Jun 11, 2008

Metrics for Little League Baseball

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.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Competitiveness within the team can be destructive. The whole team grows by welcoming and supporting diversity.

Joe said...

Well stated, Karen. I umpired a LL game last night and a little kid came up, obviously not too skilled. One pitch came in and he made contact, fouling the pitch straight back to the screen. The whole dugout and the parents jumped up and applauded...it was obviously a rare (perhaps first) contact with the ball all season. They recognized it and supported it. Even though he struck out on the next pitch, he got lots of high fives back in the dugout... he made improvement and he was supported.

This is the goal in youth sports. This coach/parents obviously "got it" and it was cool.

In any team, we have to define the correct goal.

Great post.

Lester said...

Great Post Karen, The respect for people in TPS is a major part of the system that U.S. Companies are having a tough time getting their thoughts around. I have been reading Bob Emiliani's small section on "Too much selfish thinking" in Real Lean Volume One, and it really hits home how we teach kids to be selfish while they are young, instead of celebrating their enjoyment of the world.

Unknown said...

We went to Bobby's game last night. The other team's coach had a similar attitude. There was a disputed call - was a player tagged out at first when he tried to steal second base too early. We were sitting right by first base and Mike said he was out, but the umpire said he was safe. There was some disputation but the umps said the game should go on. Not long after this, the coach of the team that would have taken the out, called time to revisit the issue. He argued against his team's benefit, but consistent with the ethics of the game, and the play was ruled an out, and the side retired. The kids learned something about baseball and fairness. Nice to see.

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