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Collaborative Coaches: A unique practice at UF

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Each time the door opens, another Gators head coach walks into the small conference room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Inside, Florida soccer coach Becky Burleigh is already seated. Next to her, at the head of the table, is a former college basketball player who averaged 7.4 points his final season at the University of Idaho nearly a decade ago.

However, Brett Ledbetter isn’t here to discuss himself. He is here to share insights from some of the most famous and successful coaches in the country.

As founder and lead instructor of the St. Louis-based Ledbetter Academy, Ledbetter started this journey primarily working with high school and youth basketball coaches on teaching advanced footwork techniques to help players improve their performance.

He soon expanded the operation and his horizons.

Ledbetter wanted to know more about what drives human performance in competitive, pressure-packed environments. In the quest for answers, he arranged interviews with some of the most prominent college coaches in the game: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma, former Gators coach Billy Donovan, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and many others.

He recorded the sessions and launched TheFilmRoomProject.org.

high-level coaches, they’re all talking about the same thing. It’s about how to maximize human performance,’’ Ledbetter said. “The great coaches in any sport are able to maximize human potential and make their players the best versions of themselves.”

By the time Ledbetter shows the group of Florida coaches a clip of Davidson head coach Bob McKillop discussing Stephen Curry’s evolution from a player who committed 13 turnovers in his first college game to this season’s NBA MVP, the room has filled.

Burleigh is joined by Florida softball coach Tim Walton, Gators women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, men’s and women’s tennis coaches Bryan Shelton and Roland Thornqvist, track coach Mike Holloway, and men’s and women’s golf coaches JC Deacon and Emily Glaser.

As many as 13 UF head coaches have attended this monthly gathering since Burleigh and Ledbetter teamed up, including Donovan prior to his departure earlier this month to become head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Billy touched about every situation you can in college basketball,’’ Ledbetter said. “When you have that kind of experience, a lot of times you just tee up the topic and let the discussion start with him.”

Burleigh absorbs as much as she can, listening closely as her colleagues take turns talking.

“It’s a great resource for all of us,’’ said Burleigh, who completed her 20th season last fall. “I’ve always wanted it to happen since I’ve been here.”

On this particular late spring morning, Walton enters the room carrying a silver-plated lunch pail full of assorted items.

The lunch pail represents a blue collar, clock-in and clock-out approach Walton tells the group.

Ledbetter approves instantly.

“That’s a great way to separate who you are from what you do,’’ he says.

Walton pulls out a pack of gum, a Life Saver, a bouncy ball, a tube of Super Glue – each symbolic of a message he has delivered this season to his players such as resiliency (chewing gum) and togetherness (Super Glue).

In the year since these collaborative coaches’ meetings started, Walton sometimes plays the role of teacher, and other times the role of student. They all do.

He is more of a teacher on this day, sharing a back-and-forth with Butler about different ways to enhance team chemistry.

These meetings have become another tool in Walton’s work belt.

“Whether you’re winning BCS championships or cutting down nets or celebrating at the College World Series, we’re all here to do the same thing,’’ Walton said. “We all have the same goal and same role. What I do should impact all programs here in a positive way. By us coaches sharing and collaborating, I think there’s some real and true value there.”

“Coaches get caught up a lot in only what we do. It’s been really nice to hear from some world-class coaches and how they handle situations, whether it’s adversity or success, there’s a lot of different ways we’ve gone about it,’’ he said. “Whether it’s confirmation with how you do it or just hearing another way to do it, that’s really a huge key.

“The beauty of it is that I find myself now paying more attention to those coaches’ teams and their successes.”

Ledbetter opens the meetings, usually showing a clip of one of his video interviews to serve as a launching point of discussion.

From there, the conversations take on a life of their own.

And like the coaches in attendance, Ledbetter seeks to learn something too.

“The knowledge in the room is unbelievable,’’ he said.

Holloway delivered a key message at one of the meetings earlier this year that Ledbetter now leans on.

In a conversation about the importance of what coaches often refer to as “the process,” Holloway commented that many times coaches get distracted by focusing too much on the process and not the people executing it.

“I couldn’t agree more,’’ Ledbetter said. “People drive the process and I believe the essence of coaching is developing stronger people. The person drives the player. The most important thing is who you become as a result of your chase for excellence. I think that’s what those meetings are centered around.”

The most recent meeting was the last until the fall semester starts. The coaches’ schedules are too difficult to coordinator in the months between seasons.

Burleigh can’t wait for them to resume. She is already talking to Ledbetter about future topics and plans to attend Ledbetter’s “What Drives Winning” Conference in St. Louis on June 11.

It took a long time for the idea to transform into the tangible, but now that it has, Burleigh eagerly awaits the start of her 21st season leading Florida’s soccer program.

“The knowledge those coaches have to be as successful as they have been at a place like UF, people pay money to listen to these coaches and we have them all right here,’’ she said. “I always leave with good ideas.

“Always.”

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