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Kids' sports hold lessons for business

by HARVEY MACKAY
| August 1, 2021 1:00 AM

Watching a kids' ballgame can provide a mini life lesson for observers. The takeaway also applies to business. Astute observers can learn a lot by watching kids play.

My chief of staff, Greg Bailey, told me about his granddaughter's machine-pitch softball team for 7- and 8-year-olds. He cheered them on for two months, ignoring the fact that they weren't very good. They didn't even score a run until the final two weeks of the season.

Then came the state tournament, where they won their first game — by forfeit — when the other team didn't show up for an early morning game. They took full advantage of the extra practice time, with a six-on-six scrimmage.

They lost their next game by a single run, which sent them to the consolation round of the tournament. The next day, they shocked everyone and won 6-0. In the consolation championship game, they were behind 4-1 and somehow came back to win 5-4. Truly unbelievable!

This team that struggled mightily all season had won three out of four games in a state tournament — their only victories all summer. Or were they?

I'm sure there are many scenarios like this around the country, but I want to focus on attributes that this team showed that can apply to all of us. Their victories went far beyond their exploits on the ballfield.

Most important is that they maintained a positive attitude all season long, despite repeated losses. I would submit that these little players held on to every hope and kept trying, even when their prospects looked mighty dismal.

They got better as the season went on. Their progress was slow sometimes, but with encouragement from very patient coaches and fans, these kids worked hard toward improving their softball skills and teamwork. All these girls loved each other and the game. They never lost interest. They loved what they were doing, and they kept showing up with enthusiasm, ready to play and maybe even win!

Finally, they always had fun. They cheered each other on and chanted in the dugout regardless of the score. Every inning was an opportunity. Every girl was an important part of the team. Most barely knew each other at the start of the season, but they ended as great buddies.

They had come together as a team, largely due to the efforts of management (aka coaches), and the story had a happy ending.

Granted, business tends to be a little more complicated than kids' games. But have you ever heard of a business that was successful while projecting a negative attitude? Businesses would be wise to follow the example of this young team. I know of few organizations that haven't suffered through slow periods or outright slumps. When you have nowhere to go but up, find a way to dig yourself out of that hole. Positive thinking, when combined with realistic goals, can change outcomes.

Maintaining a positive attitude when things are gliding along is naturally easier, but I would caution against getting so comfortable with success that you let your guard down. Teams that get used to winning and suddenly suffer a couple losses know that passing up a practice or taking their games less seriously might have contributed to their reversal of fortune.

There's a lesson for businesses in here. Keep doing what you did that made you successful, and don't neglect the basics. At the same time, find areas that you can improve and make the changes that will take your organization to the next level.

Never give in to the temptation to feel like you can't fail. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! The true measure of a successful person is someone who works just as hard — or harder — once they have "made it." They don't fall prey to the trap of working harder only when things aren't going their way.

These young ballplayers probably don't realize that sports are preparing them for future challenges. They are busy working hard yet having fun, enjoying the social aspects of teamwork and celebrating their small victories. Do you recognize parallels to the world of work there?

I give a lot of credit to kids' sports coaches who volunteer so much time teaching, encouraging, disciplining and celebrating with their teams. I also value managers who do the same for their professional workers. They are the real winners.

Mackay's Moral: Fun and games are great teachers for success.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.