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Building a Champion:
On The Sidelines With Crossfire Premier's Dick McCormick
Over the past three years, he's won five state titles and a Region IV Championship. In his 12 years coaching youth soccer in the state of Washington, he's won eight state championships, two Region IV crowns and a National Championship.
What's more, he's been successful from the first whistle — the loose-knit team of 10-year-old girls that he assembled in 2002 went 41-2-1 in that first year, with eight of those players making up the core of the team that won State and Region IV titles in 2009 en route to a berth at the National Championships.
He's won at every level, and with every team, that he has coached. The question is — how does Dick McCormick do it?
"I don't know that there's a secret," says McCormick, who has coached multiple teams at Crossfire Premier since 2000, and has served as the club's Director of Coaching since 2005. "Really, it's about the athletes, the players. Mentality is a huge thing in youth soccer, and as a coach, you have to work to put the right attitude in place with your team. Sometimes you have to teach them that it's OK to take risks, to be competitive. The bottom line is that winners will find a way to win, and I've been fortunate to have kids on my team that love to compete."
No team has been more successful than McCormick's Crossfire Premier '91 Girls — the aforementioned squad of 10-year-olds who have dominated state play in their age groups for most of the last decade. In the nine years they have been together (eight of the 18 players currently on the '91's roster were members of that original team), the '91s have captured five state titles, two Regional championships and a national crown. The team's record of 226-58-39 in that nine-year span is only slightly less eye-popping than the list of colleges accepting verbal commitments from its players … Penn State, Alabama, Cal, Northwestern, Navy and, of course, the University of Washington.
McCormick says that while the '91s are certainly highly athletic, skilled players, it is their mental makeup and their ability to blend fun with focus in training that has contributed most to their success.
"It's a fine line between wanting to win, and the high intensity and pressure that goes with that, and at the same time loving what you are doing and not folding under that pressure," he says. "The 'fun' aspect has to be No.1.
"The good news is, winning is usually fun," he continues. "If you can integrate fun into high-level, focused training, that is going to breed winning. The challenge is to make them want to work hard, because it's fun. That's something we try to do in training every day, whether it's by mixing up teams, playing off the other coaches. If it's not fun, it's not going to be worth it.
In addition, McCormick says that managing the expectations of players and — especially — parents, is a crucial aspect of maintaining team chemistry.
"In my world, I set the standard about what we are doing," he says. "Kids develop differently, and as a coach, it's my job to recognize those differences and use each player in a way that is going to best help the team. I've always had a policy of being very upfront and honest with both players and parents, so that there is no misunderstanding about my expectations. I want to make sure that everybody clearly knows their role. If you don't like it and want to leave, leave. But I've found that if you are upfront and honest about what you expect, the players and parents can't fault you later."
"I want my players to love the game, and want to play the rest of their lives."
Of course, it's not just opponents, and sometimes parents, that McCormick has had to manage. Just like Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, or USC's Pete Carroll, McCormick's consistent winning has made him an easy target in a nation that loves to root for the underdog. Win a little, and you're cheered … win too much, though, for too long, and the inevitable "fan fatigue" — that is, when fans of other teams start to tire of your success — starts to set in.
"When you are doing well, people are going to talk about you, good and bad," McCormick says. "I am pretty humble out in the community, and just try and go about my business. It's the same thing I tell my teams — we just have to ignore outside influences. The ones that speak poorly about our success are the same ones that make excuses for everything instead of looking in the mirror at themselves. We know how good or bad we are, and that is what is important. Basically, I try to stay above it."
Much of McCormick's coaching attitudes are a byproduct of the mentors he has had throughout his youth, college and professional career — including Clive Charles, Bernie Fagan, Alan Hinton and Fernando Clavijo. In addition, McCormick thinks that the fact that he didn't begin coaching until the age of 30 (giving him additional years of playing experience), combined with the experiences of raising his own three children — aged 11-16 — and his ongoing commitment to coaching education, provide the foundation upon which he has developed his coaching style and success.
Perhaps it's the father in McCormick that comes out when asked how he wants to be remembered by his players. As a winner? As a great coach?
"I want my players to love the game, and want to play the rest of their lives," he says. "Hopefully they'll remember me as a coach who always tried to get the most out of them, who was fair and honest, and drove them to be the best that they could be."
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