You Gotta Say Something

Read this blog long enough and you’ll hopefully see my given talent.  No it’s not the writing; unless you happen think that’s my talent …. then if so, you have my undying gratitude for your seemingly low standards.  It’s also not my uncanny ability to identify actors just by their voices which happens to be my lame superpower.

No, “I see patterns”.  I just whispered that like the famous line from Sixth Sense, and the woman sitting next to me in the restaurant is now staring at me wondering “what’s wrong with that guy”.

I recognize patterns in many structured and unstructured environments.  It’s kinda like being the opposite of Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park.  Where Dr. Ian Malcom sees chaos … I see patterns.  This “talent” often helps me break the log jam on problems by thinking of a different problem with an analogous pattern to one I’m facing and it can give me a direction to start heading in.

Let me give you an example, I was watching my youngest Benji play baseball last week.  Benji really likes playing baseball, he loves going to the field, getting his uniform on (although sometimes it can be hard to find every piece), he loves running the bases and being on the field and always sliding at home.  There is nothing he doesn’t like about the game … even when his team loses.


And this season … his team has lost  … not that’s too weak a term.  They have been repeatedly destroyed.  And this game was no different.

In fact by the 4th inning they are losing 20 – 0.  They would have stopped the game due to the mercy rule but in this case Benji’s team hadn’t even made it through the entire batting order yet, so they continued the game just so each player would get once chance to bat.

Losing hurts, it can break down your will to play, to coach and to try.  I know because I lost a lot in my sporting career.  I played three sports in high school Football, Wrestling and Track and wasn’t particularly good at any of them.  I’ve seen the look on a players face when they are just going through the motions (just look at the current NY Giants).  And I could see it that night on the baseball fields but not in the face of the players, I could see it in their coaches.  Benji’s coaches are broken men.

Late in the game, Ben was playing Third and I was a little worried because the other team could really smack the ball (did I mention the score was 20 – 0) and I was a little afraid that his fielding skills wouldn’t be up to the task of protecting himself, let alone fielding the ball cleanly.  So I yelled and reminded him to be “Baseball Ready” as the first batter came up.  The first batter hit a ball passed the second baseman and he eventually ended up at second.  The next batter steps up and hits the ball toward third.  Ben leans to the left and cleanly fields the ball and as he looks up the unforced runner from second is standing next to him, inches away, so what does Ben do …. (despite the cries of “Tag Him”) he turns and darts in the other direction so he can tag third base.

By this time the base running Coach has send his base runner back to second and he is safe.

Now this is a developmental season, the fall always is.  It doesn’t have the over the top pressure that is so prevalent of the spring season.  So I expected Ben’s Coach who was less then 10 yards behind him to explain that tagging a runner also get’s him out.  I wasn’t expecting him to break into an extended lesson on forced and unforced base running, but they needed to say something so Ben could understand why the boy he saw running to third wasn’t out.  But there was nothing.  Nothing except the head coach for the other team yelling out to our coach that “someone needs to fire that third baseman.”  Ben didn’t hear it … and he was “joking” … but I heard it.

After the game when coach had given his post game message to the boys and as all the other kids and parents we leaving.  I took Ben back out on the field and placed him right back in his third base position.  We then talked about how he could have tagged the boy to get him out and even introduced the forced/unforced runner concept to him.

I took him out on the field and placed him back in that position so that when I gave him new information to use he could place it in the proper context.  If the Coach had tried to talk about the same concept at the next practice three days later the opportunity to provide the best learning, or feedback, would have already been lost.  Whether it sticks or not may be a different story all together, but thinking about this got me thinking about how we deliver feedback as managers to members of our teams at work(Pattern).

The same rule applies when we are working with our teams in business.  For feedback to be effective it has to be timely.  No one wakes up in the morning and says “man I can’t wait to deliver some hard hitting negative feedback today” … it’s got to be the most unpleasant part of any manager’s job.  So naturally it’s something that many managers drag out instead of addressing immediately.  But by waiting you are not helping the employee and you are not doing your job.  Feedback, like bad news, doesn’t get better with age.  I’ve even seen some managers wait so long to deliver negative feedback that they admitted to me they can’t even discuss the issue with the employee.  When that happens those Managers look exactly like those broken men who coach Ben’s baseball team, they look as though they are just going through the motions.

Wait too long and your team will start turning on you … they can see the problems and they also see that you aren’t doing anything to address them.  Believe me, I’m speaking from personal experience here.  They may start hollering for someone to be fired … and you may find you are the Third Baseman.  It may not be your favorite aspect of being a Manager but you have to say something.


Disclaimer:  I am not writing this to be critical of Benji’s coaches, this was simply an observation I made.  I’ve been a youth league basketball and soccer coach as well as Cub Scout Leader and I know that incredible amount of thankless work these volunteers do.  I am very appreciative of all of my boys’ coaches, as the bulk of my free time is spent leading Cub Scouts and there is no way I could do both.  I actually like this head coach because prior to each game he gets all the players together in the outfield, everyone get’s down on one knee and they say the Lord’s Prayer together, he’s a good guy.

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