women’s national team I am more and more disappointed in their performances. From a technical standpoint, there has never been a more clear indication that this team, like the men’s national team of England, is suffering from a false sense of entitlement and superiority (what I call "Englanditis"), and although qualification for the Beijing Olympics is probably on the cards, medals will, in my opinion be much harder to come by.

The improvement in the technical level of the women teams in the World Cup from many countries, particularly the Brazilians, Germans and North Koreans, was phenomenal. It pains me, however, to have to exclude from that list, the Americans – but if I’m honest, I must.

I’ve always been a firm believer in the simple test of how many passes a team can string together as a good indication of their technical level – that is not the only indicator of a team’s quality, but it’s a good start. Because at it’s core, soccer is a very simple game, and all tactical and strategic approaches stem from a simple maxim with two sides to it:

(1) If you have the ball you can score, and if you can score, you can win. (2) If you have the ball, your opponent can’t score, and if they can’t score, they can’t win.

In other words, it’s the possession, stupid.

Much has been made of Ryan’s decision to bench Solo in favor of Scurry, and the hullabaloo surrounding Solo’s personal criticisms of both thereafter. No matter how many press conferences she does, now matter how hard she tries to qualify her statements, it’s clear she meant two things on that day:

1. I’m better than Briana Scurry
2. Ryan doesn’t know what he doing

What she didn’t say, but ironically and unwittingly implied that day, was that the full responsibility for their loss was on weak goal-keeping.

Excuse me? The last time I checked, soccer is not a shooting contest, except for the rare case of a penalty shoot-out – but that didn’t happen on that terrible night in September. Highlights of a match can often be manufactured to leave you with the impression that the balance of the match was not as lopsided as the score would have you believe.

This was not one of those matches. You can probably count on one hand the number of times the Americans were able to string together more than ten passes in a row. In fact, you don't need the help of your hand, because how hard is it to count to zero? Ten passes may seem like a tall order, but it didn’t seem to be a problem for the Brazilians.

Technically, the Brazilian women were head and shoulders above the Americans. They kept better possession, particularly in attacking positions. They created more 1 v 1 opportunities and finished the chances they created. That, my friends, is just a better team, putting a beat down on a (much) worse team. If you had replaced the American flag with a Canadian one, and watched the same game, the result would have come as no surprise. But somehow, the US team was supposed to be more competitive, and even win?

Take a look at anyone of these clips of Marta and the Brazilian women:

There isn’t a single woman in America with half her technique, pace and least importantly, will and determination. Please note the ass-whipping she handed the American U-20’s at the Pan American games this year – in retrospect, should the World Cup semi-final result have come as any surprise?

I know that Solo was castigated by her own teammates for making her self to be more important than the team, and nowhere is the concept of team unity more important than in the WNT – but to be honest, her mouth has allowed each of them to duck responsibility for their inadequacy.

Nobody said a word about the atrocious own goal by Leslie Osborne – a defensive diving header in her own box somehow redirected into her own net – why on earth didn’t she just kick it back the way it came?

Nothing about the dearth of possession or combinations from the Americans, nor the route 1 tactics of booting the ball up to Wambach and hoping for collateral damage...and goals.

Not a peep about Shannon Boxx, probably suffering from quadruple vision chasing all the Brazlians dribbling and passing around her, committing two very stupid fouls inside 45 minutes and getting sent off.

A player getting sent off for that kind of foul, is almost always a symptom of having little to no possession of the ball. Because a player's energy and focus is limited, and if she spends it all chasing her opponents around the field because she and her teammates can’t keep the ball, eventually she'll to crack. And boy, did she ever crack.

The game against North Korea should have been a wake-up call. There’s no way you can tell me that the Americans were physically inferior to the North Koreans – they were not. They were technically inferior. Running circles around us, showing tactical acumen with possession and combinations in attacking postions, the North Korean women gave us a lesson, and we were fortunate to come away from that game with a point.

At the end of the day, you can’t fake what you don’t have and something has quietly happened to the WNT that nobody is talking about.

For years, the WNT was superior to the world in every facet of the game – technique, athletic ability and competitiveness. Later, as the world began to develop equal or in some cases superior technique, the sheer athleticism and competitiveness of our women was often (but not always) the deciding factor. Our women are well accustomed to developing all kinds of physical skills and competitiveness through many sports growing up (Boxx herself was a 4-letter athlete in high school), and in the past, it showed.

