In the business world, we often talk about working as a team. And if a group of coworkers is a team, I guess that makes their manager a coach of sorts.
But do managers in an office and coaches on a field have much in common? After performing both roles during the last few months, I believe there are some interesting similarities.
A few months ago, we registered our 6-year-old son to play T-ball. He played last year, too, as I mentioned in a column at that time, and my wife, daughters and I had a wonderful time helping with the team and watching him play.
When we signed him up this year, the league organizer mentioned that he was having trouble finding a coach for our son's team. He asked if I'd be willing to help, and I jokingly said I would if he was desperate, sure that someone else would step up to the plate.
As opening day grew closer, it became apparent that no one else was going to be available. The organizer called me, and I officially became a T-ball coach.
I played baseball as a kid, and I like to watch the sport, but I haven't played in decades and certainly never coached. As such, I was more than a little worried as I contacted parents to schedule our first practice. How was I going to organize and motivate five boys between the ages of 4 and 6, several of whom had never played baseball before? What could I teach them? How would I keep their attention and help them develop new skills? And what if their parents were disappointed in my coaching? Surely they'd see that I didn't know what I was doing and ask for me to be replaced.
As I think about it, I felt much the same way when I was asked to be a manager for the first time. How was I going to organize and motivate people when I had never been a manager before? What could I teach them? How would I keep their attention and help them meet their deadlines while developing new skills? And what if they didn't like my management style? Surely they'd see that I didn't know what I was doing and report that to my boss, resulting in a quick demotion ... or worse.
But I survived that first management experience, and I've so far made it through my T-ball coaching career. I called on experienced coaches — my father-in-law and brother-in-law — who gave me some good, concrete pointers about keeping the team "baseball ready" and building their skills. It also helped that I could tell from our first practice that the players' parents would be supportive, coming out on the field during games to direct the boys and giving me encouragement along the way.
In fact, they've reminded me of some of the best supervisors I've had in the workplace, the ones who were willing to get their hands dirty and help when I needed it and who gave me encouragement and good advice.
As for the boys themselves, they've been amazing! There's nothing like the enthusiasm of a little boy who gets to run around on a baseball diamond under a sunny spring sky.
Of course, there are times when when coaching the little fellas requires some patience. Last week, for example, my son had a school field trip in the morning on game day and was over-tired when it was time to play. He refused to come out of the dugout until my wife arrived in the second inning and worked her magic. (I'm still not sure why her words of encouragement saved the day when I couldn't make him budge, but I'm also not surprised.)
Other boys have had struggles in one game or another. Sometimes they're tired and really don't want to play. Other times they get distracted or just want to draw squiggles in the infield dirt. And they often ask when the game will be over, because they want the treat they get as a reward for playing hard.
It's at those times that I've had the most fun as a coach. I try to get around to all of the boys, teaching them how to stand while they're playing a position in the infield, calling out words of encouragement and reminding them to keep their eyes on the ball.
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