Psychological Aspects of Soccer

by Ivan Bobanovic | Last updated

I recently read an interview with Anson Dorrance, famous University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach.  In his interview, he talked about the importance of the psychological aspect of soccer – more specifically, core values that help create a positive psychology.

Who is Anson Dorrance?

He is considered one of the most successful coaches in all of sport. His success with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill women’s soccer program is unmatched in collegiate soccer. He has won 18 collegiate national  championships in the 24 years of collegiate championship competition and he coached the USA Women’s National team to its first world title in 1991.

If coach Dorrance has been this successful for this long, you can be assured he has proven principles that gear his teams to success.  One of those principles is conscious character development.  He suggests that it is a vital ingredient in developing a culture that creates and endorses and produces champions.

Coach Dorrance explains that the players who come into his training sessions for the first year are typically very selfish; they’re only worried about playing time and their personal experience on the field.  As a coach, he says, this is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in creating a championship team.

So how does he do it?  How does he develop, and in some cases reshape, the character of his players?  Answer: he makes his players memorize 11 core values accompanied by quotes.

Why?  He explains:

We started doing this when I read an article in
the New York Times about this woman who
had attended Columbia, I believe, to study
for her PhD in literature. Columbia had just
hired a Russian poet that had left the Soviet
Union to come to the USA. A poet by the
name of Brodsky. Brodsky’s first assignment
to the graduate students at Columbia
was for them to memorize reams of Russian
poetry. And this woman was remembering
back to her time there as a student and said
that initially there was a huge rebellion
among all the graduate students there that
had Brodsky as an instructor. They felt like
memorizing reams of poetry was something
they did in elementary school and of course
these were sophisticated American graduate
students, and you know, they weren’t going
to descend to doing something as mundane
as memorizing reams of poetry. So there
was sort of a mini rebellion. Then for some
reason she said they all decided to humor
this Soviet goat and memorize what he
wanted them to learn. Then all of a sudden
within three or four months the fabric of
their discussion and the fabric of their writing
all started to have these threads of the
poetry they had memorized. She felt this had
transformed her. So this exercise that initially
they thought was an absolute waste of
time, ended up becoming one of the rocks of
her development as a student of literature. I
saw this article, and I decided we’re going to
introduce this for our character development.

Here are the 11 core values he makes his players memorize.  I really hope you take the time to read through these because they can have an immense impact not only on your soccer perception, but your perception in life.

I. We don’t whine.
(“The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish
little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world
will not devote itself to making you happy.” George Bernard Shaw).
II. We work hard.
(“The difference between one person and another, between the weak and
the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy – invisible
determination . . . This quality will do anything that has to be done in
the world, and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make
you a great person without it.” Thomas Buxton – Philanthropist).
III. The truly extraordinary do something every day.
(“Roosevelt, more than any other man living within the range of notoriety
showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter,
the quality that medieval theologyassigned to God: ‘he was pure
act’.” Henry Adams Theodore Rex – Desmond Morris).

IV. We choose to be positive
(“ . . . everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the
human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,
to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance . . . in the
final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person (you are is) the result of an inner decision . . .therefore, any man can . . . decide . . . that (this) last inner freedom cannot be lost.” Viktor E. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning).

V. When we don’t play as much as we would like we are noble and still support the team and its mission
(“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.
Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add
a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish.
Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity
and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.” Viktor E. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning).

VI. We don’t freak out over ridiculous issues or live in fragile states of emotional catharsis or create crises where none should exist.
(“What an extraordinary place of liberties the West really is . . . exempt
from many of the relentless physical and social obligations necessary
for a traditional life for survival, they become spoiled and fragile like over bred dogs; neurotic and prone to a host of emotional crises elsewhere.” Jason Elliot An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan).

VII. We are well led
(“Not long ago, to ‘believe in yourself’ meant taking a principled, and often lonely, stand when it appeared difficult or dangerous to do so. Now it means accepting one’s own desires and inclinations, whatever they may be, and taking whatever steps that may be necessary to advance them.” William Damon Greater Expectations).

VIII. We care about each other as teammates and as human beings
(“No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main . . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne For Whom the Bell Tolls).

IX. We play for each other.
(“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you
care.” Note given to me by Rakel Karvelsson (UNC ’98))

X. We want our lives
(and not just in soccer) to be never ending ascensions but for that to happen properly our fundamental attitude about life and our appreciation for it is critical (“Finally there is the question of whether we have a duty to feel grateful.
Hundreds of generations who came before us lived dire, short lives, in deprivation or hunger, in ignorance or under oppression or during war, and did so partly motivated by the dream that someday there would be men and women who lived long lives in liberty with plenty to eat and without fear of an approaching storm. Suffering through privation, those who came before us accumulated the knowledge that makes our lives favored; fought the battles that made our lives free; physically built much of what we rely on for our prosperity;
and, most important, shaped the ideals of liberty. For all the myriad problems of modern society, we now live in the world our forebears would have wished for us—in many ways, a better place than they dared imagine. For us not to feel grateful is treacherous selfishness. Failing to feel grateful to those who
came before is such a corrosive notion, it must account at some level for
part of our bad feelings about the present. The solution—a rebirth of
thankfulness—is in our self-interest”. Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress
Paradox.)

XI. And we want these four years of college to be rich, valuable and deep.
(“College is about books. And by the word books, the proposition means
this: College is about the best available tools—books, computers, lab equipment—for broadening your mastery of one or more important
subjects that will go on deepening your understanding of the world,
yourself and the people around you. This will almost certainly be the last
time in your life when other people bear the expense of awarding you
four years of financially unburdened time. If you use the years primarily
for mastering the skills of social life— as though those skills shouldn’t already
have been acquired by the end of middle school—or if you use these years for testing the degree to which your vulnerable brain and body can bear the strains of the alcoholism with which a number of students depart campus, or the sexual excess that can seem so rewarding (to name only two of the lurking maelstroms), then you may ultimately leave this vast table of nutriment as the one more prematurely burnt-out case.” Reynolds Price).

 

 

 

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