But today we are no longer more skillful than many of these countries, and we’re not even more athletic – some of these Brazilian women charging up and down the field were supremely athletic, and much more so than the Americans. They showed a balance and an ease on the ball far superior to the Americans who, by comparison, appeared to struggle with the most basic of skills both on the ball and otherwise.

It may be time to start considering that girl’s soccer in the US needs a redesign, just as boy's football in the UK does, because the technique is just not there. We can no longer rely on those faithful mirages of grit, determination and competitiveness as the key to victory on the big stage. We can no longer pretend that we're the best in the world, because we're not. Those days are long gone, and I, for one, am not expecting much from them in Beijing. This is a project that could take years.

Maybe, they’ll have Solo and Scurry around to distract us while they figure that out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Sexual harassment may seem like a strange topic on The Soccer Column, but the Anson Dorrance sexual harassment trial, scheduled to take place April 7th of 2008, is a strange case indeed. I provide a link to the details of the case and an old summary judgment in favor of Dorrance, which has since been rejected on appeal, thus the trial date.

The case reveals that not only did the coaching staff appear to condone under-aged drinking, flippant sexual behavior and banter by their players, but that they also responded to or participated in the banter from time to time. Perhaps more damning is that they appear to have inquired, both informally and formally, about the sexual activity of their players on a regular basis, in a context from which a player could interpret that a refusal to respond/participate would put her at a competitive disadvantage to those teammates who did.

How Much Should You Get to Know Your Players?

Looking back on my personal experience in male team sports, my coaches did not engage in these kinds of personal discussions with players. I don’t recall a coach ever asking me about my sexual exploits in college – not that I would have had much to tell him. I doubt that I would have been offended if my coach had asked generally how things were going with me personally (they did not). I wouldn’t have told him anything – I was never one to feel that a coach was supposed to be my friend – but I don’t believe I would have taken offense to the question.

I also don't think that, if I had been asked about my sex life, I would have extrapolated that, if I reveal myself more to this guy, maybe I’ll gain an advantage over the other midfielders in the team…maybe he’ll cut me some slack in practice, if he knows I’ve been wandering the Sahara Desert, so to speak. More likely, I would have been more offended that my coach thinks I’m on the verge of becoming a eunuch, or that he thinks such inquiries pass for coaching.

I’ll let the court decide if Jennings has to demonstrate that similarly prudent team members, who performed as poorly as she did both athletically and academically, received similar treatment – or if the mere actions of the coaches constitute a hostile environment for which she should be compensated, but it is the coaching question that applies to this column.

The Case for Dorrance as a Coach

I once suggested, in a team website editorial years ago, that Anson Dorrance would be a good candidate for the US Men’s national team, because of his record of success, and his psychological acumen. He consistently extracted superior performance from his players. (Originally, he was the men's coach at UNC, then doubled up as the women's coach as well, before dropping the men's program to focus on the Lady Heels.) In particular, I was fascinated with Dorrance’s ability to both keep women extremely competitive in training, and still foster an atmosphere of camaraderie and team spirit.

In an ESPN SportsCentury program, Mia Hamm described the liberating effect the atmosphere in the women’s soccer program at UNC had on her athletic performance and her personal growth. In particular she talked about how in her childhood she often felt apologetic about her competitiveness, whereas at UNC it was encouraged – even required. Dorrance used an explicit point system where players’ micro-competitive results in training were scored, and at the end of the week the players with the highest points for their positions were in the starting eleven.

It comes as no surprise that coaches evaluate a player's performance throughout the week, and come to a general conclusion about their place in the starting 11. But the knowledge that every single competitive encounter in training is recorded and used to evaluate who plays and who doesn’t, would likely create a steel-caged death match atmosphere in a men’s team. You might not have anyone survive long enough to reach the matches. However, on the evidence of UNC’s success, perhaps it merely created optimal competitive aggression in training with women.

Some would suggest that in women you generally have to raise the level of competitive aggression to get better performance, whereas in men it’s already there, and needs only to be channeled. Other men’s sports don’t support this theory – American football teams regularly beat the hell out of each other 5-6 days a week, only to unleash their fury on their opponents at the week-end. Infighting is often encouraged by coaches – a bit like fight dogs so keyed up by the time they’re unleashed for an actual fight, they’re likely to kill anything in their path, much less another dog.

I think the key to training women is to have the same end-game as you would with men, but perhaps you arrive at it by a different path.

