Lessons from Little League: Learning from Mistakes

A few weeks ago, I wrote my first lessons from little league post on motivation and then my second post on building a team.

As I previously mentioned, my life seems to be increasingly immersed in baseball.  While the daily exercises of work and life never slow down, as spring rolls around I somehow figure out how to sleep less so I can squeeze yet another job into the mix. This spring I coached 4 teams and helped with a 5th. We have all 3 boys on individual little league teams.  And as if this were not enough, in the summer of 2011 I started a travel/select baseball program for which the older two boys play on the 8U and 9U teams respectively. When it comes to baseball, we are all in.

Each of my boys have baseball nicknames which have long since replaced their “real” names in our house. My wife tallied 55 little league games she would attend for the three boys across just 10 or so weeks. This doesn’t include the 4-6 games each of the two older boys will play over Memorial Day Weekend or the 10-12 travel games I scheduled in March prior to little league really getting underway. Rescheduled games because of rain a few weeks ago and the tournament over Memorial Day Weekend have us playing 22 games over 14 days. Needless to say, washing baseball uniforms is a near daily routine at our house.   To add just an ounce more baseball to our lives, this year we have a professional baseball playing living with us – giving us yet one more “son’s” baseball games to keep track of – even if he can tie his own cleats. We are all-in.

But with all of this, I know this time is fleeting.  In not many years, the boys will move on from dreaming of the Majors. Their mitts will land on a shelf, their bats will grow dusty. Days grow to months and then onto years. But as I mentioned in my previous post – there are life lessons and business lessons on a baseball field so I try to point these out when I can.  I don’t know that they internalize them much now, but my hope is that these lessons will stick with them. As I come across these lessons, I’ll take occasion to write and reflect upon them briefly. This week I want to make a few points on learning from mistakes. Obviously, in business or baseball – we need to learn from our mistakes.  A few key take-aways:

  • Minimize Errors. Know that you are going to make a dozen errors today.  Figure out how to minimize them quickly when they occur. Ball gets away from us all – move to minimize errors quickly.
  • Don’t Let Errors Compound. Too often in little league – or in business – we allow errors to compound.   In a game I coached recently we had runners on 1st and 2nd when the player at the plate ripped a shot to the outfield.  The player on 2nd scored easily, but the defensive team relayed the ball in quickly and so the runner from 1st held at 3rd base.  The ball was slightly over thrown  as it came in and the runner who had scored was yelling, “go – keep running.” Consequently we ended up with both runners on 3rd base and the lead runner began running home despite the fact that the catcher now had the ball and had good position blocking the base path home. The lead runner was tagged out by a mile for the third out of the inning and both players came in frustrated and upset.  In this play we had a series of running errors and we never gave ourselves a chance to recover.  The runner who scored shouldn’t have provided bad intelligence, the runner at 2nd should have looked for the third base coach before coming to third, and once he realized what he had done he should have swallowed his pride and run back to 2nd.  It took 3+ running errors to give-away the 3rd out of the inning. In this instance, the out was a culmination of several errors and not just a single mistake. I see this behavior in business all of the time. Companies tighten-up and retrench within a previously committed to strategy – even when the outs are evident ahead.
  •  Don’t Let Errors Take You Out of the Game. As I mentioned above, after this play produced the third out, both players were frustrated. Tears were shed.  They had to immediately take the field and I subsequently had to sit one of the boys – one of our better defensive players – for the half innings so he could regain his composure.  He had let the prior inning’s error fester.  He couldn’t move on. In little league baseball there are dozens of errors in any given game. There are managerial errors, there are umpire errors, and there are of course player errors. In business you have to figure out how to move on.
  • Make Adjustments. The key to learning from our mistakes on and off the field is to make adjustments. In little league it isn’t uncommon to see a given boy make the same mistake repeatedly. Each boy often has a unique set of fielding or hitting flaws. They might back-up on a hard hit grounder or not take the one additional step they need to make a play. It isn’t uncommon to see them make the same mistake over and over – each time failing to make the small adjustment needed. I see this same behavior in business. Small, repeated errors because small adjustments are never made.