Legendary youth soccer coach Becky Burleigh joins us as part of High Performance Week 2022. We hope you enjoy!
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.
Hi everyone. Welcome back to more of High Performance Week. We are in for a treat with Becky Burleigh here with us today. We are talking about what drives winning and we absolutely have an expert in with us today to talk more about that and give us some insights for our children who have these high performance dreams of what this winning mindset kind of looks like. Becky, welcome so much. Thanks for being here:Becky:
I'm excited. Thanks for inviting me.Skye:
Yeah, I think this is your first time in with Soccer Parenting so-Becky:
... welcome to our platform and to the work that we're doing with our communities to really support parents who, you know, we're trying to inspire players by empowering parents here. So welcome.Becky:
I think probably it's best for us to start with maybe just you giving a brief overview of your background in the game and what brought you to this place with the work that you're doing now and obviously you're just incredible experiences with your coaching over the years. So why don't you kind of give us the backstory?Becky:
Sure. Well, actually I became a head coach really young, so when I was 21, I started as a head coach at Berry College, which is in Rome, Georgia. At the time they were a NAI program, now they're a D3 program, small school, and then after five years there, I went to Florida and I stayed at Florida for 27 years and most recently just retired from Florida, "kind of" retired. Took a interim job with the Orlando Pride for a half a season and then now I'm teaching classes at UF in the Master's level program all around which I was winning.Skye:
Oh, I love it. I didn't... You had mentioned that you were teaching classes. I didn't realize that it was around this topic so that's fantastic. Well, we certainly have a resident expert here, so why don't we just kick off with a big question to you? What does drive winning? What do we need to think about here?Becky:
Well, the thing we loved about that title is that it's a statement and a question and we've always led with questions and I think we've never felt like we were the people who were going to provide answers. I think we feel like we can ask some really good questions and that hopefully gets people to the place where they kind look internally and find a way to coach themselves.Skye:
Yeah, no, I love it. 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?Becky:
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.Skye:
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...Becky:
That's a great one.Skye:
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?Becky:
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.Skye:
Yeah. I love it. I was a disaster my freshman year in college. I mean, I seriously was. It was the hardest, hardest year of my life, absolutely and what I hear though, when you're talking is you being a coach that sees that happening and I imagine you're also facilitating a bit of a safe environment for growth for those athletes as well?Becky:
That's such a key point. I'm so glad you brought that up because that safe environment can like, if you don't have it, it's going to really prolong the process and if you do have it, you can hope that it speeds it up a lot because if it's okay for me to make mistakes, if it's okay for me to try and figure things out on my own, then I'm going to be willing to do that. If not, I'm going to protect myself at all costs and try not to make mistakes, which I'm... If I'm trying not to make mistakes, more than likely I'm not giving my best performance because I'm playing really safe.Skye:
And so it's like, well, so, okay, what has to be in place to create that safe environment? Well, again, if your focus is only on outcome, then it's really hard to be a safe environment because there's so many things that happen to outcome especially in our sport, I mean, my goodness, you can dominate a game for 90 minutes and give up a goal on a penalty kick in the 90th minute and lose you know?
And so how do we process those type of things with our kids afterwards? Do we talk about man, I cannot believe we lost to that team that we dominated for 90 minutes? Or do we talk about, wow, look at all the positives that came out of this game, how do we build on this for the next one?Skye:
Yeah. Yeah. I love the idea of self-trust. It's actually a concept that I teach a lot about in the coach education that I do and even in its foundational tour work at Soccer Parenting because one of the key topics or again, to use the word foundation, but foundation to our work is this concept of trust and establishing trust in the coach/parent relationships and what we know to be true about that is until we trust ourselves, we're not going to have those trust-filled relationships.
So a lot of the coach education I do is around these concepts of emotional intelligence and self-trust and all of those things and hearing you to talk about establishing an environment that empowers athletes to develop this self-trust and be a little bit emotionally safe to do that and imagining you talking about doing that as a coach in college, and then all of a sudden I flip the switch in my mind and I said, "Oh, we can do that as parents with our kids at home too." It gave me this clarity of how easy that could be because I can imagine you doing that in college, working with your assistants, coming up with a plan for these athletes, hey, you go talk about here. Let's check in with them here. Let's put this athlete... I can imagine you doing these things to empower them, support them, let them go through these hard processes in a safe environment and yes, we can do that as parents too.
