A friend who is a youth baseball coach shared this story with me, Corey Koskie; however, he wanted to stay anonymous.
In the mid-1980’s, I was a third round draft pick from a D1 Southern California school. One might think that high-level D1 players would be comfortable entering the minor leagues, Maybe everybody else was, but not me. The burning question was how much more complicated “pro ball” would be than D1 college baseball. Well, that question along with a fear of failure, a desire to succeed and worry about switching to wood bats, blah, blah, blah, all made me nervous.
The first time the Minor League Administrator, Mr. Big in an organization, came to our Class A ball team, he held a meeting with the new signees. Again, I was wondering what complicated, inspirational speech was coming at a 3 p.m. rookie meeting while standing in the infield in Nowhere of the Midwest League before a meaningless mid-June minor league game.
His message was, “In order to succeed, you need to focus on, work at, and make the average play, every time.”
His speech said the organization is accountable for choosing you, signing you, spending money on you. Not the player’s problem. The player’s responsibility is to make the average play, every time, and then let physical talent or ability move you up the system. His hidden message was that players may have exceptional talent, but if you don’t make the average play, every time, your team and your career will suffer. Other guys can make average plays, so you better make it, or the guy behind you will get a shot. The mental effect on me was dramatic. I relaxed.
Really? Focus on the average play? Got it. Every time? Ok, that takes mental discipline, I can do that.
In the rain, in the heat, during a 15 run loss, I will make the average play, every time.
Fast forward 30 years, I’m a washed out minor leaguer watching a very talented daughter play with the highest Club volleyball in the region as a setter. In one of the tournaments in her first year at The Club (I don’t know squat about volleyball, except they need to make the damn ball land on the other side of the net), I see her trying to impress and do exceptional stuff the entire time. Routine sets are made difficult. The team is out of sync, wondering what is coming next. She is the floor leader/captain, and she is unpredictable. I see her coach frustrated. I see her playing time being limited in close games. I see her making a very human response as a young lady in a pressure-filled competitive youth athletic situation, and a memory clicked for me. I said nothing about it at the tournament, but a week later, I give her the story of focusing on the average play.
I say, “ I know that you know that I don’t know squat. But, what I see is that your team works better if you just make a basic set to the Rock Star outside hitters, and let them crush it.”
I tell her my minor league story and finish with, “Then, after the average play is made, you can improvise off of that. But, if you don’t do average, it’s going to be hard.”
Yes, she got better. Yes, the team looked more in sync. And a few months later, I asked her if she remembered our talk. She had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. Good talk Dad, good talk.
What I Learned as an Athlete
Trying to be awesome every play is understandable, but although it’s counter-intuitive, making the average play, every time builds a framework for success. Maybe you don’t win, perhaps the other team is just better. Fine. But make the average play, every time.
How I Try To Apply What I Learned to Business and Coaching
Fast forward another year or so, a work colleague is sharing another story of bad project management, his project losses and our company profit is under projections. Our competitors are doing better. I share the story of the average play, every time. Our company’s average play is to submit a good bid, execute good work, collect fees and make a reasonable profit, as well as live another day, reinforce your coworker and build a team. This is a very boring theme, but our company messages were on rock star stuff, like high sales, flashy new customers, cool projects. As it turns out, my colleague was a small college athlete, always told he could never play, always watching the rock stars make great plays, but muff up basic stuff. I hit a nerve. He understood, and now it is that story and phrase is the company’s personal and project team “theme. ” It is our way to communicate and measure new staff performance. It is a badge of honor to make the average play, every time. Workers know what is expected of them, and if supervisors are continually frustrated, they probably have a catcher playing center field. That is management’s fault. Mistakes are made, ground balls will go between the legs of infielders, it happens. Help each other, run after the ball, make the average play, every time. And, two hours after the baseball game starts, you are probably operating a little above your talent level. Not below, above. Then wake up the next day, and do it again. Apply it to relationships, spouses, parenting, business, friendships, athletics or coaching youth sports. Identify your average plays in each venue, and then be boring and make the average play, every time.