For years, my summers were spent at baseball fields. Practicing, playing, winning, and also losing. I played baseball until high school, and my father — Howard Spiess, Sr. — was my coach. It was a great bonding time for us, and the sport taught me useful life lessons about strategy, patience, and teamwork.
Now, I’m the “dad coach.” After the joy of watching my oldest daughter, Stella, excel in her first season of softball last year, I volunteered to be the assistant coach for her team this year. And softball has actually become a passion for the whole family! My younger daughter, Lucy, is playing the sport this summer, and the three of us love playing it together.
Roughly 90% of all recreation-level coaches are parents who volunteer their time and talents while juggling jobs and already busy schedules. But it’s completely worth it. Not only does it allow me as a father to spend quality time with Stella and build lasting memories together, but participating in youth sports provides plenty of benefits for her too — from improving her physical, mental, and social health to positively impacting her future career.
As a softball coach, it’s my job to bring out the best in my team. The same is true for us as leaders in the business world, and here’s how we can give our teams that winning edge on and off the field.
To some, effective coaching means commanding and controlling their teams. And while that style of leadership may see immediate results, those coaches are likely going to be faced with very unhappy players or employees in the long run. Instead, successful coaching should be motivating and inspiring. Coaching leaders train, not tear down. In business, empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction and less turnover. In youth sports, in particular, empathetic leadership combined with positive reinforcement can improve an athlete’s performance and confidence, as well as foster lifelong participation in sports.
When I’m coaching Stella and her teammates, I make a point of being positive and empathetic. For example, if an opposing batter strikes out, I will cheer for her to demonstrate to my team there’s grace in both victory and defeat. I also make sure to give everyone high fives and congratulate them on their effort, no matter how they play.
While I may not always give my team at The 180 Group high fives after every meeting, our Coaching Team embraces empathetic leadership in a variety of other ways. We see the members of our company as unique humans with their own set of abilities and personalities, and we value them for who they are, as well as what expertise they bring to the table. We empower them by investing in their professional development and encourage them to focus on their well-being so they find balance in their lives. As coaching leaders, we make a conscious effort to support our team by meeting them where they’re at so they can excel in and out of the office.
Focus on What You Can Control
Great coaches in sports and business understand there are things that can be controlled and those that can’t. They also understand that overly controlling their players or employees can backfire — in fact, researchers discovered that the mere thought of a controlling boss can make an employee do a lousy job. Or worse yet, misguided managers can be the reason why people quit their jobs entirely. That’s why successful coaches focus on what they can control, not who they can control.
In sports, I often remind my athletes there are two things we can control: our effort and our attitude. When one of my young players makes an error in a game, the best way to coach her is by encouraging her to make a small but specific change in her play. When an umpire makes a call that doesn’t go our way, we don’t spend time grousing about it or playing the all-too-familiar blame game. We make the best of the situation and focus on what we can do the next time.
In business, we know as leaders that when we’re dealing with variables, like people and technology, hiccups will happen. That’s why at The 180 Group, we’ve put the right team, plans, and backups in place so we can deliver flawless execution during our live shows. When the unexpected happens, we reframe those moments and turn them into opportunities to learn — and that’s where true innovation and long-term victories take place.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
The best and most effective coaches appreciate that it takes time to create great teams, products, and services and build transformational change. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Short-term wins are wonderful, but the ultimate prize lies in continuous momentum toward achieving long-term goals and development.
I’m reminded of this invaluable lesson every time I step onto that softball diamond with my daughter and the other eight- and nine-year-olds on our team. While we might end the game with the most runs, real winning goes beyond that. It’s seeing that shy girl come out of her shell and become more confident. It’s having an easily distracted player pay attention instead of picking flowers. It’s witnessing an ultra-competitive player applaud when the other team does well. As their coach, I know this doesn’t all happen in one game. But by the end of the season, those little moments will add up, and my hope is they’ll be better players and better human beings. And of course, I want us to all have fun in the process too!
It’s also an important exercise in the business world, as studies show patience pays off. Teams with patient leaders, especially during challenging times, are more collaborative, creative, and productive. As leaders, we must realize creating real and lasting change won’t happen quickly or easily and prioritize investing in our teams.
Overall, the best coaches know it’s not “me” but “we” who make their teams triumphant. Their main job is to nurture their potential. It’s a page I took from my dad’s coaching playbook all those summers ago and one I’m proud to be sharing with my daughters now.