Separately Hamm also painted a picture of a heightened sense of camaraderie at UNC and in the national team, and how she felt comfortable excelling individually because it was encouraged by the coaches. Her teammates reacted positively to her success, rather than resenting it. Her success was in the context of team success, which the coaches made sure they all sought. Perhaps this was the result of just recruiting like-minded competitive women, bringing them together and being evaluating them objectively from week to week, rather than subjectively choosing when to cajole one player, while hammering another. But even in Hamm’s case that doesn’t tell the whole story.

In the national team Hamm often went to her coaches crestfallen that she hadn’t scored in a few games, buckling under the weight of expectation for her to excel. Dorrance, DiCicco, Foudy and Akers all had to constantly reassure her that she was allowed to have an occasional dip in form from time to time – in other words her competitive instincts had to be controlled. I doubt many male athletes would go to their coaches asking to be benched because they weren’t performing – most would probably hope the coach hadn’t noticed. Most would resent being benched even if they knew they were under-performing, such is the so-called male ego.

Sports Psychology by Gender

Sports psychology is a funny thing – stranger still when comparing men to women. On the face of it, there would seem to be a double standard: if Roy Williams takes a interest knowing the personal lives of his basketball players at UNC, he is lauded. But when Anson Dorrance does it to the girls at UNC, some how he’s a disgusting letch, damn-near a pedophile, and is violating their civil rights. However, there’s a big difference here.

While I’m sure Williams knows who his players are dating and what they do in their spare time, I doubt he’d be dumb enough to openly discuss a player’s proclivities in a shoot around, or bring it up in an official player evaluation. Certainly he’d have the good sense to do it privately, just in case the player doesn’t want to discuss it in front of his teammates. And it's one thing to know who your players are dating, and another to keep tabs on who they're having sex with!Furthermore, alluding to the “my coach is my best friend” phenomenon – very few successful coaches of men are of this philosophy. They may show they care in the way a father will, from time to time, but they rarely cross the line into intimate details of the personal life unless it manifestly affects performance (e.g. Billy Ray hasn’t hit any 3-pointers since he found out his girlfriend is pregnant).

For the most part, while coaches of men want their players to feel comfortable coming to them with problems/issues, they will rarely directly ask about the who’s, what’s and where’s of their personal life. They'd much rather spy on their players from afar. First of all, if they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear, directly from the player, there’s plausible deniability for any wrongdoing. Furthermore, most men respond positively to some measure of fear of their leaders, and too much intimacy might sacrifice a coach’s ability to scare the piss out of his boys from time to time.

But does this same psychology work for women? Is there a mutual lowering of the walls between the coach/player relationship required to bring the best out of women to an extent, or in a way that would either backfire with a male athlete. With men, would it make them feel like the equal of their coach, and thus less likely to do as he’s told? Do men respond better to the father figure than women, and as such, is Dorrance’s friend/mentor approach more palatable to his female athletes? Is it a competitive advantage? Is the sexual harassment case against him an incidental result of an overall winning formula for women, or an unacceptable breach of the “in loco parentis” covenant between parents and universities?

Am I a sexist just for asking the question?

Coaching Girls vs Boys

Before you say yes to the previous question, I should mention that I know a (very) little bit about coaching women. Now, full disclosure - yesterday, Anson Dorrance forgot more than I'll ever know about coaching women - there's absolutely nothing I know that he doesn't. I first became interested in Dorrance during the summer of my sophomore year in college when I coached both teams and individual training sessions, mostly in technique, but plenty of fitness as well.

I found that the overwhelming majority of my clients were the parents of girls dissatisfied with the coaching they were getting. While the parents of boys were equally loyal customers, I got much more unsolicited positive feedback from the parents of girls. It seemed to me that parents of boys simply took my training methods, and the level of expectation I had for the trainee, to be normal. There were some exceptions.

A few rich parents with ill-tempered boys, loved to watch me drop the hammer them. (Frankly I always found that to be a bit pathetic – I mean, no coach could drop the hammer on me as hard as my own father, and if any of them ever wanted to scare me straight all they’d have to do was tell my father I was messing about at training.)

