On August 18, 2012, the Little League World Series U.S. Championship game was played between teams from Goodlettsville, Tennessee and Petaluma, California. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and Goodlettsville led by four runs. There were two outs and two men on base for Petaluma as their batter approached the plate. You could tell this kid was nervous and felt the weight of his team’s fate on his shoulders.
What happened next was, in my opinion, truly inspired leadership and coaching. The Petaluma coach had been wired with a microphone and what he said to that young man was broadcast on television as it happened for all to hear. He told his player, “You can’t lose this game and you can’t win it. We’re down four runs and that’s because of everything that happened before now, so you can’t lose the game. We’ve got two men on base and even if you hit a home run we’re still one run short, so you can’t win it for us. You just need to do what you’re good at and have fun.” The coach patted the batter on the back and you could just see the pressure on that kid dissolve.
He hit a home run.
My daughter’s soccer coach, David Marmalejo, always tells the team, “I don’t mind if you mess up. We can fix that. But I really mind if you don’t try.” The team wins almost every game and they have a blast. They try hard and they know that they will be coached, not yelled at, if they make a mistake.
Before a week of extremely important tests my daughter’s teacher, Jared Brett, told the class, “You guys have worked hard and you’re ready for these tests. Don’t freak out over it. You’ll do fine. Just relax.” (There were other teachers who stressed their students to shreds.)
His class did a great job with the tests.
Great leaders prepare people to succeed, they don’t pressure them to succeed. There’s a difference. Weak leaders scream. Strong leaders teach.
Life will provide all the pressure that any of us need. Life is hard sometimes. Really hard. A weak, ineffective leader adds more pressure, creates stress needlessly, and gets in the way of success.
Yes, there are the occasional Bobby Knight style coaches who win. But there are lessons being taught beyond basketball. I’d rather my kid play for a John Wooden, win championships, and also learn class and character instead of how to throw chairs onto the basketball court.
A strong leader supports her players so that they can handle intense pressure. That means being a teacher, being tough when you need to be (re: Pat Summit), yet always having the team know that you believe in them, you’re on their side, and are their biggest supporter.
Whether in sports, business, or any other endeavor, a weak leader has players who doubt themselves and are afraid.
A strong leader has players who believe in themselves and each other, and are confident that they can, and will, win the game.