When my kids were younger, I spent 10 years coaching Little League softball and baseball. Spending time with my kids was certainly a primary motivation for the incredible number of hours at practices and countless games and tournaments. Seeing my son get a double to drive in the winning run against the league’s dominant team or watching my daughter strike out the side in a competitive weekend tournament and then being able to give each of them hugs of celebrations on the field are memories I will never forget.
But I also enjoyed working with the other young athletes as I tried to not only teach them how to be better ballplayers, but also better teammates and stronger leaders. Watching a young person grow in skills and gain in confidence was personally satisfying and made all the volunteer hours seem like a small price to pay. What I did not anticipate was how many lessons I would learn about being a better manager of team members at work from my time spent as a little league coach.
One season I had the opportunity to coach a really great group of 11 and 12-year-old girls in the local league. Of note, was a young girl who always came to practice with a smile on her face and who would eagerly engage in all drills and all activities. She would laugh with her teammates as she shouted out words of encouragement and praise as her more talented friends got a base hit or made a great defensive play. She was not a gifted athlete, but she was a tremendous team leader whose love of the game and love of life was simply contagious.
Just before the first game of the season, as I had the girls huddled on the field before they would charge out to their positions, I went through the starting roster and the defensive position each of them would be playing. As I did, I shared with this young girl that she would be playing left field to begin the game. She and all her teammates were excited to begin the season and as we broke from the huddle, they all went racing onto the field. I was also excited because I knew we had a solid team and we had been successful in getting them ready to play and I was sure they knew what they needed to do to be successful. As she got to an area near the pitching circle, this young and happy ballplayer turned to me and yelled, “hey coach, where is left field?” In all our practices and drills, I had clearly forgotten one important detail:
Make sure everyone understood the positions on the field.
It was a great reminder to me that giving clear direction and making sure all members of the team understand their positions and responsibilities is critically important. Individual training and development are important, but in a team setting, making sure that all members of the team understand and embrace their role is even more important. Assuming members of our team, or our board for that matter, understand and embrace their role on the team may not only lead to confusion, but also unnecessary stress and frustration, and most importantly, make it more difficult to attain our goals.