Let's talk just a little bit more about self-trust. What are some of the key things that athletes need to feel or ways that we can establish this? Do you have any talking points about this that parents can maybe dive in a little bit more?Becky:
I do. You know, I think you sort of hit on it in your last comments. If you think about it, as coaches, it's... We are world class tellers. We love to tell. Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell you know? And probably as parents too, I'm not a parent, but I would imagine it's easy to do that as a parent you know? And if, instead, you think about it as asking and letting them get there, then all of a sudden they become in charge of their own destiny with that and they get confidence and self-trust because you've asked them, they've given you a response and now they're coming up with the answers.
We talked a couple weeks ago in my class about, remember when you were a kid and somebody was trying to tell you about something that you know they haven't experienced so, let's say for me, I didn't grow up with social media. So if I started telling our players, well here's this and this and this about the dangers of growing up with social media. They're going to turn off because they're like, you never even... That didn't even happen to you, you know?
And so maybe, instead, being hey, so what are some of the positives and negatives for you about social media? How does it affect you? How does it affect your game? How does it affect you as a person? And it's crazy the things they come up with because they'll talk about, even when I do something good and I post that on social media, now I feel the pressure to up that the next time, and I'm certainly not posting something bad, I'm no way putting an ugly picture of myself on social media, and so we haven't experienced that directly at their age and so trying to think that we do and telling them about some of those things instead of asking them about some of those things, I think is a real challenge for them to really tune in.
And even if we do, okay, maybe we have some experience that we can share with them, but in the end, they have to own that in order for the self-trust to happen because otherwise it's us just handing it to them.Skye:
Yeah. Yeah, I love what you said about we like to tell. I've been trying to do that with my son who's getting ready to go off to college in the fall and I'm feeling a lot of stress about it, as a parent. Is he going to be okay? Is he going to be... Is he going to thrive in school? Is he going to get up for his classes? All this narrative is going on in my head for my son and then all of a sudden I said I'm going to stop this because he's feeling this stress and so for the last two weeks, all of my conversation has been like, you were so ready for college. I can't wait to see, to talk to you about everything you're learning. That's been the messages and I can just see it transform for him too.
Now he wants to talk about it or he is a little bit more excited. For the first time last night, he was willing to talk about like what he wants to buy for his dorm room which of course I'm kind of excited about too and yes, he has historically not cared about it but now I think because I'm making it an exciting thing for him or he's getting more excited about it. So we really layer in just through our communication and how our kids feel about themselves so much, it's just such a nuance of how we interact with them.Becky:
And I think too just sort of verbalizing and normalizing that there's going to be struggle. You know-Skye:
... it's funny when you think about it, if you had 20 kids, write down their goals. Probably none of them would put anything about any kind of adversity because they don't, we don't really plan for that, but we know it's coming, right? We all know there's going to be some bump in the road as we're going through this process and so being willing to say, "Hey", like with your son, "I'm really looking forward to seeing what is going to be your biggest struggle when you get there" and let's talking that through you know?Skye:
And we used to do with our freshman, we would get them, at the end of the summer before they started the fall, what are their biggest fears going into the season? But then we would get the seniors to write here's what my biggest fears were going into the season and here's what my advice would be to... If I was a freshman again so-Skye:
... here's my advice to my freshman self you know? And then we would get those two groups together and it was really productive because one, it showed some vulnerability of the freshman, talk about their fears around what if I don't start? What if I don't travel? What if no one on the team likes me? You know?Skye:
Like all these different things you know? And then the seniors have gone through the exact same thing and they can talk about that, so it's almost like now the kids who are freshmen can talk about it to their club players that where they came from so you have this whole system of, you have people beyond you that you can deal with, you have people beside you, your teammates who have gone through the same thing and you have people behind you who maybe you can pass that information onto.Skye:
Yeah, no, I love it. Oh, I'm going to come play for you. Wait, you're not coaching anymore. That sounds like such a great positive environment to be a part of. Obviously that's what we're seeking for our children along the way. I feel like what we've been talking about, we haven't used the word. It's a word that's come up a lot in my interviews with other people for high performance because the word autonomy.Becky:
Oh, love that.Skye:
And so is that layered into self-trust for you? I mean, I'm sure it is, but is it a word that you don't use on purpose or is it [crosstalk 00:17:53]?Becky:
No, I actually I love that word. I think... I was the youngest of three in my family and we grew up on 27 acres in the middle of nowhere. My dad was a maintenance man so he had all these tools and just a bunch of junk everywhere and we had such autonomy as kids because there weren't any other kids to play with so it was like play on this 27 acres with all these tools and you know...Skye:
That sounds great!Becky:
And it wasn't-Skye:
What could go wrong?Becky:
You really had to figure things out and you learned and you'd cut a piece of wood and you'd cut it wrong and then you'd be like, oh, oops, and so but the self-trust that it created because you learned on your own and there was no parent sitting over you saying, "No, that's not the right measurement. Do it again." You just, yeah, were there mistakes? For sure, but by the end of it, you just felt like you were so confident, man, I just built a birdhouse. Cool!
