A President's Reflections

Thoughts on baseball and success

Posted on February 17, 2013

I last night has the honor of speaking at the dinner an ring ceremony for the 2012 SNHU baseball team that played in the College World Series.  This is what I shared with the gathered players, families, coaches, and staff.

I am pleased to join you and I’ve been thinking a lot about the remarkable season you all had last year.  Last week’s blizzard has meant rescheduling other events and one of those is later tonight, so while I will eventually slip out to make that one, it was important to me to be here with you.

Not because I was a great baseball player in my youth.  I played all four sports and baseball was by far my weakest.  But I love the game you play so well.   I was a ten year old watching every game in the Impossible Dream season of ’67.  Snuck away from work to watch Bucky Dent hit that three-run homer in the 78 playoff game (a guy who had hit just 40 homers in 12 darn seasons up to that point).  I screamed at the TV when Grady Little left Pedro in during game 7 of the ALC against the Yankees and everyone, I mean everyone, knew his arm was shot that game and he had just given up three straight hits.  I could go on: Buckner in 86, redemption in 2004.

I am here because you play the game so well, played the game so well last season, and  it was important for me to say thank you on behalf of the whole SNHU community.  You made us proud.  Back last spring, the whole campus was getting reports from NC and hanging on every update and I joined them.  What a season. 

While no expert in the game beyond being a fan, I do spend a lot of time thinking about success and how teams or organizations get there.  I want to take a minute to share some thoughts as you celebrate last season and think ahead to the new one almost upon us.

There are three things that drive success:

Showing up.  Showing up early, staying late, putting in the hours, and working hard at it.  We love to talk about talent in America, especially when it comes to sports and, of course, you have to have talent.  But everyone in this room knows people with dazzling talent who squandered it because they lacked the work ethic and commitment.  Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers talks about putting in 10,000 hours – that’s what is required to get to excellence.  It’s roughly ten years.  Starting when they were kids, it’s what Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and Dustin Pedroia put in before they really reached the highest expression of their game.

Ninety percent of success is showing up and digging down into the work.  It’s about diligence in little things: the small details, every practice, and not cutting corners.  The great John Wooden, one of the best basketball coaches to ever live, started by instructing players on how to wear their socks and lace their sneakers.  Why?  Because success starts with the smallest details. 

Van Halen had it in their huge, multi-page contracts that there would be no brown M&Ms in their dressing rooms.  Why?  Not because they were prima-donnas, as everyone who heard the story thought.  It was because they realized that if a promoter failed to see to that detail, buried as it was in a thick contract, they couldn’t be trusted to see to things like multi-ton lights, high voltage systems, and the extra time their groundbreaking shows required for set up and take down time.  Real danger to the band.  (http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2012/02/14/146880432/the-truth-about-van-halen-and-those-brown-m-ms)  The details matter.

Culture.  Organizations can have great plans, big budgets, endless resources and talent galore, but fail because their cultures are awful. Culture – the way human beings with all the complexity of human nature, the messiness and irrationality as well as the good traits, come together is the most powerful force we know.  When the Sox crashed and burned at the end of 2011 a culture gone awry was a big part of the problem.  The Philadelphia Eagles, the ostensible dream team of the NFL, couldn’t even make the playoffs.  Culture.  As management guru Peter Drucker has said about business: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”  It trumps everything.

 

Leadership.  Leaders set the culture.  They articulate—and more importantly live – the values of the group.  They keep people in line and drive out the behaviors that don’t support the culture.  And culture is found in not only the big things, but in the small details too.  Leaders are the ones who preserve the stories – evoke the successes and defeats, the heroes and villains –and thus convey the values of the group.  And they live it, model it. 

When all three of those things come together magic can happen.  The 2011-12 SNHU baseball team had all three of those qualities: an incredible work ethic, a culture of perseverance and grit and focus on winning, and leadership at every level.  Whether it was Brad Monroe and AJ Dusablon on the team, or Chad and James supporting the team, or parents like Denise Monroe feeding and cheering and organizing the families around the team there was leadership.

And then there was Scott, your coach.  The first time I met Scott and we sat down to talk I knew then he was special.  He actually came in with a strategic plan and a SWOT analysis.  But what really struck me was his passion, his drive, his thoughtfulness about developing players and the team, and his focus on winning a championship.  You all have played a lot of baseball to get to where you are today, so you have had your fair share of coaches.  You know you have someone special in this coach.  Scott believes in you.  I urge you who will be part of this year’s squad to believe in him. 

When  you are part of team where work ethic, culture, and leadership come together it’s something to be savored.  Life will give you only so many of those opportunities because it’s hard to get those things aligned just right.  Last season was one of those magical times.  This season can be so too. 

To the members of last year’s squad and those who came back for tonight, congratulations.  You made us all proud.  To those members who will be stepping up to the plate in just six more days, good luck.  We’ll all be rooting for you.

 

 

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