Part II: Anson Dorrance about sports psychology and the revolution in women’s soccer

How important would you say is mental health or sports psychology for your work? Cause in my eyes, the US are much better than Germany and it has been like Jürgen Klinsmann has brought it from the US to Germany in 2005 and everybody in Germany was like ‘Oh, what is he doing?’. He installed a sports psychologist, fitness coaches and so on. In my eyes, it was like: ‘Oh, let him just try’ and then Germany reached the 3rd place – which was such a great achievement – at the World Cup 2006. So, how important is it for your work and how did it develop from the time you started as a coach until today?

Well, I generally think all the great coaches are sport psychologists. Even if they haven’t studied it and even if they don’t profess to exhibit it. Because, obviously one of the most critical elements on the highest level is man or women management, the way you teach your players.

And that’s a form of sports psychology. Because what we have to understand is that everyone is different and everyone has to be treated differently which is why the cliché is a very accurate one. Yeah, most players that are average do want to be left alone. And there are good players who do want to be coached. But you have to be careful HOW you coach them. So your ability to assess how you are going to relate to each player because each player is different is a critical measure of your capacity to understand each player’s circumstance. Which is sports psychology.

We have a wonderful sport psychologist here at UNC. When I was hired in 1976 to coach the men, we did not have a sports psychologist here. We didn’t talk about it much. So, who was the sports psychologist? Well, I guess I was. With no training. I had an English and philosophy degree.

But some of the guys on the men’s team I actually played with. Because I was hired so young. I was actually coaching guys that I have played with two or three years before-hand. So for me, initially, in our profession, I think we all start as a form of sports psychologist.

But clearly there are those that are so good. Because they studied it. And we have those people now. And we have one wonderful sports psychologist by the name of Jeni Shannon that meets with my team once every couple weeks and the whole team loves her. She is very good with everything. She is good with the elements that we are playing with in our game. But she is also very good with other struggles that our kids would have during this pandemic. This is a different strength for kids to come to college with. Because in the old days, college was about freedom for the first time. They get to leave home, their parents aren’t there to wake them up and send them to class. Or tell them what to eat or when to go to bed. So now, for the first time in their lives, they are the captains of their own ships. And of course, when you are young, what you end up doing with that ship half the time, well, you end up having it run into the ground because you are an idiot.

Anson Dorrance thinks UNC’s sports psychologists do a super job.
Photo: Athletic Department, University of North Carolina

What you are doing is learning to manage yourself slowly but surely through trial and error often times. But also, if you do have a good value system and even raised properly, you can slowly adjust governing yourself. But this is where the sports psychologist comes in. Because they came in here with this pandemic going on. The mental health thing is a serious issue. And these professionals are so much better at handling it than I am. And I give Jenni Shannon and the sports psychologists here at UNC and my assumption is, across the country, and across your country as well, I am sure they are doing a fantastic job trying to take these young women and young men to the promised land. And not just a promised land of the player performance, it’s the promised land of adjusting to the real world, maturing into adulthood and all these different things that are obviously our challenge for all of us growing up.

Is Jenni Shannon a part of the training sessions or does she have an office and every young woman or man who has some struggles or problems can go to her and talk to her? How does it work?

Yes, that’s one way it happens. They can schedule appointments with her and she can meet with them privately. But the way it also happens here is every couple weeks at the end of practice we come together. We have a gazebo which is an open shelter, and she would meet with them there. So if it is raining she can still speak to the entire team. We don’t have practice on campus. They don’t have to jump into their cars, drive somewhere and meet with her because she is willing to come right to them. So she comes to the team.

Obviously during those moments, what she is telling them is about general issues. But everyone knows that – and she tells them this: ‘Please, if you have a personal issue you can’t bring up into this meeting, and you want to speak with me about it personally and privately, please know that my door is always open. Please email me and we’ll find a time that is mutually agreeable for both of us and then you can meet with me privately in my office.’ So, for us, it is both things. She meets with the team and she meets with the kids who want to meet with her privately.

