Dartmouth coaches: on drawing the best out of players
This article was featured in the Green Key 2017 Special Issue: "Awakening."
Legendary college basketball coach Bob Knight once said, “To be as good as it can be, a team has to buy into what you as the coach are doing. They have to feel you’re a part of them and they’re a part of you.”
While Knight’s message elaborates on the type of relationship required between players and coaches for teams to be successful, it does not imply that there is only one way to coach a team. Whether or not they have previously heard Knight’s statement, Dartmouth coaches across different sports have embraced the message’s sentiments.
Women’s tennis head coach Bob Dallis just completed his 15th season at the helm of the program. Dallis is also one of the more seasoned coaches within Dartmouth’s athletic department, with 29 years of experience as a Division I head coach and over 400 victories to his name. Since arriving in Hanover for the 2003 season, Dallis has coached his team to a share of two Ivy League titles — in 2011 and 2017 — and overseen the development of numerous All-Ivy selections.
So what has been the secret to the women’s tennis team’s success during Dallis’ tenure as head coach? Dallis, who has a doctoral degree in developmental studies and counseling with a specialization in sport and exercise psychology, insists that he is still learning.
“Developing your coaching style is an ongoing thing,” Dallis said. “Certainly, I have always believed that working with a player’s strength is important. Because players work and understand concepts differently, you never master it. Every player you work with is different for a variety of reasons, and they all grasp concepts at different times.”
The strategy he uses to unlock his players’ potential however, is remarkably simple.
“Motivation is something that comes from within for each player,” Dallis noted. “Among the things I try to teach are love for your team, love for the game of tennis and love for Dartmouth.”
One of Dallis’ most successful players in recent years is Jacqueline Crawford ’17. This season’s co-captain and an All-Ivy selection, Crawford came to Dartmouth with a Women’s Tennis Association ranking of 800 and a plethora of experience playing at the highest levels of junior and adult competition. Dallis’ coaching is something that she credits not only toward her own development as a student-athlete but also to her maintenance of a strong team culture.
“I was lucky to have coaches traveling with me for most of my junior career, and they were entirely focused on tennis,” Crawford said. “[Dallis] is not only a great tennis coach but also incredibly supportive in every aspect of our lives. He really emphasizes playing for each other and has allowed the players [to] shape the program’s culture.”
On the court, Crawford also noted that Dallis’ most significant contributions to her game have not been technical adjustments but rather embracing her team’s culture and strategy.
“When you play singles in college, it is very different from juniors,” Crawford said. “If you lose your individual match, the team can still win. Dallis has facilitated my development into a team player and also done a great job of individualizing what I need to work on. He encouraged me to focus on strategy and stressed that the differences in my performance would not come from strokes.”
Crawford’s collegiate tennis career has not only been shaped by her individual performances but also being a part of a team. Dallis, as well as assistant coach Dave Jones, have played a foundational role in both.
Dartmouth football associate head coach, special teams coordinator and secondary coach Sam McCorkle utilizes a different method than Dallis does. The son of a football coach, McCorkle caught the coaching bug following his undergraduate days at the University of Florida, where he served as special teams captain during his senior season. Following his 12th season with the Big Green, McCorkle’s name has become synonymous with energy and discipline within the football program.
“When we come in, [McCorkle] tells us that he is not going to be our favorite guy over the next four years,” former Big Green safety and recent Jacksonville Jaguars drafted free agent signee Charlie Miller’17 said. “He also tells us that he will make us great football players.”
McCorkle said his coaching style has a single goal: to make his guys better through perfecting technique. Having played under legendary head coach Steve Spurrier at Florida and learning from now-University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops after beginning his coaching career with the Gators, McCorkle has had the opportunity to develop under the brightest minds in college football.
“I was raised and taught to make sure that everything you do is correct, and that football is a competitive game in which you never want to give opponents an advantage,” McCorkle said.
McCorkle noted that he tried to learn as much as he could from all of his coaches and gradually realized the techniques that fit him best on the sidelines.
“I have always been a high energy coach and paid attention to the details,” McCorkle said. “There is just no room for hesitation when you are on the field.”
At the same time, McCorkle recognizes that his players have different personalities. Making his players better also comes with wearing a doctor’s hat.
“You need to be a psychiatrist because personalities are different,” McCorkle said. “I know that, while some guys respond immediately after I get on them, others just don’t and it’s easy to lose them. Adaptability is also everything because some guys need more explanation than others, and it’s key to getting the most out of my guys.”
Miller was one such player who responded immediately. He switched to safety from cornerback during spring practice in his sophomore year and credited McCorkle’s coaching as key to his eventual success at the new position.
“I was discouraged [about] being low on the depth chart at corner, but once I was moved to safety, I realized that I may have the chance to play right away,” Miller said. “Coach McCorkle had high expectations and critiqued everything that I did, but you come to respect that because it makes you better.”
Despite Miller’s success, he admits he had to adjust to McCorkle’s fiery demeanor.
“I am a pretty reserved player,” Miller said. “He would always try to fire me up when he saw that I was more internally inclined.”
McCorkle recalled that he believed Miller had all of the tools but was holding back athletically. He viewed holding Miller accountable for calling coverages and defenses at safety as instrumental to helping him build his confidence.
But what stood out most was that Miller was always easy to work with.
“[Miller] was an easy one to coach because he was self-motivated,” McCorkle said. “I would have to get in front of other guys who would not hustle but never for him. He had all of the natural talent, and when I did have to raise my voice at him, it was only briefly because he would correct himself immediately.”
While McCorkle is loud and intense, he insists that he is no different than other on-campus figures his players interact with daily.
“Just as professors set high standards for students, we challenge our players and set the bar high,” McCorkle said. “We aren’t in the business of holding your hand, but at times we will assist athletes who [have] to take ownership and are willing to put in the work to reach their potential.”
Dallis and McCorkle may mentor their players differently, but they share the same goal. Their coaching styles prove there is more than one way to awaken athletes’ potential and help them become the best. After all, that’s what matters most.