And so I think that autonomy pieces, it's got to be so hard as a parent. It's got to be so hard to not want to put that on a platter for your kid to take but I just think that the more that you can kind of just help them in getting there instead of you doing it for them. I mean, even like the simply like the recruiting process. The parent is not coming to play for me. I might love the parent but they're not the ones coming and so it's just... I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with kids who the parents don't see that day-to-day grind of how hard it is to be a D1 athlete, where you're so scheduled to the max and you're tired and you're trying to fit in school and you're trying to fit in with your team and you're trying to figure out am I good enough? And so the parents are just kind of like, "You're amazing. You're the best thing since sliced bread, of course you're going to fit on the team", but they don't feel the daily struggle you know?
And so again, can you get really close to an honest conversation with your son or daughter about okay, what's hard right now? Let's just talk about it. I don't have to solve it for you, but at least if we can talk about it, then you can take some autonomy steps to getting there yourself so for example, we had a rule, like a rule, I guess you would call a rule, with our team where I don't have any problem talking to any parent ever, but my one rule was that your daughter's going to be involved in the conversation. So what does that produce? Well, first of all, I probably eliminated a lot of those conversations.Skye:
I'm just thinking that too, well, that probably cut out a lot of stuff.Becky:
But when we did have the conversations, it was led by the daughter and she was able to express her concerns. If I have that conversation with the parent without the daughter, then we are trying to solve the problem for her, instead of her having to solve the problem for herself. If she can solve the problem together with us, now she's got... She's like, man, I've just got a little independence because I know how to do that now.Skye:
Whereas if the parent comes in and just solves it without them, they don't gain anything from that. They just don't gain anything from that and I think trying to... It's... I will tell you this. It's not efficient. Telling is way more efficient. Doing something for someone is way more efficient but in the end, as a coach, for me, I felt like that one in a game. I can't go do, I'm on the sidelines. Thank goodness for them. Two, the idea of them being able to solve the problem means I'm kind of less important. They don't need to rely on me and I can understand as a parent that might be a really scary place to be, don't we always want our kids to have to rely on us? But you are actually creating a healthier bond with them because you are creating the platform for them to rely on themselves.Skye:
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. I do think that we ask a lot of these young athletes at a young age and just like all athletes develop physically differently, like emotionally do they develop differently so for some kids, going back to the recruiting process, that's a pretty... Okay, it might be they might be out of their comfort zone, but they're good with talking to the college coach, and other kids literally just aren't ready for that yet.Becky:
So it's such a struggle and I do find in interactions with parents that those kids, that it's really, really hard for them to have those conversations. It's just all... It's unfortunately, just part of our structures. When you're 16 you have to have these conversations, it's...Becky:
Yeah and to be fair, some of those conversations really aren't easy because you are talking to a random stranger.Skye:
You are having to... Hopefully the coach is carrying the conversation, not the player, but I've seen it the other way around.Skye:
And so that's when I think the parents want to step in which I could totally relate to and understand why they would want to do that. But I, again, I just feel like every kid, when they come to college, they are nervous about having a meeting with a coach right? So how do you normalize that? Well, we did it, we... You had a meeting with the coach every week.Skye:
So at the end, they are just like dropping in. You don't even have to worry about it but I think at the beginning, it's like, here I am having this conversation with someone who kind of holds my career in their future and has a lot of power you know? And I think I need, as a coach, to be aware of the responsibility I have with that power.
