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The Eternal Light Of Tony DiCicco

by Dr. Colleen Hacker


I love my job!

I don’t even have to close my eyes to see Tony walking onto the field with his arms stretched wide and his infectious smile growing wider with every step sharing his joy and appreciation for the opportunity to coach. Day after day, those were the first words we all heard from Tony as he walked onto the field…any field, at any level from youth to the professional ranks. He was the winningest coach in US Soccer history but to describe him in terms of accomplishments, accolades and titles is to miss out on what truly made Tony great. He wasn’t just successful, he was significant! Programs were better if Tony was involved. Teams were better if Tony coached. And, people were better versions of themselves if Tony was part of your life. I reminded him often, as did every player, coach or staff member who was privileged enough to be caught in Tony’s light; he just made us all better. ...better coaches, better staff members, better players and better people. He saw our highest potential and our greatest possibilities in ways that we didn't YET see in ourselves.

Lisa Cole, Tony’s longtime Assistant Coach and staff member at SoccerPlus and the NSCAA Goalkeeping Academy commented that, “Whether it was a U10 player new to the game, a High School player hoping to make their first varsity team, a professional athlete or an Olympic and World Cup champion, to Tony DiCicco they were each treated with respect, enthusiasm and investment.” To paraphrase Goethe, “Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.” Tony’s true passion was people first and then the great game of soccer. He devoted his professional life to teaching, to positively impacting lives, to growing and developing the game and to inspiring others to greatness (as teammates, as players and as people). As former National Team Captain Julie Foudy recalled “You remember how he allowed us to ENJOY the heck out of playing and equally important, each other. You remember how Tony created a family.”

It’s true, what people remember most about Tony is his passion for the game and how he made you feel, about yourself, the team, the game and about life. The word “love” is used more often to describe how people felt about Tony than any other word. He exuded passion, energy and care.

You remember how he allowed us to enjoy the heck out of playing and equally important, each other. You remember how Tony created a family.

Julie Foudy
National Team Captain, PCA National Advisory Board Member

Before his teams’ took the field, on every pre-match whiteboard I ever witnessed in my years on the National Coaching Staff under Tony, these were his final reminders to the players,

"Play hard

Play fair

Have fun"

Before Gold Medal Games, World Cup Finals and both Professional and youth games, that challenge, that hope, and that philosophy permeated Tony’s life and Tony’s teams. More often than not, players became the best versions of themselves under his leadership and influence.

We smiled more around Tony. We worked harder around Tony. We were more open and honest and connected to one another around Tony; not because he “made” you act that way or because you felt you “had to" behave that way, quite honestly, everyone simply wanted to do more and to be more. He was warm, genuine, authentic, self-depreciating, caring, humble, and both interested and interesting. If Tony knew you, he really knew you and he remembered you for a lifetime. Everyone lit up in his presence. He never thought he was a know-it-all coach and certainly never acted that way. And, he wasn’t insecure. Tony knew the game was about more than the Xs and Os. He highlighted the importance of the psychological and team dimension of soccer as much as he did tactics, techniques and fitness. As a result, Tony sought out experts in their respective fields to help him help players become better or to help grow the game or to help develop the next generation of players and coaches. People of character, integrity, authenticity and excellence were drawn to Tony. People felt special in his presence, no matter who you were. It was never "his" team; it was always “our team”.  Mia Hamm, iconic star on the team said.

“(Tony) was incredibly empowering. His security breathed so much confidence into all of us. What it told me was that I didn’t have to be perfect 100 percent of the time. There were incredibly talented people around me, and they were going to help pick me up.” His energy and positivity were infectious. Former U.S. WNT member Brandi Chastain recalled that “He gave everything and asked nothing except your best effort done with passion, integrity and love. He was a kind soul and he laughed hard, with others and at himself, and was never apologetic about loving someone or something openly.”

(Tony) was incredibly empowering. His security breathed so much confidence into all of us. What it told me was that I didn’t have to be perfect 100 percent of the time. There were incredibly talented people around me, and they were going to help pick me up.

Mia Hamm

An accomplished player in his own right, Tony was an All-American collegiate goalkeeper, a professional soccer player, earned a call up to the men’s national team, was honored with the NSCAA Women’s Committee Award of Excellence as well as inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame and the NSCAA Hall of Fame. Throughout his stellar career, Tony was forever a student and then a teacher of the game. He looked at pressure situations not as burdens but as opportunities to grow and learn and achieve. He impacted the sport from youth to professional levels. Tony coached the national team to the first ever Gold medal in women’s soccer, moved from an Assistant coach during the first World Cup title to head coach of the transcendent 1999 World Cup championships.

He coached the U20 World Cup champions, served as the first commissioner of women’s professional soccer league, and became a head coach in the WPS. Longtime friend and former national Team Coach Anson Dorrance observed, “In this polarizing age where it is all about acclaim and power, Tony takes us back to a time when there was humility, humanity, and loyalty.”

He adored his beloved wife Diane and cherished his four sons Anthony, Drew, Alex and Nick. Those of us who knew Tony know that we lost a loyal and cherished friend, mentor and champion. He helped change the way women’s sports in general and women’s soccer in particular are viewed both in American and international sport culture. Without hyperbole, the world has lost a true legend of the game. For generations to come, players and coaches around the world will benefit from the legacy and leadership of Coach Tony DiCicco.

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Through the years, Tony DiCicco supported PCA by offering tips for coaches, parents, athletes, and leaders

Tips From Tony

Dr. Colleen Hacker, an internationally recognized Speaker and Consultant in Performance Psychology, has served as a member of the United States coaching staff for six Olympic Games as a Mental Skills Coach and Performance Psychology Specialist. Dr. Hacker began her National Team service in 1995 working with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, and continues her work across sports now, including the USA Women's Hockey team. During her tenure, the National Team won the first Gold Medal awarded in women’s soccer at the 1996 Olympic Games.

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