How Safety Leaders Win

If you were asked to pick the best, most successful college coach, who would you suggest? UCLA's legendary basketball coach John Wooden easily comes to mind, as does Alabama's football coach, Bear Bryant.

By Matt Forck, CSP and JLW

If you were asked to pick the best, most successful college coach, who would you suggest? UCLA's legendary basketball coach John Wooden easily comes to mind, as does Alabama's football coach, Bear Bryant. Thinking a little more, Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's basketball coach, is a good guess as is Tennessee's former woman's head basketball coach, Pat Summitt. Or, Dan Gable of Iowa wrestling fame is certainly on the short list. But a name that you would probably not have said is Anson Dorance. Coach Dorance is the head coach of one of the most successful programs in the history of college athletics. He is the head coach of women's soccer at North Carolina.

Coach Dorance's coaching record is almost unbelievable. In 1979, Dorrance worked with the Association of Athletics for Women to establish a national women's soccer program. The first NCAA women's soccer championship was three years later, won by Dorrance's NC Tar Heels. For his 33-year career as head coach of the lady Tar Heels, Dorrance is 719-39-24 for an unheard of 93.5 percent winning percentage. He led his teams to a 101 game winning streak and coached 20 players recognized as National Player of the Year. If that's not impressive enough, Dorrance's teams have won 21 NCAA championships.

So, what is Coach Dorrance's secret? His success over time is likely much more complicated than can be shared in a short article. Having said that, there are three keys to his success that can provide great insight into his winning program and also give us additional insights into how we can be even more effective in leading safety programs.


There is a legendary story about Henry Ford. He had two shifts at one of his factories. These two shifts used the exact same assembly line and had the same tools, work hours, number of employees, etc. For some reason, the first shift always assembled more cars than the second shift. One evening, Ford walked on the floor of the second shift, took a piece of chalk and wrote a number on the floor, 48 for example. The number represented the number of cars produced by the first shift. When he walked in the next morning, he was surprised to see his number was scratched out and a new number written, 54, that was the number produced by the second shift. Ford left it there and the first shift then wrote next to it as their shift ended, 56. The night shift would not be out done-they produced 58 the next night.

Coach Dorrance says, "Competition is key to developing players. The only practice environment in which you truly develop a player is a competitive arena. "What most teams consider drills, Dorrance will chart then post for all of the players to see. It pushes those players who are on top of the list to stay there, and those who are not on the top of the lists to work even harder.

I do not support the idea of competing for the lowest injury numbers since this could drive workers not to report incidents, which is not the goal. But, this idea of competition is one to consider for training exercises, safety rule knowledge, most safe acts, most supervisory job observations, housekeeping inspections, and many more categories. Post these lists and reward those on top-and your organization will push to be even better.


A December 7, 1998 Sports Illustrated Article says that, "Dorrance insists that players call him Anson. Before the last home game of the season, he presents each senior with a red rose. On the wall in his office is this sign:


When I was a safety professional serving a major mid-western utility, I served more than 400 electrical line workers and substation technicians. One thing I did to make a connection is to write a personal birthday note to each worker and supervisor, about 500 letters per year. After a few years of this I saw a birthday note that I had written taped to a locker. I found the locker's owner and asked him why it was there. He simply said that in nearly 30 years working for the company, receiving that birthday note was the best thing that had happened to him.

Dorrance says, "This game rewards you for playing with huge hearts." For those workers who had received birthday notes, they simply knew that I cared. So when I showed up to coach, teach, instruct or correct, I mostly found open ears and workers willing to listen-because they knew I cared.


Dorrance wants soccer games to be a day off for his team. What he means by that is he wants practice to be so hard and tough that his team is well prepared for any game. Practices are so stressful that players have named Tuesday's conditioning day as "throw up Tuesday."

"We've tried to design a system that's difficult to play against," Dorrance said. "That system is predicated on work ethic and high pressure. It's hard for other teams to replicate that in practice. Often times, even when a quality team plays us for the first time, it's a bit of a shock."

How do our work groups prepare? And, as supervisors and managers, how do we prepare them? Are our training sessions, job briefings and tailgate sessions, safety meetings, and safety committee work really preparing our workers for the day's hazards?

In the end, if we can infuse our safety programs with healthy and appropriate competition, caring and preparation, we will find our results to be elite-just ask Coach Anson Dorrance.

Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a safety speaker and former journey line worker who specializes in utility safety. Eliminate shortcuts today through Bucket List, a motivational DVD package for your next safety meeting. Learn more by logging onto

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