Back in the day, I coached all my boys in just about every sport you can imagine.
I only had one bad experience–the 2006 Devil Rays. To say the Devil Rays were the second coming of the Bad News Bears baseball team would be a gross insult to Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau.
My debacle with the Devil Rays can be traced back the spring draft. I was unable to attend and allowed the recreation league commissioner to pick my players for me. Rookie mistake.
All the other fathers formed secret alliances with each other so their very athletic sons could be on the same team. When I returned home after the draft, Jack scanned the roster then told me that I needed to make better adult friends.
By nature, I am an optimist, but a sense of gloom overwhelmed me from what I saw the first five minutes of our first practice:
(1) A helicopter mom cheered her daughter for putting her new glove on correctly. I, too, was impressed considering she failed to remove her watermelon ring pop first. (By the way, every player had a new glove . . . a terrible omen. Translation: I have never played this game before, nor do I have older siblings whom I practiced with and who passed down a well worn glove to me.)
(2) Two teammates hoarded the ball bucket and threw at anyone who came close–including other parents attempting to stop the carnage.
(3) One kid asked for snacks before we started.
(4) One debutante arrived in a pristine major league baseball uniform. Terrible omen #2. See Translation above. We all realized he had never played, by the way, when he ran to third base after he (amazingly!) made contact with the ball. It was a foul tip. He ran anyway, but gingerly, as not to soil his uniform.
(5) Three players were lying in a clover patch down the right field line hunting for the four leaf variety. They found none. Terrible omen #3 for our year.
(6) Two pale, sickly kids carried asthma inhalers; I requested that three wild bucks double down on Adderall 30 minutes before the next practice; and one nervous Nelly made me hold his EPI pin because he was allergic to grass. (I penciled him in at catcher.)
(7) More than one parent wore “I Cousin Eddy” t-shirts. I complimented one of them who said, “Don’t you go falling in love with it now, Coach!” and winked at me.
You get the idea.
I came home and told Christy we would be lucky to win a game. We weren’t lucky at all that summer.
Right or wrong, I decided to forget winning and losing before we even played a game. (This was an easy sell to all the kids except Jack by the way.) The players were pleased as punch to get a uniform and load up on Mountain Dew and Cheetos after each game. My intuition told me that the parents weren’t concerned with the outcome either. They seemed relieved that I was taking their children off their hands for several hours each week.
I took all this as a mandate.
My quest became teaching fundamentals. We took off our ring pops when practice began. We wore our hats with the bill facing forward. We ran to first base when we were lucky enough to hit the ball.
By the middle of the season, our focus on fundamentals began paying off. We weren’t being “mercy ruled” anymore. As we inched closer to being competitive, I noticed a surprising trend. Several players actually started to care if we won or lost.
We ended the year with zero wins and 15 losses. Mercifully, the season was about to end but not before we were slated to play the number one team in the league during the first round of playoffs. (All teams made the playoffs . . . unfortunately.) The team had beaten us by 15 runs during the regular season.
And then, on that late June day in 2006, my very own Miracle on Ice unfolded. The Devil Rays took down the Russians in what many old timers in Fairhope call the greatest upset in our town’s long and illustrious Recreational League history. (I might have had a hand in starting that legend.)
The remarkable turnaround started with the Devil Rays mastering Four Fundamentals:
(1) What am I supposed to do?
(2) How will I be treated?
(3) How am I doing?
(4) How am I supposed to act?
Does it surprise you that my focus on these fundamentals rather than those of throwing, fielding, and hitting with the Devil Rays? We did those too, of course, but this group of 13 kids had no clue what it meant to be a part of a team.
Mastering these fundamentals translates into success for any coach or leader attempting to engage people. Whether it is athletes on a team or co-workers in an organization, each person wants the coach or boss to answer these four fundamental questions.
In March, I spent most of my time with the Devil Rays herding cats and putting out fires. By the time June rolled around the thirteen little Devils were engaged. They played as a team. Wouldn’t you like that for your organization?
Are you ready to master your people issues?
Get your Four Fundamentals checklist here. You’ll see how to easily implement these four questions inside your organization to solve people problems, engage your workforce, and increase productivity in the process.
You might even take down some Russians.