Apr 212012

Here is the question that was sent to “Ask Dr. Rempel” at susan@uncommoncourtesy.com :

I am the manager of a high school baseball team. The guys have a thing that they seem to lose every game because they go out on the field with the attitude “Well here’s another game that were gonna lose”. Is there a way that I can motivate them so that they might actually go out on the field with their heads up high and the attitude that there going to win?

** A note to all readers.  This article is written with masculine pronouns.  However, that was done to improve the article’s “readability” rather than because of any belief on my part that women can not make great baseball players and/or managers.

Here’s my response:

Give Me a “T” . . .

            Why, you might ask, am I writing an article about motivating a baseball team?  First, I am always interested in helping others to help children. Second, I am an ardent baseball fan. Third, and most importantly, managing a baseball team is a terrific analogy to use when thinking about managing any group.  The manager must deal with the players’ personalities and abilities, as well as the “personality” of the team itself.  He must also develop strategies to help his team succeed and win their games. It seems only natural to begin this new column in our newsletter by discussing this fascinating and timely topic since baseball season will be here before you know it!

We tend to think of a team as a group, but it is really a collection of individuals.  As with all groups, a team is a group of individuals held together by a unifying goal or a common trait.  The team’s short term goal is to win the game. Its long-term goal is to win the championship. Many management experts will tell you that a team’s success is reflective of its manager’s ability to help it focus on a common goal. However, I would like to suggest that you turn your attention towards the individuals that make up your team.

            The individual members of the team are the building blocks of its success. I remember helping my son learn to read when he was three years old.  Working with him reminded me that the word “team” is nothing more than four individual letters: “t”, “e”, “a”, and “m”.  As each letter contributes to the formation of a word, each team member has something to contribute to the team’s success.  He will also have something that prevents him, and ultimately the team, from reaching his personal pinnacle of success*. A good manager will identify the strengths of the team’s individual members, help each individual to improve upon his strengths, and develop a team that takes maximum advantage of all of the assets that each member brings to the team.  However, a great manager will also challenge each member to learn new skills, reduce weaknesses, and gradually improve whatever holds him back from becoming a better player.

            When working with the individual team members, it is important to use and teach them “I think I can strategies.” Do you remember the 1999 World Series? The New York Yankees had an awesome team, but they also had a weak link. Their second baseman worked himself into the habit of overthrowing first base. His problem did not stem from a lack of skills or experience. His expectations caused the problem. He heard over and over that under certain circumstances he lost his focus and threw the ball poorly. Those predictions became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He anticipated that he might overthrow first base when those circumstances arose.  The manager, Joe Torre, was criticized for leaving him in the game. However, leaving the player in gave him the confidence that he needed to rectify his problem.  Each player on the team needs validation that he is talented and is of value to the team.  Confident players can often play above their actual skill levels when called to do so by an inspirational manager. There are an endless number of methods that a leader can use to improve the confidence of team members, and a great manager will have a large bag full of means by which to get that job done.

            Once the manager has worked individually with each group member, it is time to develop and inspire the team leadership.  After all, the “t” in “team” stands high above the other letters.  It is the manager’s job to identify and motivate not just a team leader, but also a leadership group comprised of a person from each segment of the team.  A baseball team needs to have a leader in the infield, outfield, and pitching segments of the team so that the manager has eyes and ears in each of the team’s units.  The manager should sit down with his team leaders and talk about not only how each component can work better within itself, but also how the components can work more cohesively toward the common goal. The team’s leaders can teach individual members to support one another. They can also work with players who don’t understand that their own negativity about themselves or other players can damage the team’s morale and performance. They can also identify problems for the manager that might be otherwise overlooked.

            Another good management technique is to consider how each member and each position could be used differently.  The four letters found in the word “team” can also be used to spell out “meat,” “mate, and “meta.” Think of all the great stories that would never have been written if every writer thought the four letters “t”, “e”, “a”, and “m” could only be combined to spell the word “team.” Casey Stengel was the master of mixing things up to improve his team’s performance. For example, he was among the first (if not the first) manager to use relief pitching. A manager needs to give new challenges to his players.  He also should consider how team members could be used differently in order to improve the team’s performance.  For example, a quick third baseman with a strong arm might trade positions with an outfielder who just isn’t fast enough to get in position to catch many fly balls.

            Of course, there are endless ways in which a manager can motivate team members. I would encourage you to examine the problem that is bogging down your team and work to facilitate a positive and productive process to enhance your team’s performance.

Celebrate Life today and Everyday!


Susan C Rempel, Ph.D.

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