The University of Utah Women’s basketball team knew that they wanted to start off the 2018-2019 season as a strong and united team. Even after long hours of practice, there was still one more thing they felt was important in fully preparing their team: involvement with The Program Athletics.
The Program is a leadership and team development company that focuses on building better leaders and cohesive teams through an intense two-day experiential training with instructors with backgrounds that consist of but are not limited to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and professional athletics. After those two days, the trainers stay in touch with the coaches and the team throughout the year, keeping constant contact with the teams they work with.
This year was the Utes second year involved with The Program. They had two instructors, Sam Cila, The Program’s operations chief and a retired staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and Bryan Sabatella, who played collegiate and professional baseball.
“This year was year two with coach Roberts and the staff,” said Cila. “At the program, we have a simple mission to create better leaders and to create more cohesive teams. Year one, the team went through Log Pole judgment day and year two, this year, went through combat mindset judgment day. Two different services and the delivery of adversary is different but the messaging is always the same. It’s based on our ethos and our three core principles at The Program: being a good team leader and a good teammate, being physically and mentally tough and not making excuses and not letting others make them for us.”
Coach Roberts reached out to The Program for the first time in 2017. She was at a point with the women’s basketball team where they were ready to turn the corner in the Pac-12. She believed that through some leadership development and team building it would help the Utes succeed much quicker. With the loss of some of the senior leaders from last year and gaining some new transfers this year, Roberts believed that bringing The Program back this year could continue to help the Utes to develop as a team.
“The military obviously has some great fundamentals that has allowed them to succeed,” senior point guard Erika Bean said. “We know that those people in the military are super hardcore and getting them back here to the university trying to implement some of those similar strategies will help us succeed in the same way that they do in combat and we can implement those on the field to succeed in our respective sports.”
Within The Program each individual team member is either part of the team or given a leadership role. Leaders and team members are each given standards that they must withhold throughout The Program.
“During our training, we will hold the team leaders up to two standards,” said Cila. “The two standards of pretty much every leader in the world. The first standard is to accomplish your mission and the second standard is to take care of your people, take care of your team. Make every single decision that you take as a leader, with your teams best interest at heart first. A good teammate is a held to two standards as well. The first standard is set the example. We want athletes that set the example and then hold their teammate to their left and to their right, hold them accountable to those standards. That’s what we teach, but then the delivery is very physical in nature.”
This year, Bean was given one of these leadership roles within The Program and believes that it was something that has really helped her grow as a player. She has been implementing what she has learned on the court during practices and in games.
“I was placed in a leadership role throughout The Program,” Bean said. “For me it was really about implementing the things and skills that I learned throughout those two days and putting them into practice, whether it be encouraging some of the new girls, being more demanding on the floor or being more disciplined.”
Bean had the chance to be involved with The Program last year as well and has seen how big of an improvement she has made since her first year. Not only has she seen herself grow as a leader, but she has seen the difference The Program has made on her teammates.
“My first year was a little difficult for me with the Program, and coming into year two with the guys it was amazing. It was a different challenge that we faced. Being able to see the connection and chemistry that I have with my team and knowing that my teammates are willing to do whatever it takes for me to make sure that the team is at its best and can do everything we can to reach our goals.”
The women’s basketball team had a great experience with The Program with the similar to Navy Seal type training that was given throughout the two days. Day one was focused more on mental preparedness and finding the chemistry within the team.
“Day one is a physically challenging day on the turf field where all the movements are team-based exercises, where each movement has a designated leader. All those leaders have a series of commands that have to be communicated, standards that we set on how they move from area to area, what happens with the gear that they have, they to be placed in a certain way, how the exercises have to be executed, very challenging first day for both the team and for the leaders that are designated to lead those exercises. We force effective communication, we develop and cue things like ‘hey this is a better way of saying it’ or ‘maybe we should look at it this way’ so a lot of coaching going on a lot of cueing of better communication, more effective communication, more direct communication as well as accurate listening. As physical as it is there is a lot of learning objectives for everything that we’re doing,” said Cila.
Day two was what they call the “big day” where the athletes put what they learned from the day before into practice in a more intense setting.
“Day two was our big day which was our combat day and we got in the ring with the two instructors that came and we went head to head and did some combat and it was more physical toughness but we also needed that mental toughness from the previous day to get through our different exercises,” Bean said.
Utah finished off The Program more confident and ready to move forward with this year’s season.
“It was amazing, obviously we went through some adversary early on through The Program. It was very difficult, some people struggled with finding their voice or being able to lead the team effectively and so on our last day, our big day where we were being able to come together as a team and figure things out it was amazing. It was just rewarding once we completed the test that we needed to do and it obviously was physically demanding but it really just showed that we have teammates to the left and right of us that are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission of our team or to reach our goals,” said Bean.
This year, The Program will work with more than 190 teams throughout the NCAA for both men’s and women’s sports. The Program involves themselves with all different types of sports from football to golf. When working with a team they base their specific training for the team based on who they are training, they believe that each team is different and each has specific needs. The Utes have felt that The Program has made a big difference on the team and has really helped Utah grow as an organization.
“It’s a privilege to us to have the opportunity to work with the Utes,” said Cila. “I have a great relationship with Roberts. Ultimately, what we’re challenging student-athletes and teams to do is to get that much better. If you took your thumb and your index finger and just put them an inch apart, if we can get people to commit to being that much better every single day, that much better will allow us the opportunity to compete for championships. There is no doubt who they are as women, who they are as Utes that they will continue to make that growth to give the Utes the best opportunity to compete for a championship.”