What would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA Championships?

by jon on July 14, 2013

What kind of mind state would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA National Championships?  I ran across this incredible quote from Anson Dorrance who is the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at UNC Chapel Hill and leads one of the most storied programs in NCAA athletics.

“The challenge for you as an individual athlete is to find a way to elevate your environment. This is not easy. You likely have to set your own standards of practice performance. You are part of a team sport, in which coaches and your teammates are critical for motivation. It’s tough to keep yourself on this edge independently. But this is what sets the truly great players apart. It is their capacity to do what I call “flame on” – to hit a button and just ignite. They can do this whenever, and with whomever.

There is no better example of this than our goalkeeper Jenni Branam. (As a sophomore, Jenni was an alternate on the 2000 Olympic team). What excited me about watching Jenni train in her freshman year was that when she was in goal, every single shot for her was the World Cup. That told me that she was only going to get better every year. And she has.

If you can train like every environment is the World Cup, take it to the most intense level, then your improvement is going to be remarkable. It will separate you from the ordinary.”

When I first read the quote, I immediately thought that Anson and his players are playing in a really big game.  It takes some serious intentionality to train with this kind of mind state.  It reflects one of the core values in our culture work at The Center for Intentional Leadership which is “Everything and Everyone Matters.”  Anson and Jenni demonstrated that championships happen through a collection of moments.  Yes, there are always those spectacular goals, shots, races or touchdowns but the foundation for these big moments happen when someone brings a championship mind state into everything they do.

As leaders who want to create a championship culture, we have to elevate our environment and be impeccable with our word in every aspect of our professional and personal lives.  For example, are you consistently delivering on what you tell people you are going to do?  What does your office or your locker room look like inside?  Is it tight and consistent with what you want to create?    This reminds me of a great story about my friend Paul Nichols who is the Head Football Coach at Davidson College.  When he took over the football program, one of the first things he did was have the team clean up the locker room.  Because he saw right away that it wasn’t consistent with a championship program. This is exactly what we mean by “Everything and Everyone Matters.”

Anson and Jenni give us a great example of the importance of establishing what we call a “Big Game” vision as the foundation of a championship mind state.  For Jenni it was deciding to play like every moment was the World Cup.  Once she had a vision of playing in the World Cup, she took intentional actions in every moment to cause this to happen.  I am sure there were days where she didn’t feel like practicing with a World Cup mentality.  But that didn’t matter because she re-committed to this vision every day…one shot at a time.  What I love about this story is that she ended up playing for the National Team from 2000-2006, so it sure worked for her.

So we can take a lesson from Anson and Jenni and tap into what ignites the flame in each one of us.  When we do this with ourselves first, we can inspire and influence others to see more possibility.  Leaders have the chance to make a huge impact on the people around them and the great ones help us separate from the ordinary.  Anson’s quote reminds us that it starts with every moment, every conversation and every message we send to others with our actions.  This kind of game certainly isn’t easy but it sure can be a game worth playing.  Why not go after something remarkable?


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