“Learn your x’s and o’s but don’t forget that your people drive that.”
In 1995, Becky Burleigh became the First Head Coach of the Florida Gators Women’s Soccer Program. In the 20 years that have followed, Coach Burleigh has forged a career of excellence because she has continued to invest – invest in herself, in other coaches, in her student-athletes and in the younger generation of women’s soccer players. With an extensive list of achievements including a Division I National Championship already under her belt, we caught up with Becky to hear her insights into sustaining success in coaching.
About Becky Burleigh:
- No. 3 on Division I Active Coaches Chart for winning percentage and number of wins
- NSCAA/Adidas National Coach of the Year
- Winning Percentage 77.0 (419-113-34)
- 2nd-fastest active Div I coach to reach 200-wins.
- 5x SEC Coach of the Year
About Florida Gators Soccer:
- 1 Division I National Championship
- 2 NCAA College Cup Appearances
- 10 SEC Tournament titles
- 13 SEC team titles
- 18 NCAA Championships berths
- Have gone undefeated in SEC regular season and Tournament play four times
Investing in Herself
Coach Burleigh’s long-term success has been aided by her commitment to continuously developing as a coach. Becky acknowledges that the young people coming through her program now are vastly different to previous generations. For this reason, she sees it as her responsibility to continue to learn new and effective ways to develop relationships with her student-athletes.
“I think ‘burn out’ is when we stop wanting to learn. The players and teams change over the years and it is up to us to make sure that we continue to as well. Plus the art of coaching is stealing great ideas from others and putting them into the structure you have created within your own team.”
Coach Burleigh undertakes her own study tours where she enlists the help of coaches from a variety of sports and differing institutions. These tours give her a unique insight into how other coaches develop their programs, and provides an opportunity to share and discuss ideas and approaches to coaching.
Investing in Other Coaches
Becky extends her commitment to development to other coaches as well. It is impossible to spend a day with Becky without her phone ringing multiple times from coaches around the nation seeking advice.
Becky is regularly asked to present for the Alliance of Women Coaches, the National Soccer Coaches Alliance of America (NSCAA) and other professional organisations. Recently, she was a key organizer at the highly successful ‘What Drives Winning Conference’ which had over 800 coaches from around the country in attendance. She presented alongside other high-performance specialists and successful coaches from NCAA Division I programs and the NBA. Becky also facilitates coach development training through the consultancy group True North Sports, known for their one-of-a-kind Assistant Coaches Immersion Program (ACIP).
Her advice to other coaches is:
“Learn your x’s and o’s but don’t forget that your people drive that.
You can devise the best training plan, the best system, etc., but if your people don’t have the discipline, commitment, etc. to carry it out, what good is it?
Dealing with challenging times is part of the deal with coaching…this is where you really find out what your identity is tied to. If you are sky high when you are winning and rock bottom when you are losing, you are just along for the ride. If you stay steady and focus on the process and the people, and let results fall where they may, it doesn’t mean you care less, it just means you are dealing with things you can control.”
Investing in Student-Athletes
Becky’s dedication to building character through sport is reflected in the team culture she creates. Coach Burleigh describes the formula for getting good on-field results as having the right processes and the right people skills. This formula is embedded into her student-athletes the moment they step foot on campus.
“I really get excited about seeing a person come in as a freshman and then watching them develop over the course of 4 years…our players leave with a good experience, more prepared for the outside real world, and have great memories, many of which include championships but all that include great people.
I see my role as coach as someone who helps the players separate their identity as a player from their identity as a person and utilize their sport for personal growth, all the while aggressively pursuing excellence.”
“I would like our culture to reflect Person>Player and if we have a great process (x’s and o’s) and more importantly, good people, we will create good results.We won’t compromise on work ethic, trust, positivity, unselfishness, courage, resilience and appreciative attitudes.”
Becky has been using Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles since 2012.
“DISC has given our team a much better understanding of themselves and others and created a common language to discuss our similarities and differences. It has totally enhanced our communication both on and off the field.”
By putting the person before the player, Coach Burleigh teaches important life lessons her student-athletes can utilize beyond their sporting careers.
Investing in her Program
Despite having run the Florida Gators Women’s Soccer Program for 20 years, Becky never stops looking for ways to refine and improve her program.
“We were challenged in the post season by the fear of failure. We started thinking cautiously, playing not to lose instead of to win. But we talked after the first game and decided we wanted to Play Green: if we were going to make mistakes, make mistakes of aggression, not of passivity. And we had to create an environment where we reinforced that with the coaches and teammates, so our body language, communication, etc. all supported mistakes and our goal was just to get people through them as quickly as possible.
The one thing that changed us a lot was our defining competition as “striving together”. It made us want our opponents to be at their best to best prepare and test us. It made teammates want to push each other hard, but also be their biggest supporter when the other was on the field.
We tell all our recruits about our culture and I think they sort of self-select. I know we lose some in this process, but it is probably for the best…you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be willing to admit mistakes and take accountability when you fall short (including us as coaches).
We meet with every player every week, but the leaders have extra meetings, including group meetings, where we try to take care of issues before they get bigger.”
Investing in the Future
Coach Burleigh regularly runs Gatorzone Soccer Camps which allow young soccer players to be exposed to top-level coaching and facilities. Too often sports camps are only filled with drills and fun activities. Becky’s camps cover this too, but put a deliberate focus on developing athlete’s as whole player’s. Time is spent dedicated to self-awareness, understanding how to contribute to a team, and how athletes can value their team members. After her first year of using Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles with her Florida Gators team, Coach Burleigh completed her consultant training allowing her to use Athlete Assessment DISC Profiles with others.
Using this knowledge to incorporate AthleteDISC Profiles into her camps has allowed her to add value to her athlete’s development as people, players, future student-athletes and members of the wider community.
“We get a lot of feedback on DISC…who doesn’t like learning about themselves? [The athletes] love being able to identify their coaches and teammates. They also enjoy hearing about our team’s culture and how we reframe things like competition (both internally and externally) and how we focus on the person’s character and how that has a positive impact on our results.
In our camps, we only spend about only half to two-thirds on the field and the rest in the classroom… we want to focus on how do you achieve success as a player and a person.”
Coach Burleigh asserts that she is not defined by her career.
“One of our coaches here passed away and we had a great memorial for him where very little was mentioned about his actual coaching record but lots about how he influenced and treated people and I thought, that’s how I want to go out!”
For now, Becky is aiming to show her team and the world that you can win at the highest levels with a culture of trust, respect and love, not fear.
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