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Ordinary People Taking Action
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I’m a mom of two middle-school-aged children who are both active with sports. My son plays basketball and soccer; my daughter is a dancer and cheerleader. Before settling into these activities, they both went through various years of trying different sports. My son, as it turned out, became a phenomenal baseball player in elementary school. Stay with me for a moment while I talk about his 7-year baseball career, and how I think it relates to the professional world.
It was spring 2009 when we registered Jake, then 5 years old, for his first team sport. Although he looked awesome in the baseball outfit, the baseball skills weren’t quite there. If memory serves, there might have been more playing in the dirt than playing baseball that season. We – really, he – stuck with it.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Jake had evolved into a solid player with a great pitch. I think it was in third grade, maybe fourth, he had a pitch so accurate that he could throw strikes every single time. Three batters. Three pitches each. Three strike-outs. He wasn’t the fastest pitcher, but he had accuracy, a skill that many his age hadn’t developed. His coach that season was great and played to his strength. Jake could also really throw a ball, so he would often play third base. In that case, his job was to get the ball off the line and throw to the first baseman for the out. He spent a season batting left-handed, then right-handed. He was a left-hand pitcher. He was regarded as a kid with huge potential. I think this is where that phrase “good to great” is appropriate.
In the end, despite such promise, his baseball career didn’t go further than Little League. A combination of things played into his decision to give it up, but a huge factor was the coach. Although Jake had spent years getting a lot of coaching, in the last couple of years, it had dwindled to very little. There had been a shift because although he was still an accurate pitcher, his pitches lacked speed. On top of that, he struggled as a hitter. The coaches, as many do, paid more attention to the players at the top – to make them even better – than the players who were struggling. Admittedly, Jake saw both sides of the attention spectrum from coaches.
Jake gave up baseball at the end of sixth grade. His sports of choice became soccer and basketball – both of which he excels in. Both of which provide him with the attention of his coaches. Both of which offer good to great opportunities.
When I think about Jake’s experience with sports, I can’t help of think of parallels in the business world. When you’re on the right team, doing the right things, making the right impact – real or perceived – you get the opportunities to do more. The high performing employees get the coaching, the opportunities, the playing time – to practice, to learn, to become even better. With opportunity comes even more potential.
When you’re struggling – even if the potential is there – it’s easy for others to look over you. The potential you had might begin to fade. The excitement you started with might lessen. Eventually, you might lose interest altogether. The similarities to Jake’s sports experience are evident here. The difference is that, in the professional world, it might not be as easy to switch teams.
When Jake shifted focus from baseball to basketball and soccer, no one really questioned him. We were greeted with comments about how it makes sense to give up a sport to focus on what you really love. People seemed to miss the fact that what Jake really loved was baseball. Yet, as a sixth grader with limited coaching and guidance, he saw that his career highlights might have already passed.
Jake today, in eighth grade, is a great soccer and basketball player. He has terrific coaches for both teams and opportunities to play – to excel. Yet, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if, in sixth grade, he had he been given the coaching and support he needed to really maximize his potential – in baseball.
Sometimes I look at employees and I see them coming off the high of what is equivalent to their peak baseball season. They’re feeling like their career highlights have ended, and that after seven years in the same role, same team, same company – it is time to move on. Is this really the case? Or is it time for the coach to double down and support them in a different way to maximize their potential again?