Player Development

baseballMost of the time I consider the insights I choose to share as doing little more than playing the role of “Master of the Obvious”. I also find it enjoyable to have someone share with me that which should be blatantly obvious, but isn’t. I recently had an experience that made me laugh at myself, as I simultaneously thought, “Why is he telling us something so obvious” and “I never thought of it that way”.

I’ve previously written about baseball and my dissatisfaction with my experience with the local little league coaches (link here). Just as with that post, what I share here is about much more than baseball. I was recently listening to a radio interview with the Manager of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA Team for Cincinnati Reds). While answering questions, he spoke of expectations for the team, highlighted certain players that were performing exceptionally well, and addressed the challenges that come with starting a new team in a new stadium and building a fan base from scratch. Not being much of a baseball fan, I was only idly paying attention. Near the end of the interview he grabbed my attention, as he philosophized about his primary responsibility as a manager in minor league baseball. He wanted to clarify that his job was not to win, his job was “Player Development”. He wanted all to be aware that he would be making decisions during the course of each game that will be questioned by fans and players who are focused merely on winning. Like all of us, he prefers winning, but he was far more interested in creating (or capitalizing on) situations that allowed him to assess how a player performs given certain circumstances. He did not particularly care about winning on any given day, he was here to help baseball players realize their potential, while giving the Cincinnati Reds a chance to win over the horizon.

I thought about it and for about 15 seconds I was puzzled. I, then, quickly began laughing at myself while acknowledging, “of course”. As parents and leaders of teams, how many of us make “Player Development” a deliberate part of our day? How many take a strategic approach to developing the teams we lead and the children we parent? How many of us allow or even encourage failure today, with an eye toward tomorrow’s success?

I was recently conversing with an officer who recommended that I strongly consider making certain things “mandatory” and that I direct specific action. In other words, he thought it would be best if I told people what to do. I told him of my disdain for “The M word” (How many of us are truly present when things are mandatory? I know I am not.) and my belief that weak leaders made things mandatory, weak leaders lead through directives, and weak leaders took away opportunities for others to demonstrate personal initiative. I went on to make him aware that as a leader, I am observing authentic behavior and that I was assessing his potential to one day be in command, as well as everyone else’s for their next career milestone. Yes, when poor decisions are made, inappropriate (or no) action is taken, or there are other compelling circumstances, I will intervene and even tell people exactly what to do. Until then, I am far more interested in the same things articulated by the manager of the Blue Wahoos (Jim Riggleman). I want those with whom I serve to realize their potential, as I strive to meet mine, and I want to do my part to ensure tomorrow’s leaders are even more capable than today’s.

I must admit that I take great satisfaction in watching others rise to the occasion. I sincerely enjoy witnessing others step up to the plate, bat in hand, and ready to give it their all. Sure we may go down swinging periodically, but it is the opportunity to strike out today that prepares us to hit home runs tomorrow. It is the opportunity to fail only to be picked up by a team that builds the requisite trust. It is the opportunity to act authentically that determines whether or not we have what it takes to succeed at the next level.

As a Commanding Officer and self-appointed Chief of Player Development, I know we have players on our team that are more than ready for the next level. We also have players that will likely be in the minors for as long as they choose to play, and still others who will realize that a career in the Navy is not their dream. Regardless, all have the opportunity to develop as part of our team.

Though I laughed at how obvious Manager Riggleman’s point was, it’s not. The majority of us don’t get it. Youth athletic coaches don’t get it, many parents don’t get it, most leaders don’t get it, and just about all private sector CEOs won’t get it. Short term wins often give way to long term failure; while short term failure is often critical to long term success. Let’s focus on the long haul, let’s all make “Player Development” more of a priority.

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