Home Canadian Soccer Women's National Team John Herdman, Viktor Frankl and the attempt to revitalize a “broken” Canadian WNT

John Herdman, Viktor Frankl and the attempt to revitalize a “broken” Canadian WNT


Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor; despite being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, he began to see the power of dedicating oneself to a cause. Basically, the chances of survival would increase with a positive outlook; after the war ended, his thesis expanded; if one had a positive outlook and was dedicated to something greater than oneself, then that person had laid the groundwork for success.

From Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

So, what does Viktor Frankl have to do with football?

Canadian national women’s team coach John Herdman is a big believer in the Frankl philosophy; and he shares some of the great Austrian psychologist’s messages with his players. On Monday, Herdman addressed the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. As he was addressing the business leaders of the city — and it wasn’t solely a media event — he didn’t filter what he said.

And the result was a frank assessment of the Canadian women’s team’s evolution since he took the coaching job after the 2011 Women’s World Cup. He told the audience that he inherited a broken, passionless team that was willing to blame everyone but themselves for their failures.

That Canadian team, despite high expectations under then-head coach Carolina Morace, had finished dead last at the 2011 World Cup, after threats of going on strike over funding issues.

Herdman said what he inherited was a “toxic culture.” He said the team was “broken.” In less than a year, that same core of players won a bronze medal at the London Olympics. According to Herdman, there are three contributors to success: Vision, passion and discipline. But without passion for what he or she does, no one will endure the discipline needed to achieve a goal.

“When I picked the Canadian team up, the discipline wasn’t there, because the passion wasn’t there. They’d forgotten what it meant to play for Canada,” he said.

He said the women on the team had grown comfortable with blaming others for their failures. They had got used to making themselves the victims. When he arrived, he found that the players had laid the blame for the 2011 World Cup solely on Morace, and not on themselves.

“And it was like, ‘Germany gets this, we don’t get that,’” said Herdman. Again, part of the victim/blame culture.

Finally, after some work, the players began to accept that it wasn’t all the previous coach’s fault. They began to understand that if some of them had risen to the occasion in the do-or-die game against France in the 2011 WC group stage, they could have changed the outcome.

But Herdman said the “previous two coaches” of the national team (that would be Morace and Even Pellerud) had instituted a rigid system where they did the talking, and the players weren’t allowed to question or discuss any of the decisions being made. Herdman’s style is to open a dialogue with the players, to make them part of the process. Basically, the previous two coaches had created the environment for the victim/blame culture to flourish.

“They can’t follow me blindly,” he said.

He also spoke of the need to eliminate the “energy vampires,” because, in practice, “good mood equals good work.”

And he said that passion came to the fore when Canada played France in the Olympic bronze medal game, after losing the semifinal in heartbreaking fashion, 4-3 after extra time to the Americans.

“The French battered us, but one thing they didn’t take away from us was our spirit.”


Herdman said that money isn’t all that important to him; but there was one reason he chose to leave the New Zealand program in 2011 to take the Canadian job: And that was to coach Canadian all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair, who he called the “Lady Diana of sports.”

“I wanted to work with her, to say I worked with the Michael Jordan of football, in the women’s game.”

But he admitted that shifting her from her out-and-out striking position to the attacking midfield spot wasn’t smooth. He told the audience “she whinged about it” until she saw that she was actually having more success coming from a more withdrawn spot on the field.

For two years, Herdman had a picture of a dejected Sinclair, sitting on a German pitch after Canada had been eliminated from the World Cup. He used it as his inspiration for the Olympics and helping the Canadian women prepare for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, which kicks off in Edmonton on June 6.

And, he used that in the dressing room, too — would the team want to let Sinclair down, again?

“I had to break a taboo in women’s culture, to hold a woman out.”

And, after breaking them down, building the team back up, we are one week away from the announcement of the roster for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

“You will get the best of them,” said Herdman. “I am hoping it will be enough.”

