7 Leadership Lessons Learned From A Recreational Softball League

This year I reluctantly played on a recreational softball league with my coworkers. It’s not something I wanted to do but I joined anyways. I played a few games knowing it would be a great way to connect with my coworkers and get a bit of exercise.

Let me start off by telling you why there was reluctance to join the team. This goes back to my childhood and our local Little League baseball system.

The baseball field was basically in our backyard. I could look over our fence and see the baseball field. The concession stand. The playground equipment. It was a wonderland.

Until I joined the baseball team. Then it became a place of dread.

I’ll be the first to admit. I wasn’t the best ball player. No siree. I pretty much stunk.

But what sticks with me is that I wasn’t given much of a chance to play. Sure, during practice I was given the chance to hit, to play the outfield, and enjoy the game. Yet when game time came, I was benched. For the whole season.

This allowed me to feel the humiliation of watching my friends play the game.

Phil got his chance to shine. Jesse was able to swing the back and strike the ball. Nick was able to run the bases.

I got to sit on the bench…

And I entered the recreational softball team with trepidation, as could be expected. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how open the guys were to players who weren’t up to their skill level.

From here, I learned many leadership lessons I never expected to learn from a ball game.

1. Everyone starts with the same count: Our softball league starts everyone out with one ball and one strike. Everyone starts out on the same foot.

In our leadership, we all start as novices. Some of us may start earlier or later than others but we all start with the same count.MS Metal Solutions Softball Team

2. Coaches matter: There’s the head coach of the team, then there’s the first base coach, and finally the third base coach. They’re there to give you direction. They’ll also let you know whether or not they think it’s a good idea to run or stay on the bag.

Every leader needs at least one great coach in their life. The coach is there to give guidance to the leader and to help make wise decisions. Choosing the right coach and deciding whether or not to listen to his advice can make all the difference in the level of leadership you reach.

Joesph Lalonde hitting a softball3. When you connect with the ball, you gotta run: At some point you’re going to connect with the ball. You’ve got to be willing and able to run once you hear the crack of the bat as the ball meets metal. Run for the base!

You’ll be throwing out ideas and visions as a leader. Your idea will connect at some point. When it does, you have to be willing to run with it. Don’t hesitate. Run full tilt!

4. There will be times when you have to throw caution to the wind: I made a base hit and we had two outs. The next man came up to the plate and I was ready. The first base coach was instructing me that we already had two outs and once the batter connected with the ball, I was to RUN. There was no point in being cautious at this point as there was only one more out to be had.

Sometimes you’ll come to a place in leadership where it won’t matter what happens. All that matters is you put forth all your effort and go for the next objective. If you make it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine. You gave the effort and tried.

5. Having the best tools doesn’t guarantee success: There are ball players who come dressed in all of the proper gear. They’ve got the cleats, the baseball pants, and the baseball jersey. They look like they’re ready to play the game. Until they’re on the field. Then you see them drop the ball, trip over the bag, and strike out. The gear really didn’t matter.

The same holds true in leadership. You can have all the tools in the world. If you don’t know how to properly use the tools, they mean nothing. Learn to use the equipment properly and you can rock out your leadership.

6. Practice the correct techniques: Softball players know if they want to improve, they’ve got to practice, practice practice. More than that, they’ve got to practice the proper techniques. They’ve got to perfect their form. They’ve got to increase their speed. They’ve got to make sure they’re doing the practice right.

Your leadership will suffer if you’re practicing the wrong techniques. Learn from great leaders that have gone before you. Follow their example. Do what they did. And then make it your own.

Brook Kolenic Ready To Bat7. Have fun: Like I said at the beginning of the post, I was never a great ball player. My youth baseball career had me sitting my behind on the bench. I took the game too seriously and so did the coach. He wanted to win (and he should have that desire). But it was a youth league that was meant to have fun. And I think we lacked that on our team.

My work softball team knew different. They knew we were out there to bond and have a good time. We might not have won many games but we did enjoy ourselves.