Wow, that’s great. Cause in my impression, in Germany, it goes very slowly that they really all accept this topic. Especially in men’s soccer or youth men’s soccer – in the best leagues, they also partly tell like ‘Oh, they are crazy. Sports psychologists – I am not crazy’. Lots do not understand the real sense behind in my eyes. Well, let’s talk about another topic.

‘Basically, at my school here, the University of North Carolina, they treat the men and the women the same.’

How did women’s soccer develop in the last decades, when you have started until now? Do you think you have got the best training facilities – I looked it up on the Internet. So, you have a great training ground, you have a great stadium… Is there still something missing or is it like perfect work and have got all what you need for the training sessions and all facilities?

Basically, at my school here, the University of North Carolina, they treat the men and the women the same. So everything the men get we get and vice versa we play in the same stadium that we also share with the Lacrosse teams, by the way. So we have a men’s and women’s lacrosse team here. They play in the winter and spring. We play in the fall.

That’s a dream for Germans. Does not work the same way here. Maybe you know about Germany, now, more and more women’s teams come to the men’s Bundesliga Clubs. They start women’s teams. But very, very slowly… It’s 2022.

Obviously, we have a different economic platform. The economic platform is totally supported by two teams. It’s supported by the American football team and by men’s basketball. And those two teams make all the money for all the rest of us. So, there is no reason to discriminate, to have the men’s football team, soccer team, get more money than we do. No. So, we all basically sort of divide up the revenue from football and men’s basketball and it is shared equally.

In Germany, your model is different. You have the club model. This one is a model where the more money that is spent, the better you have to be. So, the top teams in Germany, obviously, if they want to buy a player, they want to spent a maximum out of money. And so these clubs that are making lots of money don’t want to share it. And it’s understandable because there is a direct correlation between the amount of money each club spent in Germany and their success. So, one of the things which threaten hierarchy in Germany for the men’s teams is if they decide to splurge on the women’s teams. Because then obviously, the amount of money they are spending on the women is money they are not spending on the men. And the women are not making money.

That’s the problem.

Yeah, that is the problem. So, basically, I appreciate that you are bringing this up. Because what I tell my girls all the time, because there was a lawsuit here (Cindy Parlow the US Soccer President helped settle it), where the US women’s national team sued US Soccer for equal pay. And of course, what they want – because our women’s national team is much more successful than our men’s team – they want to be paid like the men.

I read about Megan Rapinoe, I really like her so much! She is great.

Yes, she is in on the fight for equal pay. The element that Rapinoe doesn’t understand yet is that for equal pay you gotta have equal revenue. And right now, at a professional level, and at a World Cup level, there is not equal revenue. So, it’s gonna be impossible to structure equal pay everywhere without closing the gap with attendance.

So I told my girls this all the time: We have a professional team within 25 minutes of us. They are called ‘The North Carolina Courage’. And what’s really interesting is this is unlike the men: The men’s players here, and these are all college kids, they are all amateurs – what they do all the time is nothing but watch football. They are watching the EPL, they are watching the Bundesliga, Bayern is a great team to watch. They watch the Champions League, but also, Borussia Dortmund because they have success for the American players. So, these are teams that the men watch all the time.

Do my girls watch anything? Absolutely not. They don’t watch anything. So I tell my girls all the time: ‘If I hear you, basically, bloviating, about equal pay, I’ll call you a hypocrite. Because while you are here at UNC, you never turned on a football game. And you never went over and paid money to watch the North Carolina Courage play. And now that you are even playing on the Carolina Courage, don’t want you to have that hypocrisy to now pretend that everyone should come watch you play, when you never went over to watch them play?’

So, part of what I am trying to change is that culture of women’s football. And I am trying to get our culture close to the men’s game. So what does the men’s game have that we don’t have? Men’s game has people that are supporting. So, all these people that want equal pay on the women’s side, well, what you have to do, is to figure out ways to get people to watch your game.

