by Pat Heim, Ph.D.
When I talk about the different cultures of men and women, the most frequently asked question is, “Now that girls play sports, doesn’t that change the dynamics?” I approached Anson Dorrance, the coach of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team since 1983, for the answer.
The women on Anson’s teams have been the most successful in the history of the sport; within a twenty-four year period, they’ve won eighteen national championships. Many of the greatest players including Mia Hamm and Brandy Chastain came out of UNC. I asked Anson during an interview if it was different coaching women compared to men. “There are so many differences, I don’t know where to begin,” he replied. “The core is the kind of relationship you establish with your athletes. One of the critical aspects in motivating, training, and leading men is that you have to be strong. Men respond to strength and a part of your capacity to ultimately lead in men’s athletics is a capacity for you to demonstrate this strength. Some male coaches do this by being physically, psychologically, or verbally intimidating. “Women aren’t led by that. In fact, if you try to lead that way athletically you actually end up intimidating them. It causes a loss of confidence and a separation. Women respond to your humanity, so you lead women with your capacity to care and your capacity to relate. Connection with them is critical. They want me to relate to them personally.” Remember, these are not players who are out to have a good time on a Saturday afternoon. They are driven to win, and they do. But they do it in a female way. While many women today have participated in team sports, to my mind experiences such as these are dwarfed by the influence of social norms and biology.