I have written many sports analogies over the years, especially ones dealing with coaching kids. You will never convince me that there are not valuable life-long lessons from these experiences.
Baseball season is once again upon us so a few days ago, I drove past my old “field of dreams” Little League ballpark to reminisce. Staring out into the outfield I was reminded of a powerful lesson I learned on how to gain consistent maximum performance from a seven year old playing a most unpopular position.
First, let’s be real. When it comes to seven year olds, getting much focus other than the end of the game cookie at any position is pretty difficult, even more so for those delegated to the outfield. During the early years, very few balls make it out of the infield, BUT those playing in the infield are involved because they get to field, throw and catch the ball so naturally it is easier for them stay engaged.
Outfielders however have a different view of the game. Many of them see the game through clumps of dirt or rocks or even a bug or two. They quite often dance to their own tune and on occasion, some just head into the dugout during the middle of an inning. The reason as stated above is simple, not much happening for them.
As a result of this reality, many times kids in the outfield decide this is not fun and soon determine they don’t want to play anymore. They don’t get excited about the games and they especially don’t like going to practice. Which brings me to the first lesson learned…if a player on your team is not having fun, whose fault is that? If you said the coach, you are correct!!!
One particular game on a very hot July Saturday afternoon, our machine-pitch team’s right fielder was having one of those days as described above. Nothing was happening in right field and he spent a lot of his time getting his uniform dirty playing in the dirt. After a few “Will, get up buddy, here we go” pleas from me, he gave in and got in ready position again. Thankfully our time in the field ended quickly that inning and we came off the field and got ready to bat.
The kids who were about to step up to home plate dashed off the field and quickly put their hitting gloves on and grabbed their high dollar bats. Will however, was down the list in the lineup and when coupled with a very hot, boring inning of zero activity, he slumped and slowly headed to the dugout.
As Will approached me, I had a defining moment with him that I will never forget. I saw the disappointment in his eyes and I took it personally. (Not to get of track here, but how about you? When you see your fellow co-worker or team mate hurting, does it bother you…Do you even notice!!!!)
Okay back to the story. I put my hand on his shoulder and I dropped down to one knee and looked him right in the eye. “Will” I said, “I have never told you this but on draft night before the season started and we were picking the players we wanted to be on our team, your name came up and I could not wait to pick you to be our right fielder. I could not think of anyone I would want more than you, so when your name was called I said…The Aztecs choose Will, and I am so glad you are on our team…give me five!”
Both Will and my world changed. His countenance changed immediately! His eyes lit up and a huge smile covered his face. He gave me a BIG high five and ran into the dugout. I have to admit, this brought a tear to my eye…it does to this day!
The following game, as the players and their parents were arriving for pre-game warmup, Will was the first one there. His dad came up to me and said’ “Coach, I don’t know what you said to Will but he could not wait to get here. “He’s been looking forward to this game all week!”
I’m going to get off track again… BOOM! That’s what everything we do should be about. I can’t tell you how that made me feel. As a coach as a human, to me, that’s our purpose! Okay, now the conclusion.
I thanked Will’s father for his comments and headed to the dugout. Will was the first to meet me. “Right field today coach?” “You’re the best right fielder I know buddy”, I said and off he went.
From that day on, Will’s outlook and performance changed. He was more attentive in the field, he liked coming to practice. Why? Did he start seeing more activity in right field? Did he move up in the batting lineup? No.
Here is the lesson. Just like Will, we will perform at our best when we are recognized and valued for what we do. We just want to! I believe at the moment I told Will how proud I was that he was on our team, he could have moved a mountain!
I coached youth sports for years and we never had the strongest, fastest most talented athletes yet we won more championships than anyone else during our time. My study if filled with championship memories.
The reason for this success is clear…kids WANTED to be on our team and they WANTED to play their best for us! Why? Because we never let a time go by that we did not tell every player how valuable they were to us. We would always say that the most important hitter on the team was the one at the plate. We did not let batting order be a distraction. Every at bat was equally valuable! We believed that effort and attitude would always trump mere talent alone. I still believe that today!
I think the lesson here is clear. It is for me. I to this day, do everything in my power to sincerely acknowledge a colleague, co-worker or client and express my appreciation for their influence and impact on the success of my livelihood. I do the same for my family and friends too.
So stay alert. Keep your eyes open and the next time you see someone who feels like a Little League right fielder, hand them their glove, look them in the eye and tell them how proud you are to know them and be on their team! It will impact your both exponentially.