As a little league coach – by the way‚ I have the fortunate benefit of managing a great group of 11 year old boys (my son included) in regular season and travel ball – I am always amazed at the real world life and business lessons that the game (and other organized sports) affords. To give you a little background‚ our 11 year old team is a committed group of boys who have been playing together for 3 years. Not one of them is necessarily a superstar in his own right but together they have developed into a team that has character‚ is exciting to watch and wins more than their share of games. This past weekend the team struggled a bit and following the game‚ we had our customary on field post-game discussions where we talked about the game‚ our strengths‚ weaknesses and the game plan for next week. For me these conversations are the most enjoyable part of the game and I am always amazed at the insights that these 11 year old boys share during this talk. Many times‚ whether they know it or not‚ playing ball teaches them more about life and business than baseball. The following are just some of the baseball topics we discuss and how I believe they could equally apply to business:
You Cant Win Without Defense. A good defense is the building block for a competitive team and a competitive business. If you don’t have a solid foundation – no matter how strong your offensive game (i.e.‚ great products or services) – your business will not succeed. When it comes to business‚ a “solid defense” is one that has:
- Pre-Established Business Systems. That is‚ a pre-formulated game plan for consistently delivering value to customers‚ maintaining customer relations and ensuring high quality products or services that add value to your customers and clients. Just like players who know (before a ball is hit) where to make a play and when to back-up another player‚ so too must a business have pre-established defensive systems and a back up plan.
- A Plan for Protecting Your Business Assets. That is‚ a consistent plan of action where you ensure that the business assets that you are building are critical to your business (think: trademarks‚ confidentiality requirements‚ valuable customer lists‚ patents‚ pricing information‚ vendor agreements‚ sources of supply and key employees) are protected. When it comes to protecting your business assets you cannot afford to be “reactive” as your business (as with all successful businesses) is always subject to a potential threat – whether internally from vendors‚ employees or suppliers or externally from competitors‚ government regulators and plaintiff lawyers. So too with a good baseball team that knows to shift its defensive players based on where they are at in the opposing teams batting lineup.
A Good Offense Starts with Pitch Selection. So this weekend the boys hit a number of infield ground outs on pitch counts when they had no strikes. That is‚ they were at bat‚ no strikes on them (so they could be selective) and a pitch comes (maybe a strike but not the best pitch to hit – little outside‚ little inside‚ etc.) and what happens next‚ they swing‚ make contact and‚ more often than not‚ grounded out. Turns out that their problem was not their skill‚ batting mechanics or their swing but rather their pitch selection. So we talked and while I advised them to always be “aggressive” when the “pitch count” is in their favor that‚ sometimes‚ being aggressive also means being selective and not swinging at pitches that are just not right. So too with business. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Consider that your resources are limited and that you cannot be all things to all people. Specialize and recognize that‚ like a good hitter‚ when you are faced with a favorable count or business climate don’t get reckless‚ waste resources or spread your team too thin. Rather‚ double-down on what works and serving those customers and clients who have made your business a success. Just taking free swings and depleting excess capital or staffing on tasks that go beyond the core of your business may just be the equivalent of swinging at a bad pitch.
Of course‚ there are exceptions to these points and they are not always universal. Just great to see that baseball can expose 11 year old boys to business principals that I certainly hope will serve them well in life. By the way‚ the photo is a signed ball given to me by the kids after they overcame one of their roughest seasons with a very successful post-season playoff run.