BIG changes are coming, that much was clear, though Becky Burleigh kept quiet on the seismic personal shift she was about to publicly announce.
It is Friday January 29. Becky is sat in her office chatting on zoom with us and US Youth Soccer CEO Skip Gilbert about their upcoming appearance at the Soccer Innovation.
So, instead of getting the scoop of the month for January in women’s college soccer, we are listening to Becky’s share some of her thoughts on the future of the sport at collegiate level, not her next step as Head Coach of the Florida Gators.
As the only head coach the women’s soccer programme at the University of Florida has known since it came into existence in 1995, it never crossed our minds that this was the day she had decided to bring the curtain down after 26 seasons of winning.
In hindsight, we are grateful that Becky was willing to find time in the middle of the biggest decision on her career she has probably made for 26 years, and hope it proves to be as successful as the one she made in 1995 that led to 14 Southeastern Conference regular-season championships, and 22 appearances in the NCAA tournament and the 98 Championship season with future USWNT stars Danielle Fotopoulos, Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts.
It is an honour, then, that in the midst of her farewell season as Gators head coach Becky will take part in the opening session of Soccer Innovation Summit on March 3 (12pm EST).
Our chats in that eventful week last month, focused on what topics Becky would speak about in her presentation and discussion alongside another pioneer of women’s college soccer, Lesle Gallimore, who is now commissioner of the Girls Academy League after stepping down as Washington Huskies head coach in her 26th season, Skip and Black Watch Premier CEO Steve Freeman.
Over the past 26 years Becky has been part of the single-most dominant force in the developing women footballers. It has helped to produce the most successful national team in the world, while also being responsible for the majority of the best players in the other leading women’s soccer nations.
But that pathway is starting to change. It has already started to change in the men’s game with the College Draft in the men’s game now very much a secondary source of talent behind the blossoming Academy system. It is a system NWSL clubs look upon with excited eyes and are pushing for to be the major development pathway in the women’s games.
The biggest pressure that may force the change is coming from Europe, with the investment of the major soccer clubs across the continent, with girl’s academies now sharing facilities with the boys and not just a team name.
But the big game changer is the slow increase of money into the game, which is making it a viable career option straight out of school for many girls. The mindset is changing that a college degree is a necessity for the world’s best players because they need the safety of an education because the game will not provide the rewards their talent deserves.
That is the direction of flow Becky and many others see coming over the horizon fast.
For now the Varsity game remains dominant, investment in resources is higher than in the pro game and as such winning is the be all and end all. But a day of reckoning is coming for programme leaders in what they want to measure success by. The development vs winning conundrum will be high on the agenda.
Becky reckons the women’s game is about ten years behind where the men’s game in the US has evolved, so we are looking forward to hearing which direction she thinks College soccer needs to go in over the next decade.
Wednesday March 3 12.20 (EST)
BECKY BURLEIGH: College Soccer’s role in the development pathway
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