When I coached my kids’ Little League teams (some of my favorite sports moments, by the way), I liked to hold “extra practices,” where I would have the kids over to our house, or take them to a Yankees game or out for pizza.
These were all team-building events. I always wanted the kids to understand the importance of teamwork, in addition to the importance of doing their best - as opposed to being the best.
But truth be told, I also loved winning.
At the beginning of each season, I’d always have a team meeting, where, together with their parents, the whole team would vote on whether the goal of the season was to have fun – or to win.
Most of the parents usually balked at this; they thought Little League should be all about having fun.
But the kids usually voted for winning.
So then I’d ask the kids if they were willing to put in the work necessary to win. I warned them that I’d keep them later at practices and that I’d ride them pretty hard sometimes.
They still voted for winning.
I also made each kid write down a personal goal – what they wanted to get out of the season – in addition to which position they wanted to play.
I would meet some kids before practice to help them learn their desired position.
“Just because you want to play that position doesn’t mean you’re ready to play that position,” I’d say. Then I’d help them work towards attaining the applicable skills. I wouldn’t send a out a kid who was unprepared, under the guise of just having fun. That wouldn’t be fair to the kid, or the team.
It seems to me that too many people want the winning without the work. Maybe that starts with how we treat our kids – maybe we don’t impress enough upon them that winning takes a lot of work.
I think – I hope – that the kids I coached won’t be victims of that mindset. I hope that by giving them a real voice in their Little League destiny, I showed them that they can be what they want – but that no one else can do the necessary work for them.
I think this kind of communication is invaluable as a manager, too. When you give your employees agency in their own jobs – when you help them steer, as opposed to just grabbing the wheel – they tend to work harder and smarter. Having people clearly communicate their goals, by writing them down, is a great way to set this in motion.
I recall a neighbor chiding me that my Little League players wouldn’t remember me and all the time I put into them years from now.
He may be right; who knows?
But one year, after we had won the championship, the team presented me with a scrapbook full of photos from the season, and in it, one parent wrote: “Thanks for being a great coach, for not being politically correct, and for teaching the kids the importance of winning!”
Here’s a little secret: I hope it it all was as much fun for the kids as it was for me!