Lessons from Little League


My son just finished his first season of Little League. After years of watching the kids learn how to throw, catch, hit, and pitch, this is the year they are really starting to play competitively, and his coach was competitive in the best sense of the word.

·        He set high expectations for behavior, effort and attitude.

·        He taught fundamentals, did the drills, and broke down plays and strategy for the kids.

But most important of all,

·        He was motivating.

He was so motivating, that when the team was celebrating after their last game, I took him aside to thank him specifically for the way he spoke to those kids. He preached a mindset into those kids with all of his chatter on their field. If they were paying attention, what he was saying will help them go far in life and baseball.

Lessons from the Chatter on the Field

Here are some of the things I heard from on the field that are particularly relevant for leaders:

·        “Hustle!”

We need to be reminded to keep moving through the transitions in our lives, between projects, and throughout the day.

·        “Where is the next play?” (and sometimes the directive: “The play is at First!”)

#1. When a leader is specific with a question, team members learn to think for themselves.

#2. It is also important for the leader to be aware of what is happening on the field. If there has been a lot of action, it is often helpful to remind the players where their next move is.

·        “Shake it off.”

Yes, things go wrong. But a punishing, punitive leader does not help a player move on when they are already filled with regret. Shake it off.

·        “You are alright. Focus on the next play.”

When things are not going as we plan or hope, we can get distracted by our frustration and review of past experiences. There is always a play in front of us. Let team members (and ourselves!) know “you are alright,” and where the focus should be: on the play that is coming our way now. A great leader refocuses the team so they don’t miss the play that is in the present because we are so busy thinking about what just happened. Move on. Focus on the next play. Apply what you learned and go!

·        “I want everyone on the fence cheering for your team mates!”

Yes please! Can we have more cheering of teammates out there? Your people want to be recognized and appreciated not just by you, but by their peers. Are you teaching everyone on your team how to praise, encourage and motivate their peers? Do you set this as a behavior expectation on your team?

It will do wonders for your culture if you do. 

And when in the outfield:

·        “Let’s hear some chatter out there. Talk to your pitcher!”

·        “Call the ball. Let your teammates know you’ve got it.”

When a leader is aware of the action on the field, they are able to offer time-sensitive, relevant, specific coaching to their teams. The key: coach, you have to be paying attention! And then you need something clear and succinct to say.

As I sat behind the fence watching the kids on the field, I started to imagine what it would be like if I had this team’s coaching crew in my daily life:

·        “Ok Jennifer, get up and get going! Hustle to the plate!”

·        “Be ready for your 3 o’clock, Jennifer! He can really swing the bat.”

·        “Shake if off! Focus on the next play.”

·        “Don’t worry about the runner. The play is at 1st.” 

Our Own Coaching Crew

As I thought about it, I realized I do have a set of coaches in my life.

They are the voices inside my head that constantly offer up their chatter.

They are the people in my life that I spend time with, ask advice of, and listen to.

And, of course, there are the people that I am coaching myself, intentionally and unintentionally, with what I am saying, verbally and non-verbally.

Coaching Ourselves: the Inner Chatter

I constantly talk to myself as I move through my day. But what am I saying? My goal is to have the voice inside my head sound more like my kid’s Little League coaches and less like the Inner Critic that seems to have the microphone in my head far too much of the time.

What do you need to do to move from Critic to Coach in your own mind? With your team? Maybe even at home with your family?

Coaching our Teams: Leading the Chatter on the Field

How can you help the people you lead shake it off and focus on the next play?

When a player would strike out and head back to the dugout, usually Coach would speak directly them. He’d stop them in their tracks, look them in the eye, and have a quick, private conversation. These were intended to shift the energy from what just happened to what was next. In those few moments:

·        He told them what they got right.

·        Reminded them of what they learned.

·        Focused them on what was next. And,

·        Reset a clear expectation about the attitude he expected everyone to bring to the field.

The direct coaching, modeling of behavior, and the continual, clear resetting of expectations proved magical on the ball field. It was a winning season in more ways than one. They learned to be kind, competitive, and how to coach and cheer for one another.

How can you teach your team to be a group that is standing up at the fence of the field, offering a lot of encouraging chatter to their colleagues? No one wants to work in a negative environment. So fire the Inner Critic if you have one, and set an example for your teammates about how to play to win.

How we talk to our teams matters. What is the chatter on your field?