Mike and I were talking to my brother-in-law Bob the other day, and got on the subject of our nephew, Bobby, age 11, and his Little League baseball team. Bob said that the team isn’t winning a lot of games, but the kids were having fun. He had asked Bobby what he liked best about playing baseball and he said, “Shaking hands with the kids on the other team after the game.”
Do you want a kid like this working at your company? Of course you do, if you want people to work in teams. Is Bobby just a really nice kid? Well, he is, but something must be going on with this team to make good sportsmanship more important than beating the other teams. So I asked about the team’s coach.
Turns out he’s helping all the kids develop confidence, mutual support and respect for people. He’s not all over the kids to play well or yelling at them about mistakes. He gets it that kids’ sports are about having fun.
There was one kid who, like a lot of us at age 11 or 12, was just not athletically talented. He couldn’t catch, he wasn’t all that good at throwing, and his batting wasn’t so good either. After a couple of games, he dropped out. A coach fixated on winning would have counted his lucky stars, because the game would be played by more competitive kids.
But this coach called the mom and encouraged the boy to come back, that it didn’t matter if he wasn’t the best player, that the team wanted him to play again. The boy rejoined the team. Bob said that at the games now, when this kid was up to bat, his teammates encouraged him and when he made a mistake, supported him anyway. This isn’t going to improve their won-loss record, but it will make them more team-oriented people.
In your shop or office, of course, you wouldn’t want to just accept a lot of mistakes but we’d hope you wouldn’t just blame the person. You can’t change the process much in baseball, but you can change it in your operation. You might see what help you could provide the person – there’s the story of the kid who just needed glasses so he could see the ball, for example. There might be a more appropriate job. When I was in junior high, I got to be on the field hockey and basketball teams by taking the manager job. I could keep score and bring oranges for the players at half-time, even though playing was out of the question. There might be extra training and practice. Maybe the kid never played the game before and will do much better next year.
So think about Little League today. What’s their key performance indicator? Yeah, the score is the first thing that comes to mind. But how about counting the smiles and sincerity on the faces of the kids when they shake hands with the kids on the winning team at the end of the game that they lost? Fun and learning is what the ultimate goal for kids’ sports should be. I think Bobby’s on a winning team, no matter how many runs they score.