The Common Denominator of High Performing Athletes

It's time for a breakaway! Watch Skye and former coach and author Becky Burleigh discuss High Performing Athletes. Becky Burleigh joined Soccer Parenting founder Skye Eddy for a special interview as part of our High Performance Week back in April.


Becky Burleigh

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After playing soccer at college level, Becky went on to coach the Florida Gators Women's Soccer team for over 26 years. Last season, Becky took interim charge of the NWSL side Orlando Pride after their coach resigned mid-season, with Becky taking charge of 12 games between July and October 2021. She is currently a professor at the University of Florida.


So when we're thinking about the right questions that we need to be asking, we're parents of kids that have big dreams, what questions should we be pondering either for ourselves or be thinking about asking our children to try to help them understand themselves and their mentality towards sport a little bit more?

Well, that actually is a really good question because I think we are conditioned from a very young age to receive questions about our performance so when you're done with a game, if someone who wasn't there, a lot of times they say did you win? If you're a forward, did you score? If you're a goalkeeper, did you get a shut off, like all these outcome events and I think instead, thinking a little bit more about what occurred during that and I know a lot of people talk about the process.I think that's really important, but we also feel like people are what drives the process and one of my favorite stories that we shared somewhere along the way through What Drives Winning is Sarah Blakely, she's the CEO of Spanks and at her dinner table every night, her dad would ask her and her brother what they failed at that day and I just thought that was so cool because it was like normalizing failure and then also talking about really, was it failure or was it just a learning opportunity? And I think as parents, when we think about the questions we're asking on the car ride home or at the dinner table, maybe thinking around process or character-related questions as opposed to outcome.

Yeah, no, I love it. So the question that I love asking my daughter that I kind of clued into after a while was how do you feel?
I'm just trying to bring her out and make sure that she knows that behind all of this that just happened, that there's a person and more than anything, I care about how she's feeling in these moments so...

That's a great one.

I... Thanks! Thanks. No, I'm sure I got that from somebody, the benefit of me being on this platform and doing all these interviews is that I get all these wonderful experts like yourselves, putting all these ideas in my mind that I could then interlay into my parenting as well. So I bet, I imagine that with your vast experiences working collegiately with kids, athletes, women between the ages of about, I don't know, like 18 and 22, that over the years, you've seen it click on. And I'm wondering if there's like a common denominator to that? If we're thinking about what drives winning, this winning mentality or this mindset that is just a little bit stronger. Do you see any common denominator to what makes it click on?

You know, I think a big part of that is, as coaching parents, everybody, we talk about our kids with confidence, right? I mean, it's a big topic, how's the confidence? And for us in What Drives Winning, we talk about confidence being self-trust. Well, how do you trust yourself? Well, the way you trust yourself is you have exposures to challenging situations and you have that over and over and over again and automatically you get better at dealing with these different exposures.

I think sometimes as parents, we want to protect our kids from those exposures instead of allowing them to get reps when it's relatively low consequence, if you pass the ball to the other team, that's going to happen, nobody's trying to do that you know? But how quickly do they recover from that? Do they do the next right thing, which is probably defending? And I think it's more like, can we talk about those kind of things like, man, that was a great reaction you had after your team gave up that goal or a way to be a great teammate to that person who was really struggling today.

And I just think those are the things that really get overlooked, but they play into that self-confidence because now instead of criticizing an outcome or a performance that they may not have any control over, you're praising them for something that they do have control over which their character and their reaction to things and when I see that, honestly in college is what it looks like. Player comes in, at the time when they come in they're pretty confident, right, because they're the best in their environment. Then they get there and they're like, whoa, this is way harder you know?

And it's a new level and all of a sudden their confidence goes down because no longer are they the one being relied on for the team, no longer are they the one that the coach is saying, "Hey, what do you think about this?" They're kind of low on the totem pole and so for a while they just worry about everything and they're trying so hard to do every single thing that the coach says. Well, that's taking away from what we recruited them for in the first place which is their innate knowledge and abilities. So at some point they're like, you know what, I'm going to listen, but I'm going to kind of let it go through a filter of hear the information, forget all the rest and then their confidence goes back up and then eventually, hopefully they progress the point where they are just not thinking at all and they're just acting and that's when you get the best performances.