After his talk, he said he knows that Canada is an underdog. “There are five teams, on any given day, will beat Canada.” But he said the one wild card is home advantage.

Leading up to the tournament, the team will leave its Vancouver base for camps in Los Angeles, Mexico and Toronto. After they get to their southern destinations, the players will undergo heat-acclimation training. This isn’t because Herdman is concerned that Edmonton will undergo a heat wave in June (though, last year, I called an FC Edmonton game against Commonwealth, and temperatures soared well above 30 C in the stadium). What it’s meant to do is to train the body to produce more oxygen.


And will Diana Matheson, who injured her knee in a friendly against Japan last October, be on the roster?

Herdman said the midfielder will be undergoing tests over the next four or five days to “determine the probability of her being able to play in the World Cup.”

But, if Herdman does put her on the roster and she isn’t able to go, he has the luxury of being able to name alternates. He said he has up until 10 days ahead of Canada’s first game to replace an injured player with an alternate.

Load More Related Articles
Load More By Steven Sandor
Load More In Women's National Team


  1. italk2u

    April 21, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Ignore the guy, he’s nothing more than a troll

  2. jamonty42

    April 21, 2015 at 1:18 am

    The alternative bidder to Canada2015 was Zimbabwe!
    Great article Steven. Coaching philosophy and leadership are extremely interesting topics in how to galvanizing a team.

    • Steven Sandor

      April 21, 2015 at 7:59 am

      And Zimbabwe withdrew before the final vote was conducted…

      • cwell

        April 21, 2015 at 1:27 pm

        That’s right. And that is to say that there would be no Women’s World Cup this year if Canada hadn’t stepped up.

        Well written article, Steven. Keep up the good work. If the Eddies played as well as you write, they’d be a championship team!

  3. cwell

    April 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Logotherapy! Worth a try. He has a mediocre group of players, but soccer is a team game, so if they can play as a team, and play with heart, they might just get some wins.

    Yawassanay: What would you do with the players available? I think Herdman has done a great job with what he has. As for the awarding the games to Canada, who were the other candidates? I don’t think there were any willing and able to host such an event. So, turf it is. Nothing wrong with that. Bad turf is another question, and I’ll be disappointed if whoever owns BC Place doesn’t install the best turf available before the games.

  4. Sport Shaman

    April 20, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Well KY, as you so consistently do on this website, thanks for providing a perfect illustration of “toxic culture” and finding fault with everyone/everything other than yourself.

    I would find it gratifying if some day soon you find it in yourself to create yourself an awesome day and that it becomes evident in your future posts. Believe it or not, I am being totally sincere when I say this.

  5. Kahkakew Yawassanay

    April 20, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    He can quote existential and humanistic approaches he wants…facts are what matters and the CWNT have been on a downward slide since their fluke Olympic bronze medal…everything went their way that game against France as their opponents could not hit the side of the stadium to save their lives that day…and recent results show that the world has caught up to them and either passed or equaled them because they have pro women football leagues. The inferior league in the US is nothing more than an USA WNT reserve camp…..truth is without Sinclair the WNT would be ranked lower than 20th if not worse….they will be very lucky to get out of their group even with a prolific Sinclair as this side cannot score enough goals…the biggest joke is that the WWC will be remembered for using plastic turf which is an abomination to the game…if they can play on grass pitches in Russia, Balkan states, Scandinavia and all the leagues in the UK all year long instead of spring to fall here in North America, why was FIFA idiotic enough to award the CSA this tournament?? That really is what should be resolved and will be the only thing long talked about in the aftermath along with most likely another American, Brazilian or French WC victory..it will not be about how CWNT have been eliminated in the group stages or how their battered psyche was rehabilitated and resurrected by him..must be a slow day for news

Check Also

Zero is my hero: Despite being shut out in two of three matches, Canada takes third at Algarve Cup

To finish third at a tournament, in which more than three teams were participating, withou…