So, that’s what you have to do. So though I have huge admiration for Rapinoe, she doesn’t embrace the business aspect of this. She doesn’t embrace that fact that Bayern Munich would lose their position in the Bundesliga. So, they don’t understand that 15 million dollars a year on a women’s team would be 15 million dollars lost for the men. They could steal another left-back from Borussia Dortmund etc etc etc. So, this has to be somehow reconciled.

In my eyes, it’s a pity but it can’t be changed cause it’s too hard. It’s much more developed.

No, no, no, I mean you can develop. The best thing to do is not to whine about it but to do something about it. And the way to do something about it is to have people watch more games and build our gate like Barcelona with over 91,000 in attendance for two games in a row recently.

I like it so much, watching the women of Bayern Munich. It’s so crazy in the stadium, I really like it. It’s so familiar, you can come together, also the players with injuries who can’t play, they’re sitting on the tribune, they write autographs, take pictures with the young fans and you could never expect something like this at a men’s game in the Allianz Arena. Wouldn’t be possible. Never.

That’s because the men don’t have to do that. Women have to. And, by the way, that`s going to be a revolution. A revolution has to be the way to embrace our communities, we are going to do it here with our stadium. And I’ve spent a lot of money to promote women’s football in my stadium. And we actually outdraw the men. So we get more attendance than the men and there is a reason for that because I kill myself to pack the stadium. I used to use a lot of my personal income to pay for marketing for our team. I understand that there is another step that has to be taken. And what’s that step? We got to have equal attendance.

Football Book – Update No. 10: From Sabrina Flores to Brianna Pinto

Dear soccer fans!

Our book has now arrived in North Carolina at Brianna Pinto. Brianna is a midfielder and has already gained some international experience. She attended her first US National Team Camp at the early age of 12. In 2016 she participated in the U17 World Cup in Jordan and in 2018 in the U20 World Cup in France.

Our interview turned into a rather casual and very nice conversation about Brianna’s story, her experiences in college soccer, and how small the big soccer world really is….

Just read it for yourself… 🙂 Enjoy!

Brianna Pinto’s goal celebration against New Jersey/New York Gotham FC. Photo: Andy Mead – USA TODAY Sports

Brianna, you got the soccer book from Sabrina Flores. How did it work and why did you decide to take part in this ‚litte crazy‘ project?

I think the project is super cool. I think it’s so beautiful to see so many different people contribute to a project that surrounds soccer and I got the book from Sabrina. She left it for me and she said “Hey, I think you had a really interesting story in your journey through professional soccer rank, so I wanted to leave this book for you to write in.”

I took a look at all the other stories, and I was sure that I wanted to contribute to this book because I think it’s a really beautiful thing. This was the most amazing project I have ever seen, so I love that.

Do you want to tell a little bit about your story you want to write in?

My name is Brianna Pinto, I grew up in Durham, North Carolina. It was my lifelong dream to play for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Because a number of the best players in the world played there, like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Cindy Parlow, who is now the president of US soccer.

It is amazing because one of the coolest things I have gotten to do is represent US national team from the age of 12 all up to now, and during my cycle with the Under 20 national team, I was selected to be the US youth representative for the United Bid Committee. I went to Russia during the 2018 World Cup and I attended the 60th FIFA Congress with Diego Lainez of Mexico and Alphonso Davies of Canada, and we delivered speeches as a part of the United 2026 committee about why the World Cup should be hosted in North America in 2026. So, it was just such an impressive experience because we spoke in front of the FIFA, which is an organization what we have played for. It has always been my dream to play in a Senior World Cup, and I was fortunate to see how FIFA runs on a day to day basis, meet the president Gianni Infantino, and have many nations across the world support the United Bid to have the World Cup come to North America in 2026. It was such a fulfilling experience, and as a woman and an African-American person, being a representative for a Men’s World Cup was really powerful. I rave about how cool it was. Like bringing the World Cup home… (she has got a big smile on her face…) So that’s the story that I want share because I got to be in the spotlight with two worldwide superstars. It was just such a fulfilling experience.

Great story, great story, thank you so much.

