Lessons from a Softball Coach

13 Apr

First of all I need to attribute the contents of this post.  Meredith Bronk, the Chief Operating Officer of OST told me very clearly that she doesn’t blog.  So I suggested that I interview her OST softball playerfor a posting.  Nope.  That didn’t happen.  But the entire scope of my thought today is based upon a conversation we had earlier today.

I need to start off by saying that I am an acknowledged sports unenthusiast.  Outside of intramural basketball in late elementary school and middle school (where my 6 foot height at age 12 was the primary qualification) and a brief entry in competitive swimming, I have never participated in sports.  My brother on the other hand was an Olympic-caliber swimmer and 23-time NCAA All-American swimmer during his career.  Today, he coaches swimming as his passion, if not his career.  But not me.

So this morning, after a conversation about OST’s mentoring program, I asked Meredith about her softball team.  OST actually sponsors a team of eight-year-olds which Meredith coaches.  Meredith was an accomplished college softball player and now takes that passion into the lives of her daughters.  She described how she had her parent meeting (apparently parents are more difficult than the kids), and then stood around second base in a circle getting to know the girls, some of whom are so new to the game that they do not know the location of second base.

She then described how she had the girls practice throwing for ten minutes.  If there are nineteen things that these young athletes needed to know about throwing, there were two things that she wanted them to focus on.  While the girls were throwing, Meredith went around to individuals in the group and gently reinforced those two important techniques.  After throwing, it was catching and then hitting.  Finally, as she always does, she ends with a fun game.

She could tell I was thinking about analogies – I love analogies and insights from diverse sources…

Meredith and I talked about how coaching is different from teaching.  Teaching is the impartation of facts.  That’s different from discipleship, training or mentoring.  Coaching implies the development of a skill.  We typically think about it in sports, but it can easily be broader.  Coaching is all about the guided practice through which skills are learned.  It involves a demonstration (Meredith showed them how to throw), observed practice, expectation setting, motivation and concrete feedback.

It reminded me of the book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large of FORTUNE magazine.  The thesis of the book is the ability to excel is not a product of a God-given ability, or a “natural gift” but rather the result of deliberate practice.  This is not the same as working hard, if it was everyone who has worked hard in a career for decades would be expected to achieve greatness.  And we know that is not the case.  In his book, Colvin describes cases from musicians, to tennis players, to professional golfers, to portfolio managers and professional speakers – and in each case, the combination of a skilled coach and deliberate practice made a difference in the individual’s performance.

So as we embark on a new mentoring program for OST employees, I am excited to think about coaching our staff: figuring out how to have thoughtful and deliberate practice to develop skills, what are the nineteen things they need to know, but what are the two they have to focus upon; and how can I observe and provide effective feedback and demonstrate the skills that are important for our team to learn.  I think we are going to learn a lot in this process.

And I think I need to take some time on a Saturday to watch some eight-year-olds practice and learn from a softball coach that I know…

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