Stop Spitting on Joey and Take the Glove Off Your Head: Universal Leadership Lessons from a 3rd Grade Baseball Coach


Lessons on leadership are available anywhere you look these days – from social media to bookstore shelves to your boss’s corner office. But if you really want the inside scoop on what it takes to be a leader, spend some time with your local youth baseball coach.


These men and women play more roles over the course of a single season than most business professionals fill in a lifetime: coach, peacekeeper, disciplinarian, strategist, talent scout, and ambassador to name a few.


Anybody wearing this many hats has a few stories to tell, and I’m no exception. But this post is not about mid-game bathroom breaks or accidental outfield somersaults. This is about a set of universal leadership lessons that apply whether you are leading a team of baseball tykes or business titans.


Establish and reinforce a team identity

Every good baseball team develops a specific style of play. Some are known for pitching and defense. Others emphasize hitting for power. Some preach on-base percentage, coupled with timely hitting and savvy base-running. The same thought process applies in the business world – you’ll have a greater ratio of success if your team knows which fundamentals you expect them to perform well on a daily basis. Talk it up at every opportunity, coach your players on the key skills and reward the entire team for good performances. Candy and ice cream worked for us, but you might have better luck with an adult beverage or two.


Keep your speeches short and to the point

People have limited attention spans, no matter their age or profession. They can only remember a handful of action items. And most of them have heard enough clichés and analogies to last a lifetime. The key to engaging your audience is being clear, consistent and brief. Nail a few key messages, reinforce your team’s identity and let them get to work. Or before you know it Joey and Johnny will be wrestling on the ground while the rest of the team spits sunflower seeds on your shoes.


Never publicly criticize an error

Even your most talented, best-prepared players will make mistakes. They are the first to know it, and the first to feel bad about it. Calling them out in front of the team demoralizes the individual, and causes the other players to worry about the same thing happening to them. Instead, find a one-on-one coaching opportunity apart from the team and away from the heat of the moment. Listen to the explanation, coach the individual on the correct approach and reiterate your confidence in his/her abilities. One additional tip: never coach a person while holding a bat – it tends to contradict your message of care and support.


Keep your head on a swivel

When a group of third-graders is throwing baseballs around, you’re in near-constant danger of getting a two-seam wake-up call to the back of your head. The only way to protect yourself is to keep the entire field in view and know what every player is doing. In the business arena, the dangers are more subtle, but the theory is the same. If you’re too focused on a single task or project, you may lose sight of the big picture. Good leaders position themselves to help their teams anticipate changes in the business, the competitive landscape or industry as a whole.  They bring a holistic perspective to the business, and articulate their teams’ role in the organization’s success. Third-grade baseball coaches just learn how to duck or jump out of the way.


Leading is about more than wins and losses

Sure, you need to put up numbers, regardless of your industry. But never forget you’re in the people business. You need to develop them. Discover their strengths. Position them to be successful, as individuals and as a team. Take this approach, and the wins will take care of themselves. Unless half your team shows up exhausted because they just spent eight hours running full-throttle around a waterpark. (This happens often in 3rd grade baseball. Somewhat less so in corporate America.)


Everyone gets knocked down – the key is how you handle it

In baseball, the bruises are physical, whereas in the business world they tend to be emotional. But the response in either setting is the same: get up, dust yourself off and get back in the game. There is always another play to make, and the most successful individuals can set aside the past to focus on the next opportunity. One other item worth noting: never attack the opponent who knocked you down – it’s a surefire way to get kicked out of the game entirely.


© 2016


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