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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Anson Dorrance, June 11, 1991. Interview L-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning to speak female athletes' language

Dorrance explains his beliefs in the differences between men and women and recalls the books that cultivated those beliefs. Dorrance believes that not only do men and women think differently, but also they speak a difference language. Learning that language meant that Dorrance could nurture in his athletes an appreciation for competitive excellence, which lies at the root of his teams' many successes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Anson Dorrance, June 11, 1991. Interview L-0054. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I do a lot of reading in these areas because this is becoming very topical. Carol Gilligan treats it to a lesser degree in some of her stuff. In fact, it was really funny, when I first got married, my wife's partner gave me a book to read that she said really helped her in her relationship with her husband. It was In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan and it was really interesting. The thing I learned from that book about relationships is males really objectify absolutely everything. If your wife comes home from a hard day at work and she basically starts complaining about her boss, what I used to do is I used to, basically, be objective and explain to why her boss would do things in that fashion. And so, what she would feel is that I was siding with her boss and that I had absolutely no empathy for her position. It was really difficult for her to deal with me being like that. After reading that book I completely changed, because if your wife comes home from a bad day at work, all she wants you to do is empathize with her. She doesn't want you representing the rest of the world explaining why it happened. Explaining why it happened doesn't really make her feel any better. But empathizing with her does even if you think it's absolutely absurd that she's upset with what happened and a lot of the times, I am. But my perspective as a male is a lot different from hers as a woman. And that book was very, very good about clarifying that difference for me. Also, it was very good about clarifying the difference between men and women, because I had a suspicion then that men and women did think differently. This is when I was changing my philosophies of coaching from what I assumed I had learned from reading "MS." magazine and those sorts of things to what I was seeing was actually happening with the players I was coaching. And it was a transformation about understanding, that men and women don't think the same. In fact, things I've read since have been really interesting as well. Another a book that's been out maybe a couple of months is called, You Just Don't Understand. And the contention of this book, and it's a real good one, is that men and women speak a completely different language. And it's so true. The more I read this book, so many light bulbs are going off in my head that I guess the story in the intro sort of captures this book. A man and a woman are driving down the highway together and the man's driving. The woman says to the man, "Aren't you thirsty? Wouldn't you like to pull over?" The man's not thirsty and says, "No," and he keeps driving, which is exactly the way I would react. My assumption, is she's asking me if I'm thirsty, but that's not what she's asking. What she's asking is, "I'm thirsty. Would you mind pulling over so I can drink." And when a man keeps driving, all of a sudden there's a tremendous tension in the car. The man has no clue as to what happened and the woman now, is completely convinced that he is an absolutely insensitive asshole and, you know, why did she ever marry him. But that's just the way we think. If we're sitting next to the woman and the woman's driving and we want to pull over, what we say is "Honey, I'm thirsty. Do you mind pulling off at the next exit so I can get something to drink?" We don't appeal to the person's empathy in the way we phrase our question. We ask the question a little more directly. And the book is just fraught with those sorts of things that for me were, not revealing, because I understood them all from my ten years of coaching women, but the thing about the book that was great, I think, Gilligan introduced me to the fact that men and women think differently because I think differently. And then this book introduced me to the fact that men and women speak a different language because we do. And a lot of things I've read since that also basically confirmed all the opinions I had that I was sharing earlier and getting destroyed in the press for. There's even a "Sports Illustrated" article about, you know, the amount of times I'm getting attacked for saying men and women are different and they should be treated differently. And of course, the reaction that anyone has to that sort of statement is, you know, it's a form of sexism. And in a way, I guess it is if sexism means that men and women are different. I don't for a second think we're unequal, although I think we are unequal in certain respects. I think women have a tremendous greater capacity for empathy and sort of a collective sympathy. I mean, there are a lot of ways we are different. Does that mean we're unequal? Well, yes, but no. We're just different. And it's funny. When I started giving all these clinics, it was a very difficult position to defend, not because I'm wrong, not wrong, but because it's misinterpreted. What's been great is all this literature I've been reading for the last four or five years is confirming everything I've been saying for years. And the stuff that's coming out now is also interesting. There was a book out that I just finished a month or two ago called, Are We Winning Yet? And it's a great book because what it asks is, "Is there something unique that women can contribute in athletics?" And I think there is and I don't think the women figured out what it was yet, but it was great for her to ask the question. She implied there were areas where women can contribute to the growth of athletics. And also, areas where men might be taking women where they might not want to go on athletics, which causes me to think about my emphasis on competing and winning, because that isn't the same kind of emphasis that women would naturally bring into athletics. So, that's sort of the question, you know, how much my direction has for athletics or for women. And I'm hoping it does. I am hoping what it will do for women is give them, I guess, an appreciation for competitive excellence, because you can't really become excellent in a recreational arena. And I think competition promotes excellence because to beat someone that's trying to beat you, you can't hold back. So what we get is a very high level of competition, but you don't want the competition to be high level. You get a very high level of the game. I still think that maybe that's a direction we could take women in and still preserve their positive side as long as you understand the dichotomy between the two. But it's been a real education for me coaching the women.