The last two weeks of August are one of my favorite times of the year. That’s when I get to enjoy the culmination of the world’s largest elimination tournament, the Little League Baseball® World Series.
The best teams of 11- and 12-year-olds from eight regions in the United States and eight international regions compete for the championship in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. More than 7,000 teams from around the world begin competing during the first week of July and more than 16,000 games are played before the final tournament weeks begin.
I never played organized sports but love baseball and its traditions. While the Little League Baseball® World Series always provides entertaining action, I have noticed valuable leadership lessons we can also glean from this annual tournament.
Lesson #1: It’s about fundamentals. Baseball relies on a solid understanding of the rules and disciplined execution. There are the basics of hitting, throwing, and catching. More sophisticated skills like running the bases, blocking wild pitches, or throwing to the cut-off man give teams a competitive edge. Leaders can easily ignore the fundamental skills that will make them more effective—emotional intelligence, self-awareness, listening, and offering praise.
Lesson #2: Practice sportsmanship and show respect. Baseball games have winners and losers. As the tournament progresses, the reality that their long season of hard work is over can be emotional for the players. I am always impressed as teams line up to congratulate each other. They exchange smiles and hugs knowing the friendships they made will endure beyond the game’s outcome. Leaders often miss this lesson. They fail to acknowledge other’s contributions, make every decision about winning, focus on getting your own way, or refuse to extend common courtesies to competitors.
Lesson #3: Expect the unexpected. The tournament always produces surprising outcomes. This year the Great Lakes region won a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Northwest region. The West region outdueled the Southeast region in an 11-inning marathon that equaled the longest game in World Series history. Most leaders would agree that unexpected things happen in life and business. Learn how to celebrate small victories, rally team members when necessary, and be prepared to learn from any surprises when they do occur.
Lesson #4: Love what you are doing and have fun doing it. The players who compete in this tournament love the game. Their faces sometimes register concern or disappointment, but mostly there are wide smiles and pure joy. A long home run often sparks awe, even from the pitcher. Leaders who love what they do are easy to spot. They possess a positive attitude and genuinely have fun at work. This creates a high-energy, inspiring workplace where employees feel appreciated and empowered.
Lesson #5: Provide supportive coaching. The real heroes in this annual tournament are the dozens of volunteers who serve as coaches. They know their players and how to help them in ways that fit their needs. Leaders should never overlook the value of mentoring and coaching, regardless of how long someone has been on the team. An inspiring and vulnerable leader is often the catalyst teams need to exceed their own expectations.
This annual baseball tournament has a lasting impact on these youngsters.
Consider that 54 Little League Baseball® World Series alumni have gone on to play Major League Baseball. Numerous politicians, business leaders, actors, and musicians also played Little League®.
This year’s tournament concludes next weekend. It will be another year of memories made, life lessons learned, and the joy of sportsmanship experienced. It might be the Little League, but the leadership lessons are big. Play ball!
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com