The other night, I went to a banquet. It was an induction ceremony for the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame, and two North Carolina based teams that won national championships were being honored. One was the Greensboro United U15 girls team that won the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup in 2011. The other was the Duke University 1986 NCAA championship team.
You might think that North Carolina’s Soccer Hall of Fame can’t be all that impressive, but soccer fans will certainly recognize names of some of its members, like Mia Hamm, Tab Ramos, Anson Dorrance, Eddie Pope, Hank Steinbrecher, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, John Rennie, Doug Hamilton, and Siri Mullinix.
Whenever I go to this particular banquet, there is always one or two speeches that make me think, and one is usually given by Dorrance, the coach of the 22-time NCAA champion University of North Carolina women’s soccer program. As a side note and as a way to explain the level of oratory at the banquet, Dorrance was once one of two speakers to address a gathering of Forbes 500 executives. The other guy to speak to the group was Colin Powell.
Anyway, to get back on track, during one of the speeches the other night I wrote down one sentence from one speech. It came from John Kerr, the captain of Duke’s 1986 NCAA champs and current Blue Devils head coach. He was talking about that team, explaining how hard they worked for each other, how challenging every training session was, and how each player saw it as his responsibility to push everyone else to their limit every day. And, of course, it paid off.
As soon as I heard the line, I knew I could use it as a coach. As he neared the end of his speech, Kerr said, “As all of you who have been champions know, it wasn’t an accident.”
Championship teams certainly have special players. They have special qualities, like the exact right mix of blue- and white-collar players, or as Rennie used to refer to them — piano movers and piano players. Championship teams have adopted a common mission, a collective commitment to something greater than a goal written down months earlier. They learn. They improve. They suffer, and most importantly, they put in the work because they want to, because they know they have to do more than every other team they will play.
There are no shortcuts, no days off. There are no clichés, like “We’ll get ‘em next time,” and 110 percent is a real percentage. There’s never a time when complete effort wasn’t given, and a loss was never okay.
There is nothing accidental happening.
Lately, in my coaching life, I have started to explain not only what we are doing in a particular exercise or game, but why. It dawned on me a while ago that if the kids understand the reason behind something, they are more likely to buy into it. And if they buy into it, they will work harder.
Now I have something new to tell players on my teams. Championships are not accidents.