There are too many accolades to list for legendary UNC Women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance–but just to name a few. First, he has been with the Tar Heels for over 40 years, and he is the head coach and founder of the UNC women’s soccer program which started in September of 1979. Dorrance was the 2016 winner of distinguished Werner Fricker Builder Award from the US Soccer and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on August 2, 2008–one of the highest honors for a coach, and much deserved. This induction was unique because he has not yet retired from coaching. His team was in the international news as nine UNC standouts who competed in…you guessed it, the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Six of UNC players were skilled enough to help the United States win its first World Cup title since 1999.
2aDays sat down with Coach Dorrance, and he gave some of the best advice that we have ever gotten from a head NCAA coach. Here is what he had to say.
2aDays: What is the most important quality you look for in a recruit?
Coach Dorrance: Everyone thinks that the most critical element is talent, and it’s not. The most critical element is athletic character. So I look for self-discipline, competitive fire, self-belief, love of the ball, love of playing the game, love of watching the game, and grit. Everyone thinks that the most critical element is talent, and it is not. The most critical element is an athletic character. So I look for self-discipline, competitive fire, self-belief, love of the ball, love of playing the game, love of watching the game, and grit. I want to recruit a player that will kill herself every training session to improve.
2aDays: What is the best way for a recruit to get on your radar?
Coach Dorrance: Come to one of our three ID camps or one of our five summer camps. They can get there by navigating ncgsc.com. So the best choice would be an ID camp or our summer camps.
2aDays: When should an athlete contact you, what is the best way? (age, grade, time of year, email, phone or other)
Coach Dorrance: The best way is for them, as young as possible, to come to one of our camps because the statement that they make with that is that they are interested. And also, it gives us an opportunity to watch them, not just perform, but interact with teammates in practice, and we get to see their coachability, we get to see the aspects of their personal character beyond their talent and their athletic character. And so all those pieces add together for us when we can see them for an extended period. Also, NCAA rules do not allow us to email or call until September 1st of their junior year.
2aDays: What are your expectations for incoming players in the classroom, in the weight room, and on the field?
Coach Dorrance: The expectations in the classroom are taken care of, to a large extent, by our admissions committee. There is a certain standard for admission to an elite school like the University of North Carolina, and so the academic standards are held by our own discriminating admission committee. However, the expectation, if you are admitted, is that you live above a 3.0 your entire collegiate career. And our expectation is for our top students to chase very serious academic ambitions. We want serious students that also want to succeed and develop on the field.
2aDays: What are the do’s and don’ts when being recruited?
Coach Dorrance: The do’s for us are certainly to go to areas where they get exposure. There are national tournaments that we attend on a regular basis. Obviously like all of the elite programs, we scout the player development system for the United States. So U14 National Team players, U15, U16, U17, U18. Those are all players that are aggressively pursued by all the elite schools. We certainly include ourselves in that recruiting platform. So attending the major tournaments so we can see you, attending the camps and the ID camps so that we can see even more of you, climbing the national team ladders to demonstrate your ability at the highest level are certainly the Dos.
The Don’ts are if you can afford to attend a school like ours, please don’t make scholarship an issue. During our National Championship in 2012, four of the starters were walk-ons. So if your family is in a good financial position, please don’t make scholarship an issue because we certainly aren’t going to make your playing time an issue based on the size of your scholarship. Also, do not let your parents drive the process. They are there for help and support, but this is the player’s job to seek out where she will study and play.
2aDays: What is the best advice you can offer a recruit?
Coach Dorrance: The best advice I can offer is to find a school that feels right for them. There are a lot of extraordinary schools across the country that have excellent soccer programs and wonderful coaching with an academic curriculum that can match students interests. Just make sure all of the things are aligned for you to become successful because there are many places you can attend where you are going to be perfectly happy, and they are going to address all of your interests and ambitions. Too often a young player thinks “there is only one school for me” and it is not true. You are not that fragile. There are many places where you can thrive.
2aDays: What jumps out at you when reviewing a recruit’s highlight tape?
Coach Dorrance: The highlight tape for us is only an invitation to watch them play personally. We don’t make decisions off of highlight tapes alone. The function the highlight tape has for us is to encourage us to watch a kid that we haven’t seen.
2aDays: What are the main do’s and don’ts for a recruit’s highlight tape?
Coach Dorrance: The shorter, the better. So if it can be 5 minutes or less, that is going to encourage our staff to watch the entire thing. And then show all aspects of your game. Certainly, have aspects of it that show your athletic promise; your speed, agility, and vertical jump; can you serve balls over distance, can you head, will you defend, can you keep possession, can you score goals, create goals, stop the opponent. Those things should all be exposed in the highlight reel to encourage us to watch you play personally. Keep it to game highlights. Practice highlights show us very little.
2aDays: When do you recommend recruits put together and share their highlight reels?
Coach Dorrance: As soon as they can. What we are interested in is their improvement. Certainly, there are a lot of great players out there. Some great players plateau while they are in high school, and we want to make sure the players we recruit are not plateauing. So we want to make sure that on multiple visits through several years they are living in a never-ending ascension so the highlight reel might get us to track a young star early and see if they can keep improving. And that is critical for our interests. We want to make sure the kid that we end up recruiting hasn’t plateaued, and we want to make sure that every time we see her, she is getting better and better and better.
2aDays: What advice do you have for recruits that get turned down by their dream schools? What are their options if they don’t gain the recruiting attention they want?
Coach Dorrance: What will shock a lot of elite players is how few players gain major scholarships from elite schools, and how little scholarship money is actually out there. In a typical recruiting class, we will try to recruit anywhere from 5-7 players. Of the let’s say, five players, maybe just one, or possibly two, would be on full scholarships. Another two would be on partials. The rest of the class are walk-ons that we have helped with our admission committee. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t fit into one school’s class, there are so many outstanding schools and coaches and programs out there. You are certainly going to find your place.
2aDays: How big a factor is social media when recruiting players? What advice do you have for athletes regarding social media?
Coach Dorrance: They have to be careful. We had a major scholarship recipient that was doing some stuff on social media that we thought wasn’t going to represent our university very well, so basically informed her that her conduct, certainly seen through social media, was not the conduct of the sort of athlete that we wanted representing the University of North Carolina. Because of that, we advised her to find a different school to attend. So your social media profile is critical. So certainly make sure that you represent yourself in the right way on all of your social media platforms.
Have a story idea or know an awesome athlete/coach we should interview? Email us at [email protected]
* Originally published on June 10, 2022, by Firoz George