North Carolina Courage midfielder Brianna Pinto (top centre) celebrates her goal with teammates during the match against New Jersey/New York Gotham FC at Sahlen’s Stadium.
Photo: Andy Mead – USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about yourself. What do you like most about soccer? For sure, you’ve told that you’ve started at the age of 12 in a bigger team. So, it was just about friendships and having fun in the beginning or was it also like ‚Oh, I really want to become a professional player‘?

I think for me, I come from a soccer family. My dad played in college when he was growing up. One of my biggest dream was to travel the world and I think that football is a global thing where you meet people from all over the world. You can travel anywhere and play because it’s played around the world. My dad said: “Football is a way to do that. If you continue kicking this ball and become good enough, you can represent the US and go on with traveling.’ Not only is traveling a great part of this experience, but I think what motivates me now is meeting wonderful people like you through this sport. And I get to have the most unlikely friendships in my lifetime. I think through this love for the game, we can compete in a really beautiful way and I think it’s so much fun to see World Cups and people from all across the world come together for one event. So, I’d say, to sum up my idea, the reason why I started playing is because I wanted to travel the world and I love to compete and I love making lifelong friendships with people along the way.

In the United States, you talk about College teams. Eleven years ago, there was the Women’s World Cup in Germany. I was there as a volunteer. So, in Germany, women’s soccer becomes more and more popular, but it’s quite hard in comparison to the men’s soccer. In my impression, women’s soccer is quite popular or famous in the US. So, how is at the moment? Do you work additionally to football / soccer or do you study or how does it work? And if you could change the system, what would you change?

I think that’s a wonderful question. One of the cool things about college soccer was Title IX. That was an amendment that passed in the 70s. Basically it allowed women to play sports in the United States. And they would receive the same amount of funding that the men’s team gets. So, in college sports, since soccer and field hockey or any other women’s sports are not revenue generating, we get money from the men’s (American) football team or men’s basketball team, so that we can function.

Basically, this allows us to have the nicest uniforms, to be able to travel the same ways the men’s teams do, to have the same quality hotels and things of that nature. That’s just an equal playing field for the men and the women teams. Also, in college sports you are required to get an education at the same time, which relieves a personal financial burden if you get a full scholarship. So I was a full scholarship recipient and I got my education paid for and I got to play a really quality level of soccer. As I was growing up, I got to watch all the best girls playing college soccer. In the last two decades, the professional levels became satisfactory enough to sustain the talent that they have. We are still working to reduce pay inequity and other systemic issues in professional women’s soccer.

College soccer is supported by major television networks, such as ESPN. We get a good amount of viewership because it is widely available. So it’s super popular here and I loved being part of such a successful era of women’s collegiate sports. I got to play at UNC-Chapel Hill, in one of the greatest college soccer dynasties in the country. We have 22 national Championships and that’s the most by far. I think the next closest is 3. So, one of the reasons I went there is I wanted to learn what it takes to become a US women’s national team member and because we have so many players there who went on to represent the United States National Team. Carolina is kind of embody the DNA you need to reach the international level.

So, one of the things that I would change is that when I was in college these last three years, you could not make money while you are in college. Under the “Name, Image & Likeness” legislation your school had your promotional rights and you were not allowed to profit off of things where your face or your signature were used.

But this past year, they changed the rules & student-athletes are now allowed to make money. You are essentially living like a pro while getting an education and I think that’s the best of both worlds. So the change that I wished to see when I was in college has recently happened and it is changing the lives of the student-athletes in such a positive way. In terms of where the game is going now, more girls are training with professionals at earlier ages. For example, I gave up my final year of eligibility, my senior year, to become a professional soccer player because I wanted to be able to be paid. I play against the highest competition, against international superstars from all over the world. And I just was ready for something new. So, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is becoming more sustainable and ready to support all of its players. More girls are moving from the college ranks to the pro ranks at earlier ages as you see in Europe. It’s a great experience but it’s definitely different.

Just quite another topic. You are a black person and I would like to ask: Did you ever make experiences with racism because I think in your former club, in New Jersey – I watched the pictures on instagram and I think that it’s not a topic anymore? Are there crazy fans?

