Building a Championship Team; An Interview with Tony DiCicco

It takes courage to dream big and then to allow nothing to prevent you from realizing that dream.
— Tony DiCicco

Tony DiCicco is the former Head Coach of the U.S. Women's National and Olympic Soccer Teams and the Head Coach of the U.S. U20 Women's National Team. In 2008, in his return to international soccer, he coached the U.S. to the FIFA U20 World Cup Championship in Chile. He had previously led the Full National Team to the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Championship, the largest women's sporting event in history. And in 1996, he coached the US Women's Olympic Team to the first ever Gold Medal in Women's Soccer.

Tony is a co-founder/presenter of the upcoming Soccer Champions Coaches' Clinic held at Mohegan Sun Convention Center in Uncasville, CT. Find Out More

When did you realize that you had the team to win a championship?

Tony DiCicco: For me it was as soon as I took over from Anson Dorrance.  They were World Champions and my job was to keep them aspiring and playing to sustain excellence and repeatedly achieve that level. (Editor’s Note: Tony took over from Anson in 1994. U.S. had won the World Cup in 1991.)

What is it that you do as a coach to build an atmosphere that demonstrates qualities of a championship team?

Tony DiCicco: I call this building your team culture and one of my first meetings with the team is to initiate this.  We answer the question of what is important to us as a team on and off the field. I also guide them to items like:

  1. Fitness matters
  2. No whining or complaining as it brings everyone down
  3. Know what your role in leadership is.  Captain, Role Model, Cheerleader, Followership?
  4. Create a mentality that we will find a way to win
  5. Chemistry is a verb…which means it is a contribution that everyone makes towards building that positive team chemistry
  6. Play on your cutting edge, if we fail, we will extract the lesson and grow from it
  7. Train to be the Power of One (the player/person who makes the difference)
  8. Probably the most important:  HAVE FUN!  SMILE A LOT!
  9. Off the field for my national teams it was embrace being a role model because whether you like it or not, you ARE!
  10. Give back to the game!

What do you look for when trying to build a champion team?

Tony DiCicco: I look for players with exceptional qualities.  I don’t mind weaknesses but I want something exceptional that I can build on.  My job is to compliment one player’s strength with another player’s weakness. The end product is all 11 players are able to display their special qualities.

Once you have won one championship, what is your mindset for the next season? Do you prefer 'us against the world' mentality or 'we are the underdogs again' mentality?

Tony DiCicco: It is more about ourselves.  Our motto when I was the WNT coach was Win Forever!  I wanted every player who came into the program or was in the program to know what our ultimate goal was.

Do you think the mindset of a champion comes naturally, is developed or is a combination of the two?

Tony DiCicco: Champions are created or built not born

Does a player have traits of being a champion already inside of them like that of leaders or is it something taught over time? 

Tony DiCicco: There are traits that I look for that I think all champions have most of these:

  1. Mental Toughness
  2. Work Ethic 
  3. Talent but more importantly a willingness to develop their talent.  Talent in itself is not enough!
  4. A good person, compassionate, considerate, friendly!  Not every champion has this trait but champions that sustain excellence do!

The 2017 Soccer Champions Coaches' Clinic, February 23 - 25, 2017 takes place at the spectacular Mohegan Sun Resort Casino. Led by Hall of Fame Coach Tony DiCicco and National Champion Collegiate Coach Ray Reid, this clinic for coaches features multiple days of world-class coaching instruction, on-field demos and special topic break-out sessions led by some of soccer's best minds. Find out more