Nuggets of Wisdom
September 20, 2021
As a Career and Life Coach often metaphorical references emerge which hopefully more effectively communicate and illustrate thoughts and ideas to my clients. Given my participation and involvement in athletics, often parallels emanate from personal experience, thinking back to athletic coaches I have either played for or observed. Years later their lessons are still practical in not only sports, but life, work, and relationships.
“Focus on getting a base hit; the home runs will come.”
Baseball heroes in my little league days were the sluggers: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard. These behemoths and their conquests were mythical: regardless of our size we wanted to emulate their achievements and strengths.
Our efforts to mimic these so-called gods of the diamond through swinging a bat as hard as we could for the fences inevitably failed. Why? For one we were scrawny nine, 10, or 11 year olds. Second, our technique was not too unlike that of the would-be lumberjack, recklessly attacking a might oak, forever doomed to lose the battle. In addition, we had not yet mastered the fundamental requirements for success: seeing the ball leave the pitcher’s hand, watching closely as that ball approached the plate, finally aiming to meet that sphere square on with our round bats, with the desired end result being solid contact.
The coaches of that day preached base hits. “The home runs will come, make solid contact first.”
Tony Gwynn was an all-star 15 times in his 20 year career. He led the National League in hits seven times. His career batting average was an unprecedented .338. Yet, he averaged just under seven home runs per season throughout his career. Aaron and Mays would sometimes hit that many in a couple of weeks. The tireless Gwynn was the epitome of fundamental excellence and effectiveness.
How many times does a Sales Manager encourage his sales force to “not worry about hitting home runs, just make solid contact,” meaning work your leads, provide outstanding follow up, don’t overpromise, and do what you say you are going to do. In parenting, just a simple lunch with your 12 year old daughter may well mean more than front row tickets to Taylor Swift. The thoughtful gesture of a handwritten thank you note to a friend who hosted you for dinner or a member of your staff who went above and beyond has immeasurable value.
“Lots will come; few will stay.”
The head basketball coach my freshmen year in high school was a legend. Notorious as a driven task master, he demanded excellence, even during the most mundane and grueling fundamental drills. Often in the midst of our practices he would share philosophical commentary, pertinent not only on the basketball court but in life as well, as time has affirmed.
One such exercise was designed to develop quickness and enhance reactions. It consisted of players assembling in military style alignment and responding as he barked commands, “stand, squat, sit down, backs, bellies, pushups, etc.,” all in rapid fire order.
Often, while on our backs we were required to lift our feet six inches off the ground, the much-feared leg lifts, the purpose being to strengthen core muscles. Legs lifted 30, now 40 or more seconds as abdominals tightened and began screaming in pain, he would zig zag through our lines.
“Lots will come, few will stay,” he shouted, almost as if questioning our trust. Though memories of the juvenile pain of those days of drills some 50 years ago have faded, the pertinence of those six words to life continue to resonate. What about difficult times in our marriages and relationships? Perhaps there is a challenging boss or peer at work. Resolutions made to exercise more and eat less come to mind as well. Often for me, when I recall those words, I am still encouraged to stay on task in spite of discomfort.
“Make them play our game.” In basketball, years ago before “shot clocks” applied at ranks below the NBA, it was not uncommon for teams to “let the air out of the ball.” Figuratively that meant slowing the pace of the game through the offense relying on abundant passes among teammates, only taking a shot when chances of conversion were extremely high. This approach was often deployed by an inferior opponent as an equalizer to a higher-powered adversary. Former Princeton Coach Pete Carril achieved tremendous success in leading his Ivy Leaguers to unexpected wins over superior competition from larger schools in major conferences.
Establishing a cadence and rhythm have application in the business world. I sometimes coach my interviewing clients in how to slow down the pace of their speaking, finding comfort with pause, hesitation, and even silence to find their groove. It is an excellent technique for taking control of an interview without being “controlling.” As a potential buyer of a product or service, we sometimes encounter salespeople who want us to “buy right there and then.” The deal that is “only going to be available at this price for the next 24 hours,” could be a lure best worth reconsidering.
What does getting on base, stick to it-ness, and setting the pace mean to you? What adages from a coach, teacher, parent, mentor have struck your chords?
The Seed Sower