But the parents of girls seemed to go buck wild over my sessions – not because I treated girls appreciably differently, but because I treated them appreciably the same as boys. I never allowed any non-soccer related banter of any kind during training. I treated side-conversations as a sign personal disrespect to me, and kicked more than one player out of a session that wouldn’t concentrate – it didn’t take long before everyone (including the offender) fell in line. I also never backed down from telling a girl that she was lollygagging, and I didn’t ask her to pick it up either – she either did or she’d go do the Cooper test, or got the hell out of the session.

I had one parent, before I trained her team, ask me not to get “cutesy” with her girls – I assumed she meant she wanted me to be tough on them. “No problem,” I said. 2 weeks later, she came back to me and asked me to let up a little – through gritted teeth I agreed. But soon enough, a couple of girls came to me and asked why I wasn’t pushing them any more, and it was back to business as usual.

I had read a few articles about Dorrance at the time, and recall his pontifications on the differences between the psychologies of male athletes and female athletes. I found his thoughts to be insightful, but I didn’t buy them entirely and made no genuine attempts to emulate him. If I had, maybe I'd have had a career in coaching!

I knew only one way, and whether coaching boys or girls, my sessions were efficiently executed (I started on-time, had few breaks and stayed on a schedule until the hour or two was up), and I didn’t change my exercises in any way whether I was coaching girls or boys. But maybe this wasn't what Dorrance was talking about.

I did, however notice a few glaring unintended differences in the way I both interacted with and coached boys and girls. My conclusions with both were always the same, but the way I reached them often differed significantly.

Coaching to the Same End, by a Different Path

For example, in shooting the fundamentals don’t change by gender. To hit a powerful and accurate shot, foot speed and an optimal point of contact on the surface of the ball (i.e. the sweet spot) are critical. Foot speed is usually sought by swinging harder at the ball, but this often sacrifices control, because at higher speeds, it’s more difficult to hit the sweet spot.

To combine these two concepts, you can achieve foot speed through continuous weight transfer through the point of contact (i.e. keep your body moving forward through the strike), while simultaneously not swinging your foot as hard, making it easier to hit the sweet spot.

Typically boys and girls differed in technical errors in their shot. Boys tended to do everything too hard and too fast – weight transfer was rarely a problem, but accuracy often was, so my instruction was to swing half as hard, find the sweet spot, then through muscle memory, keep hitting the sweet spot, but simply accelerate through the strike.

Girls tended to be timid on their shots – they didn’t seem to have much momentum at all at the point of contact. So I would encourage them to focus on landing on the shooting foot, after the shot, thereby transferring their weight forward through the strike, and generating more foot speed. Because they don’t swing as hard anyway, it’s easier to hit the sweet spot either way, but the added weight of their momentum makes the shot more powerful and accurate.

The point is this most girls I trained preferred to be treated strictly as an athlete and responded positively to being asked to train hard (very hard) or suffer the consequences. More than one parent came to me and commented on their girl's sudden manifestations of a new competitiveness. Psychologically, I could invent theories that shooting is an innately aggressive act, and if boys tend to be over aggressive in shooting, it is because boys are naturally more aggressive while girls are innately more timid, and their tendency is to under-hit their shots.

Frankly, none of this matters much to a good coach – a good coach evaluates each individual player, boy or girl, aggressive or timid, competitive or needing nurturing, perfectionist or sloppy, and appropriately deals with each side of each dichotomy. A mistake would be to assume that because you’re coaching a girl, she’s timid – let her show that she’s either timid or aggressive, and coach her accordingly.

The Hubris of Victory

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Dorrance sexual harassment case, from the coaching perspective, was that treating all his players through the prism of his own psychological acumen (and his success as a coach would certainly support this) may have cost him a chance to coach Jennings differently, and in a way that would have served them both a little better.

Dorrance has had, in 28 years in charge of UNC, a .930 winning percentage – an unbelievable success rate in any sport for either gender. Perhaps in getting it right 9 out of 10 times for 28 years, he developed a hubris that colored his perception of his own behavior, and that of his assistants. I’m sure if the parents of his girls’ players were video taping his training sessions, he wouldn’t have been asking who was Jenning’s shagging out loud. I don’t know whether this alone rises to the level of sexual harassment, but it’s pretty clear that Jennings was that 1 out of 10 that he got dead wrong.

It is more than mildly ironic that the man who may have done more to make use of Title IX than any coach in America, through his success as both a college and WNT coach, could very well have put his career in jeopardy by virtue of his own success. While his coaching method that may have worked 9 out of 10 times, that 10th time may cost him his career – and what a career it’s been.