Cause I think women soccer can’t be compared with men’s soccer because it’s not so much a theme: for example being gay. It’s not ‘a topic’ for us, in women soccer, in my eyes. So, how is your experience in the US?

Midfielder Brianna Pinto (white dress) and Houston Dash defender Katie Naughton battle for the ball during the second half at Texans PNC Stadium.
Photo: Maria Lysaker – USA TODAY Sports

I would say, while I have been afforded lots of privilege, I do recognize the hardships that many black players face when they are coming up through the ranks of soccer in the United States. For example, coaches often label black players by their physical attributes, which often leads to becoming a winger, or an outside back because they are fast. It’s not common for black players to play midfield, which is what I play. I think I am one of the most technically savvy people on the field. But a lot of times in the United States, black players are only recognized for their speed. I think it’s hard and especially in the professional ranks, one of the things I noticed is that there is a lot of movement for justice, but not necessarily for racial equity. For example, I am a huge proponent of the LGBTQ+ community, I would love to support them in any way that I can and I think the league does a good job of that.

However, I’d like to see the same efforts for black people who have troubles with racial inequality in the United States. I don’t feel like we consistently support our black players the same way we do for other minority groups. This includes how we distribute funding, even how we structure our demonstrations: Are they unified? Is everybody standing up for the same thing? And I can’t confidently say that this is achieved on a consistent basis.

Then I would like to come to your story. I think you experienced so much in the last years, so how did you make the decision what you want to write about? And you also told me about a photo… So, how much time did it take for having the decision and what’s the story behind?

So, it is the story about getting to go into the 60th FIFA congress. The reason I was actually selected for that position as the US youth representative was: I actually told a story about getting to play Iran in their first international match at the U19 level. And we were in a tournament in China. It was their first experience playing internationally. I don’t think the score line was even, but the game was more important than that.

We got to form relationships with the girls of Iran and we really get to know them as people off the field after the game. It was just a really beautiful experience because it reminded me and my teammates of how happy we were to have all the resources and the opportunities to play at the highest level, especially at these ages where this was their first opportunity. So, it made me consider: What can we as well-resourced nations do to provide more equity to nations that are just starting their journey with women’s sports?

The United States and Germany are two of the world powers in women’s soccer. So, in order for a game to grow across the world: Are we supporting other nations? And I know, obviously we are interested in our own countries winning, but I think whatever we can do to level the playing field, it’s going to make the game so much better in the future.

So, how did I decide to write about that? I think anybody can tell you about one of the games they played that they won, or how about winning a championship. But I think: The reason I chose to tell this story was because it encapsulates what football is all about. Because it’s how I got selected for that position in the FIFA event where we secured the hosting rights for the World Cup. It was about cultures coming together and supporting one another. That was a magnificent thing that can happen within FIFA. So, I wanted to tell the story.

Where did the tournament in China take place?

It took place in Guangzhou.

When we continued talking, we found out that Brianna met Lutz (Pfannenstiel; who is also one of the writers of the soccer book) a short time before.

I met him at the Mac Hermann event. I was there with two other college players. It was an event to celebrate the 3 best players in college soccer. So, just to see him in the book was really, really unique. (She flips through the book and shows me a photo…) This picture is my agent.

No, really?! Oh my gosh, I have to tell this Urs, the former referee who wrote the story about this and who loves the story. He was the initiator of having those people [players from USA and Iran] together for a picture.

I actually have a picture very similar to this. So, the story I told you about when we played Iran. We took a picture just like this. I send it to you. And I can include it in my page when I write it as well.


(She points with her finger to a man in the picture.) He went to Carolina, UNC Chapel Hill, as well.

What’s his name?

Eddie Pope. And this is Claudio Reyna (she points to another man in the picture), his wife played for my coach at Carolina.

Oh, wow!

Yeah, it’s really unique.

It’s so cool! That’s soccer, such a little world…

Small world! (we laugh…)

So, small world again… 😊 Thanks a lot to Brianna for being a part of our international soccer book team!

Let’s see what stop in the small, wide soccer world the book heads to next!