Leaders, you need to be focused on the win but you also have to make the journey enjoyable. Don’t make the trek to victory so miserable no one wants to succeed. Instead, make it fun and make it a success.

Question: What have you learned from joining a recreational sports team? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I haven’t joined a team, but was on many different teams in phys-ed class in school. I was often not the first person chosen, nor was I the last (phew!) but what I did learn is that each person on the team has his or her “job”, and the team cannot function properly if it is missing one component.

    This applies to many areas of life; your computer will still work if you don’t have the internet, but you won’t be able to check your email without the internet component.

    Leaders need to remember that their team needs everyone! The MVP (most valuable player) is JUST AS important as the MIP (most insignificant player).

    Yes, I just coined this acronym. 🙂

    • Lorraine, thanks for sharing a bit of your story.

      I love the acronym you coined. Though I’m not sure I’d like to be tagged with that label.

      • Me, neither, but it was necessary to make my point. I think…

        • It was necessary. The most insignificant player is still important.

          • timlittlepublisher

            Baseball in grade school was tough since I was overweight and awkward but with time I perfected my swing and now the biggest problem is blocking my eyes with
            randolph engineering

  • Carol Peterson

    Ah! Great points, Joe. As it relates to writing, I see I get stuck on 3 and 4. Once I get my book written and even after the publisher sends me my nifty advance copy–ouch–I know I gotta get really serious about the marketing and promotion; ’cause even if #5 I have a great product, it won’t sell itself. And the publisher won’t sell it for me. Alas, the key I suppose is to incorporate #7 fun into it all. Thanks for this post, Joe!

    • You’re welcome Carol! Glad to see I hit some points that leaders are actually stumbling upon as well. What could you do to improve the issues you face because of failure to run with a hit or from failing to throw caution to the wind?

  • Nice one, Joe – just had 4 games over the weekend. My extra point would be: pick and choose your battles. Don’t slide on a gravel field at a recreational game! #NotWorthIt

    • Great addition Nathan. Some battles aren’t worth the pain or struggle they bring. How do you choose which ones to fight?

  • Joe, I really like #6. I wrote a piece on preparation and practice and they’re both critical to success. Whether playing ball or coaching, speaking or writing, we have to prepare and practice for when we get called upon to step into the spot light.

    A fun read =)

    • Awesome Ellory! Is the piece on preparation and practice available online to read? Would love to take a look at it.

      • Joe, Here is the link: http://e80p.com/11qOHBS. I wrote it during the time when Jeremy Lin was all over the news.

        I’d love your feedback!

        • Ellory, I’m sorry I missed this comment! Checking out the post right now.

  • I really liked #3. I’ve seen too many people get so close to their dreams but they don’t follow through. Or they make an advancement but instead of pushing forward they shrink back.

    I don’t want to shrink back and I don’t want to be so busy that I can’t see when I’ve hit the ball. I want to hit it and GO!

    • TC, those are some true observations you’ve made. People shrink back when they’re so close to success. It’s all about pushing through.

  • Impressive post. I really liked the way your interpreted a baseball game into a leadership scenario. I agree with your point that leadership is really necessary to attain your goal with full quality and efficiency may it be any field of life.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post George. One of the great things about life is that there are lessons all around us. We just have to look for them.

  • Sreedev Soman

    Nicely written. The scenario of baseball and connecting it with leadership qualities was
    well put and deserves a standing ovation. Sometimes it will be the
    minutest thing which helps us to realize ourselves…good job…

  • Peggy Nolan

    I practice martial arts (Muay Thai Kickboxing) and teach yoga. I recently started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (after many excuses and my own anxiety I might add) and in the seven months I’ve been training the gentle art of jiu-jitsu, I’ve learned a number of important life lessons. Amazing what doing something else, like softball or jiu-jitsu can teach us about ourselves and about life in general.

    Nice article!
    Peggy from UBC

    Peggy Nolan

    • Peggy, your experience shows that we need to step up despite our reservations. Great job on stepping into the role of a trainer for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What’s one lesson you’ve learned from it?

