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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 >>

Navigating the social environment of the women's locker room

Dorrance describes his efforts to nurture collective respect in the socially complex environment of the women's locker room. First, he seeks to publicly identify different players with different roles, trying to foster team chemistry. Second, he carefully, and often privately, praises his best players, wary that public praise might turn their teammates against them. At the heart of these tactics is an effort to nurture personal relationships with his players so his praise builds their self-esteem and does not make them targets for criticism for fellow players.

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

How do you observe that the relationships are important on the team? I understand how you stress the competition on the field and that that's okay. How do you then take the other side of that? What's important to them?
Well, what we do as much as we can is I always try to share stories about different women on the team doing things for other women on the team. We try to create an atmosphere of rewarding the unique environments where it happens. And it happens enough for us to constantly talk about it. The way I guess we officially talk about it is, we talk about it during a game; not all eleven players are going to play their best. I mean, there are going to be some games where one player is going to play poorly. So it's our function as a team to make sure we carry her. And what I share with them about team athletics that I prefer to individual athletics is team athletics, in my opinion, is all about basically carrying the ones that aren't playing as well that day, because some day, they will eventually carry you. And that's a philosophy we try to carry over into sort of everything. Everyone has a function. You know, the worst player on the team still has a positive chemistry function. And we talk about those functions of the different players that maybe don't contribute during the game that have a genuine concern for different people on the team and we try to talk about those sources of qualities. And so what we try to nurture is a collective respect for anyone who cares about anyone does something for any of them. And we always review that every chance we can. And we try to review it in a very, very humorous, but serious way. We don't want to become maudlin about our attachments to each other, so we always try to throw in a lot of humor. But by the same token, we want them to know that that sort of behavior is very positive and that's what we'd like to see. And it makes a difference. It makes a difference.
I've heard that your teams are pretty close. Is that true?
Yes and we try to foster that, although it's a never ending struggle because in a bizarre sort of way, I think women have a tremendous capacity for affection for each other, but by the same token, they have a tremendous sensitivity about, I guess, everyone's weaknesses. Women's weaknesses are reviewed more by women among themselves about each other than men's weaknesses are reviewed about themselves. And in a way, the more threatening the woman is, the more critical everyone is of her. And so the women that are threatening, obviously, are the ones who get the most attention, the one that's the star or something. And so being a star on a women's team is a very, very difficult position for her to be in because obviously she wants to be the best she can, but she knows that by becoming exceptional, in a way, she's torn apart by everyone around her, which is really bizarre. With the men, it's the opposite to a degree. I mean, if there's a great performance by a male, one of things you can do to bolster his success is to sort of talk about it in front of the group. And everyone pats him on the back and they think it's great and there's no problem. The last thing you can do with a very successful woman is to basically highlight her success in front of her peers because, first of all, she doesn't like it at all because she knows what's happening. If you highlight her success in front of everyone else, everyone just tears her apart. It's a very difficult position to put a woman in. And that's one of the lessons I learned very early in my coaching career. So now, what we do to develop self-esteem among the top players is to praise them privately and it's really bizarre. It has a tremendous effect from two points of view. One, it develops your relationship with her which is vital because your success as a coach is going to be based on how successfully you negotiate all the individual relationships you have and it has to be individual. When you coach men, it can be a collective sort of leadership and camaraderie and can be general and they can sort of respect you and be distant from you. And you can still be very successful. With the women, you can't. It's got to be very personal and your relationship with them is affected the more personal the relationship can get. And obviously, there's a boundary there you have to draw eventually. But it's a boundary you want to get very close to because the more personal your relationship can be with her, the more effective she's going to be by, you know, following things that we'd like her to do. And so, by praising her personally it has a more positive effect than praising her in front of the group. Whereas, it's funny, praising men personally has almost no impact because they know they were great and they're not interested in a closer relationship with you. So to praise them: water off a duck's back. They'd rather have you praise them in front of the group or in the press. And so, what will happen if you keep praising him personally, he'll think you're weak and he'll take all your praise for granted and he won't really consider you as a source for his self-esteem. But a woman will really feel very good about it and feel that she does have a unique relationship with you that's different from everyone else's which builds her self-esteem. Because then she considers herself unique and special and not threatened, which is what would occur if you praised them in front of a group. All these things make a difference when you're trying to build the chemistry of the two teams, the men and women.