November 6, 2017 • Coaching

11 reasons for creating a competitive cauldron

Looking to develop your athletes into relentless competitors? Invest the time to create your own “Competitive Cauldron.” Originated by legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and perfected by 20-time national champion UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, the Competitive Cauldron is a unique, intense and highly competitive training environment.

It’s one of the most important ingredients you need to transform your athletes into fierce competitors. Discover 11 reasons why you should look to create your own Competitive Cauldron with your team.

1. Creates a high intensity on the part of your athletes.

By regularly using competitive drills and charting the results of competitions in your practices, you create an intensity and sense of urgency in every workout. Your athletes know that they are being watched and that something is on the line. They go hard and stay focused because they want to win the competitions for the pride, respect and status — or to avoid the punishment and shame of having to run extra sprints or receiving lower rankings.

2. Fosters a high sense of accountability; athletes see that everything counts.

With the Competitive Cauldron, there are not too many opportunities to simply go through the motions. Your athletes quickly learn that most everything counts — so they better focus and give maximum effort all the time. This lesson is a great one to teach them, as they will soon discover that most everything counts in life too.

3. Practice times can often be shorter because of the quality workouts.

Because your athletes are consistently going hard, you create a training environment that focuses on quality rather than quantity. You can often get so much more done in 90 minutes of intense practice than you could in 180 minutes of screwing around. Therefore, because your practices are so crisp and competitive, you can often go a shorter amount of time and feel great about it. Dorrance’s North Carolina women’s soccer workouts never exceed 90 minutes.

4. Works on developing and perfecting skills in a pressurized, game-like environment.

Coaches constantly preach the importance of doing things at game speed. The Competitive Cauldron essentially forces your athletes to go hard at game speed throughout the practice. Thus, decisions are made and skills are mastered in a more realistic and relevant environment.

5. Gets and keeps most athletes engaged as they take part in a variety of challenges.

By implementing the Competitive Cauldron, your athletes are much more likely to be mentally focused and emotionally engaged in practices. The score keeping holds their attention and brings forth their best effort. With each drill and competition, they look to better themselves and their teammates.

6. Makes weight and conditioning workouts more productive.

Many athletes dread conditioning and weight workouts. They either try to avoid them altogether or look to cut corners when they can. Making these workouts competitive is a great way to get your athletes more excited about their workouts. They get more done, get stronger and faster, and perhaps even enjoy them. Several strength and conditioning coaches submitted some great ideas for our companion Develop Relentless Competitors Drillbook, so be sure to use them to make your weight and conditioning workouts more productive too.

7. Creates objective data and standards to guide your playing time decisions.

By regularly recording objective data on wins, rankings and times, you create an objective database on which to guide your starting and playing-time decisions. Ultimately, you must trust your coaching instincts without being confined by the rankings. But the hard data does provide you with an objective measure to consider (and most likely confirm) what you are seeing.

If an athlete wonders why she isn’t playing more, you can almost always show her how she ranks in comparison to her peers. The objective results from the Competitive Cauldron are hard to refute. Coaches play those people who regularly yield the results needed for the team’s success. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about results and an athlete’s ability to consistently produce them.

8. Teaches athletes how to compete in practice so they can do it in competition.

If you don’t teach your athletes how to consistently and fully compete in practice, they will have a hard time doing it to the level you expect in the game. Thus, your athletes get a chance to understand and practice what it means to really compete every day in practice. So when game time comes around, it simply becomes second nature to them. Says Dorrance, “Competing in practice is the key. We train competitive instinct so constantly that by the time we play a game it comes naturally. You can’t expect to fully develop competitive drive just by calling on it during games … so you have to compete fiercely in practice to be able to do it fully in a game.”

9. Teaches athletes how to win and lose in a practice setting.

Having so many opportunities to compete in practice gives you a great chance to coach your athletes on how to respond to both winning and losing in a competitive yet classy manner. Use these instances to provide them with coaching and feedback on how they handle winning and losing.

10. Builds team chemistry when you have athletes compete in smaller teams.

Depending on how you engineer the environment, you can create cohesion between team members. North Carolina women’s lacrosse, Jenny Levy, splits up her roster into various teams with members of each class equally distributed among them.

These smaller teams compete in a variety of competitive challenges and contests throughout the year. They develop a camaraderie and bond as a smaller group as they compete with one another. It is a way to bring athletes from different positions, classes, event groups, etc., who might not normally interact with each other as much, together as one.

11. Challenges low performers to step up and compete!

Finally, by creating your own Competitive Cauldron, your low performers are consistently challenged to step up and compete to earn their way into the top half of the standings.

As former women’s soccer superstar Carla Overbeck said of her competitive transformation, “I finally got sick of seeing myself at the bottom of the rankings all the time and did something about it.”

Hopefully, many of your athletes will also be challenged to move up the standings. No matter what their talent level, the Competitive Cauldron encourages them to make a decision to fully commit to work harder, try smarter, persist longer and get better to compete with their teammates, and ultimately, their opponents.

“The reason for having the Cauldron is simple: we just want people to be as competitive as possible. If the athletes know that scores matter, they’ll compete,” says LMU women’s volleyball coach Tom Black.

For more practical tips from Jeff Janssen, visit

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