Provision #277: Humble Yourself

Laser Provision

This Provision includes a reflection from the winningest college coach of all time. Read on to find out who he is as well as the secret of his success. It’s not having super stars on the team. It’s cultivating a spirit of humility in which learning and sacrifice come first.

LifeTrek Provision

If I was to ask you to name the college coach who, after more than 20 years of coaching, has the highest winning percentage of all time, what name would you come up with? Chances are you would not come up with Anson Dorrance.

Who is Anson Dorrance? He is a world citizen, having lived in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Singapore, Belgium, and Switzerland as a youth. He is a husband and father of three children. He is a published author, including a book published this past summer entitled “The Vision of a Champion.” But all this pales in comparison to his real claim to fame: he is the head women’s soccer (or what the world outside of the USA calls football) coach at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Since taking over the program in 1979, Carolina has mounted a 520-23-13 record. That’s a staggering percentage of approximately 95%. No other college program in any sport has come close to such total domination, ever. “Anson’s accomplishments on the field are unparalleled. He may well be the single most successful coach in intercollegiate athletics,” says Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford.

So what’s the secret of his success? It will take us more than one week in this series on Ten Strategies for Success to plumb the depths of what this man knows. He certainly wouldn’t disagree with any of the strategies we have already gleaned from the other coaches featured in this series. No one can be successful if they don’t tell the truth, love the players, love the game, read their people, and be enthusiastic. These things are fundamental.

But Dorrance introduces a critical new dimension of success when he identifies the need to be humbled and humble. Here’s Dorrance in his own words:

“To be successful a team has to have a collective will,” Dorrance observes. “The best teams we’ve ever had here had a sort of collective power that was almost unbeatable. And we had this collective power, irrespective of talent. There were some teams with very average talent that collectively were just so overwhelming. That was the key. It’s tied into team chemistry, really. And it’s tied into a philosophy that we’ve encouraged from the beginning • the concept of playing for each other.”

“I think most people don’t understand this. Playing for championships or titles is very overrated. It always stuns me when someone outside our team fabric comes up before a critical game and assumes that the team’s going to be motivated because of the event.”

“In my experience, teams aren’t motivated for championship games; they’re motivated for each other. And the motivational factors go beyond the event they’re playing for. They basically relate to connecting with all the people that surround them on the team. Team chemistry is a critical element • perhaps the most critical element in a championship season.”

“That’s why the first thing we do, especially in my environment where we are losing and gaining players every year, is to reestablish the connection, the chemistry. It’s almost like a rite of passage for a new player to come in and be accepted by the group that’s won before.”

“For that to happen, every player that comes in really has to humble herself for the task. It’s impossible to be a consistent winner without humility. And a lot of the humility is accepting first of all that you can get better • the player herself, can get better, and also that you’re going to sacrifice yourself for the team.”

“So that’s really what happens in our preseason. When any player comes in, regardless of their accolades before they get here, there’s a wonderful humbling process as they realize the environment that they’ve entered. After that’s done, then almost the opposite occurs.”

“Once players and the group have been humbled individually, then we try to create a collective confidence where everyone plays a certain role to help the team win. That’s why it’s so critical for everyone in the organization to have a role and for everyone to be valued for their humanity. It’s not a hierarchy of talent within the team fabric; it’s a collection of human beings. Understanding that has been the key to our success.”

“Perhaps that’s why my greatest satisfaction in coaching has not been winning championships but just listening to what my players have to say. This was a real epiphany for me. Early on, I thought winning would make me feel on the top of the world. But even winning a world championship didn’t do that.”

“A few years ago, however, after our 400th win, a local radio station went around and interviewed all the players about their experiences on the team while playing for me and my staff. And the things they said were just absolutely overwhelming. I have never felt as exhilarated following something as when I finished listening to that tape. The things they said were incredibly connective, and they just made me feel unbelievable.”

That’s a very powerful statement which can be applied to any group project. The project will fail and the organization will suffer if the individuals lack humility. And what is humility? It’s the recognition that we have something to learn and that we may have to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the group.

Talk of the learning organization is all the rage these days, as consultants and systems theorists seek to assist their clients and constituencies with understanding and navigating the at times frantic pace of change. It is not often recognized that learning implies and requires humility. If I have something to learn, then I don’t know it all. May sound good • who doesn’t want to learn? • but it’s a blow to the ego all the same.

Sacrificing ourselves for the good of the project or the organization is an equally problematic dynamic. Once again it sounds good, but who • other than an extremist • wants to be a martyr? This one requires judgment in order to avoid being a stressed-out workaholic in the name of self-sacrifice and team spirit. It is possible for both learning and sacrifice to be a healthy part of leadership and life.

If you want to be successful, you would do well to consider the words of Anson Dorrance. Forget about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” In the end, those do not win the day. Focus instead on the culture and chemistry of your group. An atmosphere of trust and commitment • where people play for each other more than they play for the prize • may produce more success than anyone thinks possible.

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

Thank you for the wonderful article on enthusiasm. Very interesting to know the true meaning.

Bananas may be a high-glycemic food (although they are hardly the highest) but they also contain fiber, iron, potassium, vitamins, and trypotophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier. They also help settle the stomach. There are many reasons to eat bananas! (Ed. Note: OK, the readers win. Eat bananas! I do.)

An old college friend sent me info on your organization, since I expressed interest in pursuing a training program in coach training. What do you folks think of other coach certification programs vs. programs accredited through the International Coach Federation? Please advise. Thanks. (Ed. Note: All LifeTrek Coaches have gone through ICF accredited programs, so we support and know those best. The field is too young and diverse, however, for the ICF to capture it all. I would check out the credentials of the individuals involved with alternative training programs.)

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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