One of the biggest influences in my young life was a baseball coach in junior high who spent extra time with me, not the best athlete by any measure. He helped me work on my batting technique, especially, bunting.
It paid off, when we needed a bunt during a playoff game to score the winning run from third. I came through, and the walk-off run scored a close and exciting play at the plate.
Although Mr. Larch would never admit it, he as my coach, deserved all the credit.
As a father, I wanted to recreate my exciting childhood experiences in sports as a coach for my son’s and two daughters’ teams.
I learned the most valuable leadership lessons, which I later applied to my career as a leader in business, from the girls.
A few of the fifth and sixth grade girls I coached did things that I had never experienced before coaching boys, like skipping to first base. Or, they would stop skipping or running altogether, due to a fear of running into the girl playing first base. A few of the girls still held their arms over their heads to protect themselves, a few feet from first base, paralyzed with fear, long after the play ended! Boys don’t do this!
“Girls, there’s no skipping in softball!” I screamed.
My now adult daughters retell this story at family reunions, adding a little drama by saying that I was imitating Tom Hank’s washed up and hard-drinking character, Manager, Jimmy Dougan, in the movie, “A League of Their Own.” When Jimmy Dougan tried to coach a female outfielder to “hit the cutoff man” she began to cry. Jimmy Dougan yelled, “There is no crying in baseball!”
But, I was not acting – I was frustrated! My way of correcting the girls didn’t stop all the skipping. But, it did stop the girls’ enthusiasm for the game and their desire to learn how to play it well. My mistake as a coach. Mr. Larch would not have been proud of me!
At one practice, I decided to change our routine and added a “running-to-first base” drill, and I made it fun. All of the girls who ran hard on the foul side of the first base line were rewarded with applause and high fives. I also taught the girls that if they stepped on the right side of first base, they would not run into the girl playing first. We kept doing the drill over and over again, until everyone got it and received the group’s praise.
Halfway through the subsequent game, we were down by four runs. I told the girls that if they rallied and won, I would buy them pizza at the end of the game. “Pizza!” one girl exclaimed jumping up and down, with the others joining in.
The girls focused. They improved their defense, hitting and base running. Their parents saw the difference and began cheering their daughters on.
They still lost by one run, but it was a huge improvement over the past games. I repeated the pizza goal at the next game, but this time for a win, not just improvement. They won!
At the end of that game, I walked one of girls, the chief skipper-to-first-base, over to her mother and told the two of them how proud I was of her improvement in softball. Not only for running all the way to first base, but also with her batting skills. She was now able to make contact when swinging at the ball—a big improvement for her. They booth beamed.
On both of my daughters’ teams, there were a few girls who had the athletic ability to rival the boys. It was especially fun coaching them, individually during practice, about how to become even better players.
How does coaching girls softball relate to business?
As leaders in business, we have teams who come from different backgrounds, with different skills from each other, as well as from us.
I have some questions for you. How are you going to align your team members’ efforts to a common goal? Provide effective feedback? Discover their individual strengths? Ensure they get the training and individual coaching they need to improve their skills? Recognize and reward them in a way that they find meaningful?
Will you by Mr. Larch or Jimmy Dougan?
Do you have a great coaching, leadership or turnaround story to share?
Join the conversation.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, global talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit http://www.InnovationOne.io.