  • I’ve been writing about sport for many years, as the lessons are so clearly in evidence- I love your story of the softball – very nice!

    • When we really look, the lessons are there, aren’t they? What’s another lesson you’ve learned from sports Gordon?

      • Blimey there are loads! From taking part myself (curling and marathon) I’d say I’m struck the most by respect for others, and the fact that success is not guaranteed however hard we may want it or work towards it, but it’s the risk we have to take!

  • whatever2007

    Very well written. Am very poor at analyzing things & the way you have done it is just wonderful. Sports always have many things to teach us, if we look up to it. Keep writing!!

  • When I was kid I played hockey. In one game one of our star players took a cheap shot from one of the players on the opposing team. The score was tied and it was close to the end of the game.

    I wanted to the coach to let me in so I could get some revenge and the coach told me in his Scottish accent, “Sometimes you’ve got to grit your teeth and bear it”.

    That taught me that sometimes life’s not fair and we need to play smart, not with our emotions. Instead of us getting a penalty for ‘getting even’ with that player we went on to win the game.

    • Wonderful lesson to learn Sutton. It can be hard to hold back our anger and desire for revenge.

  • Love this post, Joe!

    One summer, I decided to play church-league softball. I signed up for the men’s league and showed up for my first game. It was like a farm team for the Yankees or something! I was humiliated. Head hung low, I switched over to the co-ed league and my wife joined a team with me.

    I definitely learned to survey the field before you jump in! We had so much more fun playing co-ed than I ever could have in men’s league.

    As an interesting side-note, almost every couple on our team (including us) was pregnant or ended up pregnant by the end of summer. We have yet to play church-league softball again.

    • Haha Justin. Your first experience is similar to what our team felt during the season. But I’m glad you didn’t give up on the game and instead found a league better suited to you.

      And look at the lesson you learned! Many people never learn to survey the field and assess the competition before jumping into an endeavor.

  • I too had an awful experience with sports as a kid. I wasn’t good and played the bench. When I did play, it wasn’t fun. I felt pressure to win, not to enjoy the game. Plus my peers were jerks to me.
    Now, I know I could move beyond my lacking talent and have fun. I played ultimate frisbee in college and learned that it didn’t matter if you stunk (because only one guy was usually really good, cause who plays frisbee right?). Anyways, I agree that you need to step out and throw caution in the wind.

    • I’m sorry you’ve experienced similar situations as I did Alex. It’s no fun but I think there’s lessons to be learned there as well.

  • You also have to take a chance, and get out of your comfort zone sometimes as a leader. I am about as good at softball as I am at saying no to dessert (not good). However, if you don’t occasionally test what is outside of what makes you comfortable you won’t grow. Loved the post, Joe!

    • Tom, I love what you said. Our comfort zones need to be broken once in awhile. We get to experience new situations and realize that we can do more than we think.

    • Great points, Tom. Moving outside our comfort zone is so important.

  • I played sports all through high school and in College, and I must say that sports and Leadership go hand in hand. Even to this day when we play sports you see how people feel when they are picked last or first for that matter. Its about people coming together at all levels for one common goal, and that is to win and have fun. Leadership lessons range from sometimes standing down, to sometimes being more aggressive. Love the fact that you played despite your reluctance. Looks like you smacked the ball pretty good on that picture.

    • Lincoln, your comment brought out another lessons leaders can learn. We’ve got to be aware of how we’re making others feel.

  • This is a magnificent post Joe!!! During High School I ran Cross Country and Track and Field. It taught me the importance of perseverance and endurance when racing or in life.

    • Thanks Dan. Endurance and perseverance are great lessons to learn. They’re valuable to our everyday lives as well.

  • Linda Hyatt Cancel

    The most valuable life lesson that I apply to business opportunity, from years of playing softball, is if the ball is hit to you, know where the play is – especially if it’s a hard-hit grounder!

    • That’s a great lesson Linda! Much like Wayne Gretzky’s quote about skating where the puck will be. We must know what’s happening and where to go next.

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