Utah learns leadership at 80 feet

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
LAS VEGAS -- As many teams across the country try to figure out how to craft an undefeated season, Utah has learned that the secret might lie about 80 feet in the air.

That's where a couple of Utah players have been seen dangling this summer during their leadership retreat in an effort to build relationships and generate teamwork.

The idea was developed by safeties coach Morgan Scalley three summers ago as an effort to create a safe environment where players could get anything off their chests and in turn become better teammates.

The retreat is held on two weekends with groups of 12 and nothing is out of bounds.

"You lay everything on the line and there's no holding back," offensive lineman Zane Beadles said. "It really gets things out there and it's just a great experience for everyone. It brings those guys closer together and kind of makes everyone accountable to each other because you lay everything on the line and really put yourself out there."

The players stay overnight in the football facility, and during the evening have several meetings, including one where they each have to say something -- good, bad or indifferent -- about each of the other players in the room. During the day, the players got to the university's R.O.P.E.S course for team building and trust exercises.

The players do three events on the R.O.P.E.S (Recreation, Observation, Problem solving, Experimental education, Self esteem) course. The first is a teamwork exercise where players of different shapes and sizes have to lock hands and try to keep their balance on a rope triangle that is about 3 feet off the ground.

There's another event where players are 80 feet in the air, trying to walk across a rope and getting support from their teammates.

In the final event, players have to climb a 30-foot pole to a wooden disk that rotates and wobbles. Players have to get to the disk and then jump off to a waiting trapeze.

"It's intense," Beadles said. "It's a really good experience and it brings everyone really close together. It's a big-time leadership thing and something that we kind of use throughout the season. We use little hints like, 'Hey R.O.P.E.S course.' And we just bring that back into everyone's mind. We try and take what we learn and incorporate it and bring everyone else who didn't have the opportunity to do the retreat kind of into the same thing and same mindset."

The unique thing about the retreat is that it's not just for starters or even seniors. The 24 players are chosen on the basis of current or potential leadership of the Utes. That includes players who have never stepped on the field.

"It doesn't even have to be football, it could be school or whatever," linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. "It's just something that can help you. It's the criticism thing. You can always learn stuff from it that will make you a better person. I feel like that makes everybody better. Criticism is great. Whether it's positive or negative, how you take it is whether it's going to be beneficial or not.

"It worked a lot last year. We came together, had great team chemistry last year and I think it's going to do that this year."