Win the Inning

From as far back as I can remember, I have loved sports. I played on many different teams in several sports growing up all the way through high school. I always had thoughts of being a coach, so when our son was old enough to play sports, I volunteered to coach any sport he played. I coached his basketball teams, baseball teams, football teams, and even coached soccer a couple of times (even though I had no clue what the rules were).

One of my favorite experiences and memories was coaching the all-star baseball teams for five or so years. All-star teams provided an opportunity to take a talented group of players around the state to play against the best competition. I recall we were very competitive everywhere we played those first few years, but there was one team in Northwest Arkansas that was clearly the best team in the state, and we were no match for them. We were soundly beaten several times a few years in a row in state tournament competition. I noticed that our kids stopped believing that they had a chance against these guys. Their demeanor before a game against this team was totally different than any other team we played. We were defeated before the first pitch was thrown. They were better, and our kids didn’t think there was any way we could beat them.

As we entered that third season of facing this team in all-star competition, I recalled the prior years. We addressed those issues very directly as we played our pre-state tournament schedule and prepared to face this team at some point in the tournament. Sure we had to do some things better to compete with them, but more than anything else, we had to believe winning/success was possible. For these kids to buy into their ability to have success against this team, we had to do something different. We couldn’t expect them to go from what we had experienced to winning a game against them. We had been beaten soundly several times. However, we could win one inning. We could get someone on base and somehow execute our plan and score that first run. Then we would go out, execute our plan, people step up and make a few plays, and get them out. We just focused on one inning. Then we would come back in the dugout and go win another inning. Just one inning at a time was the focus. We can’t win at entire game at one time, but we could win one inning at a time and just start stacking those innings on top of one another.

You know, it’s not that different from what many of us face today.

If you have never gone an entire year without an injury, it likely seems impossible.
If you have never gone an entire month without any major quality issues at a key customer, it may seem impossible.
If you have never really achieved operational success in reliability, waste, or any key metric, it may not seem possible.

When we think in terms of an entire month or an entire year, the task just seems so daunting and hard to achieve, particularly if we have never done it before. Whether many on our team will admit it or not, they may not believe it’s even possible. If it doesn’t seem possible, why even bother? Don’t fight that thought process, just change the focus.

We can execute well and achieve any and all of these things for an eight hour shift. Just the next eight hours. Then the next eight hours. Then the next eight hours.

Monthly goals and yearly goals are fine as overall measurement points, but you can’t manage effectively to those timelines. We have to focus on winning the shift and then winning the day. Everyone can buy into that timeline for success. Everyone should be able to buy into executing at a high level for the next eight hours. It’s hard to imagine maintaining focus over 365 days, but eight hours, that can be done.

Just to finish the story above. We did win an inning or two early in that game and competed well the entire day. We ended up losing a close game, but things were different. The players now believed. Many of these kids would go on to be a part of several summer league state championship teams in future years and would never again be intimidated by an opponent or a goal that seemed out of reach.

Do you have similar issues with the folks you lead? Do you need to break things down into more manageable time frames and simplify the focus? Making adjustments to focus and getting people to “buy in” are key aspects of leadership.

So give it some thought. Can you lead your team of folks to “win the inning”?

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