4 Business Lessons from Girls’ Softball

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I am (usually) the first to admit when I am wrong…

…and I had one of those moments very recently.

Stick with me here while I set this up.

This last weekend, my 11 year-old niece played in one of the USSSA girls’ fast-pitch softball World Series tournaments.  My family and I packed up and drove to the tournament to cheer her on.   And while I am always happy to see my niece play and spend time with the family, I must admit – in the interest of full transparency – I wasn’t that excited about watching young girls play softball ALL SATURDAY LONG.  It’s not that I’m down on girls’ softball – it’s just that I couldn’t see myself spending ALL DAY there.

Fortunately for me – my ignorance didn’t get in the way of me witnessing something truly great!

Let me lay this out for you quickly and simply.

My niece’s team played a total of thirteen 90+ minute games in this tournament, six of which were on Saturday alone.  In this double-elimination set up, they found themselves fighting through the loser’s bracket after an early loss.  The 12-girl team also found themselves down one pitcher due to injury.  Consequently, they played the entire tournament with only two pitchers,  one of whom was my niece, Destiny.

NOW at this point in the story – let me tell you that if you’ve ever thought that young girls’ sports aren’t exciting – take it from me.  You’re wrong.  I was.  And I’m not too big to admit it. To say that this experience was humbling would be an understatement.

First, it completely terrifies me how fast an 11-year-old girl can pitch a softball – underhand.

Second, these girls that are 4-foot-nothing can HIT! …and field!  (For those of you unfamiliar with softball/baseball terms I simply said “they can play!”)

I was in complete awe of the skill at this age.  The most shocking thing, however, was that they just kept going and going – pitch after pitch – play after play – game after game.  Most adults I know would have wimped out long before these girls did.

The six back to back Saturday games spanned 14 hours in temperatures that had a heat index of around 100⁰F.

I found myself cheering on each individual player much like I would my favorite professional or collegiate athletes.  Listening to their parents – I was drawn in to their personal stories, which made it more fun.  It was like watching (a very long) awesome lifetime movie unfold before my eyes.

Throughout the tournament, these girls scored a total of 123 runs while only allowing 33.  Wow!

Their hard work paid off! In the end, they found themselves in the championship game.  The only trouble was that they were going to have to beat the other team twice in a row to clinch the championship title (because of the double elimination rule), but the other team would only have to beat them once.

As they went head to head, Destiny’s team blew the other team away in the first game.  They carried that momentum into game two – and were up 6-0 at the end of the third inning.  Unfortunately, the girls were worn out (as you had to play more games in the losers’ bracket) and the other team made a late rally in the final innings to beat them.

They left the tournament in second place as far as the USSSA was concerned.  But in my heart and the hearts of the parents and family – they are champions!

Proud Uncle Side Note:  My niece won the MVP Pitching award for best tournament pitcher.  I’m so proud! 🙂

So what does this have to do with business?

Tons.  Here are FOUR KEY LESSONS I walked away with.

ONE:  Cheer on your teammates…even when they make mistakes.  While I witnessed several great plays throughout the game, I also observed a host of errors too.  Nobody’s perfect. But whether success or failure – the girls were the first to genuinely cheer each other on – time and time again.  They clearly had each other’s backs and continually lifted each other’s spirits.

 Business Application:  How do you encourage your teammates?  In the workplace, our teammates need us to genuinely cheer them on.  Lift them up.  Encourage their efforts.  Share in their successes.  And help them get past their failures quickly.  They need us to have their back – and vice versa.

TWO:  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  The second base player that they affectionately referred to as ‘Tic-Tac’ was of course the shortest and youngest on the team.  The first time I saw her step up to bat I thought, “oh boy – this isn’t going to be good” and even looked away.  And then I heard that solid ‘crack’!  You know – the sound when the bat connects perfectly with the ball.  I whipped my head around to see the ball flying into deep right field.  I was in shock.  As I watched Tic-Tac for the rest of the series – I discovered that she was a softball monster!  She was a regular deep hitter, fielded the ball superbly, and caught several fly balls on the run.  I certainly misjudged her.

Business Application:  How do you learn about others?  We judge people we don’t really know all of the time.  Sometimes it’s by brief first impressions, other’s opinions, or just general assumptions we make about them.  However, I challenge you not to succumb to an uninformed opinion.  Get to know people for who they are, the true capabilities they possess, and the experiences and knowledge they can share.  Who knows – you may have a power player on your hands and you don’t even know it.

THREE:  There’s no crying in softball!  Oh wait – yes there is!  I saw it. BUT – through tears of frustration, exhaustion, and sometimes pain, I watched these 10-11 year old girls fight on.  It was inspiring! In the very last game – after pitching all day – my niece stood on the pitchers’ mound in the final innings.  She was brought in to relieve her worn-out partner.  And as tears streamed down her face from being exhausted herself, she kept throwing pitch after pitch.  Talk about digging deep!  It was a testament to sheer determination of will that all of these girls continued on.

Business Application:  How strong is your resolve? Perseverance is critical to accomplishing any great task, especially when you’re up against tough odds.  When it gets tough, double down on your resolve.  It is these moments that define individuals and teams.

FOUR:  Always be a good sport.  One of the things I was most impressed with was that the girls exhibited what I would call stellar sportsmanship.  Every time someone was hurt (on either team) the girls took a knee immediately out of respect.  At the end of every game – win or lose – the girls would meet the other team at the pitcher’s mound join hands and pray together.  They always congratulated the other team.  And in the final championship game – they showed their grace as they cheered the other team on as they received their first place award.

Business Application:  How do you demonstrate business sportsmanship?   One of my favorite life lessons You can’t always control what happens to you (even when you try your best), but you can control your own reaction to it.  Business sportsmanship is displayed through our attitudes, integrity, and ethical/moral behavior.  Always choose the higher road – regardless of what happens to you.

Sports always provides great parallels for business.  There were actually several more lessons from this day that would be business applicable.  But beyond the four I shared above, I want to call out my own very personal learning with which I started the story – don’t knock it until you try it.  I was clearly wrong about girls’ softball.  It is pretty awesome!

The thing that caught my attention through all of this and that should catch yours is that these lessons came from the behaviors displayed by a group of strong and determined young ladies.  They certainly set the bar high for us adults.  And if they can do it, we can do it!

What business lessons have you learned from kids’ activities?

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