And I think it's very easy, we look at this world of sort of disposable coaches, coach doesn't win, fired, get the next coach in. That's trickling down to the athletes. Per player doesn't produce, even at like D1, D2, D3, high school, club, you name it. Player doesn't produce, let's get the next kid in and that's a really difficult mentality because you never get the opportunity to overcome the struggle.Skye:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean, it actually layers into the cycle of not having self-trust because you can't be confident in that. Interesting. Interesting. Okay. So when I wanted to talk to you about what drives meaning, I'm imagining that you guys have the secret formula for this. Let's just talk, as we're wrapping up, a little bit about your organization. I want you to give parents some ideas about ways that you can help, maybe the best book that is out that could support parents or a way that they can interact with your organization but when you are talking about what drives winning, what does winning mean to you? And you... We've referenced you both, you want to talk about your business partner and just kind of frame the company a little bit?Becky:
Yeah. My business partner is a guy named Brett Ledbetter. He ran an academy for fifth to 12th grade basketball players before we joined together to create What Drives Winning and what was really cool about that academy was they didn't compete. They were just a developmental academy. He saw the kids once a week and most of them were trying to make their varsity team in their high school right? So his role in the academy was they could only teach with questions. None of the instructors could give any information directly. Now they could really lead. They could say, "Oh, so maybe you shouldn't have used your right hand on that. Which hand should you use?"Skye:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.Becky:
Still a question, but obvious you know? And so that experience, I think, really showed him that oftentimes our voice, as coaches, gets overused so he created all these interviews with coaches, players, athletes, anyone that those kids would look up to and had them talk on these subjects which saved his voice from being the "person" who they're not going to listen to anymore.
So as we transitioned into our company, we kind of just started doing the same thing. We expanded out of just basketball, created all these different resources and the very first book that Brett wrote was called What Drives Winning, the original book and I'm just going to tell you, like I have given that book to 13 year old boys who hate reading and they have read it in a weekend, and first of all, it's a very easy read. It's a very conversational read. It's written at a fifth grade level on purpose. It's very simple concepts but really powerful concepts and so, to me, that's the book I would recommend, number one in, for any kid and for the parent, because if you're doing it together.Skye:
There's some amazing exercises in there. I remember one time I was up in Virginia and I had a group of parents and kids together in the same room and I thought I was just dealing with the kids when I got there. But then the parents started coming in. Well, they had them all pair up, so the kids were paired up with kids, but there was one kid that was paired up with her own parent and so I had them write a letter to soccer as if it were a person. So they were describing their relationship with their sport. And that produces some really interesting emotions in kids sometimes.
And so that parent that was paired up with her daughter came up to me afterwards and she was just like, "I had no idea", because it was just... There was a lot of stress involved in her sport and her parent had no idea of that and so when her daughter was reading her letter to soccer to her, she got real emotional and I just think that some of those exercises, especially if done together with the parent and the child, those can produce some amazing conversations.Skye:
Oh, I love it. I love it. Well, we'll link the link to the book in the bottom of this interview and then also on the resources tab for the High Performance Week so parents can grab that. I love that idea and we get so into the day-to-day, getting them there, making sure they have the gear, where are we traveling to next? Huge, like all that stuff that we often forget that behind all of that is a child that has feelings.Becky:
It's funny when you walk into the practice field at Florida, it's still there even though I've left. We had a sign, it said Person Greater than Player.Skye:
And that was actually initiated by one of our very highest performing players. This player was captain of the U20 national team, she went on to be invited into the full national team. She was a professional player, but it was born out of the fact that there was so much pressure on her and she wanted people to see her as a person first and a player second and it changed her trajectory in terms of the way she thought about herself and really helped her.
And so I think, as a parent, if I had one piece of advice, it's just they only have two parents, maybe three, mixed parents, whatever, but that parent relationship is unique, so they can have a ton of coaches have a ton of people who drive them. They can have a ton of people who advise them, but they only got one parent so staying in the parent lane with them and not trying to become all these other things to them, I think kids appreciate that and then they appreciate reminding that they're not a player, they're a person first. Soccer is what they do, but it's not who they are.Skye:
Thank you so much. That's just a perfect way to wrap up this interview that I've enjoyed so much. Becky, thanks so much for being a part of High Performance Week and layering in your years of wisdom and advice to parents who are trying to support their players. I know that parents are going to really get a lot out of this, so thanks so much for your time.Becky:
Oh, I loved it. Thanks for the conversation.Skye:
All right. Perfect. Thank you. That was fun.Becky:
That was fun. I mean, I really-