Inspiration for this column comes from revisiting the teaching tenets of legendary Baltimore Oriole baseball coach Cal Ripken, Senior.
Cal Senior was with the franchise as player, coach, manager, and scout for 36 years. He was hugely responsible for the Baltimore Orioles’ sustained excellence during the franchise’s glory years. He created and taught developing players “the Oriole Way,” which prepped them to consistently execute fundamentals under pressure well enough to placate the demands and peccadilloes of the team’s fiery Hall of Fame manager, Earl Weaver.
His philosophy was simple.
“The game of baseball,” he said, “is made up of many little things. If we do all the little things right, then we’ll never have a big thing to worry about.”
Cal Senior spoke in many cliches but never strayed from his simple, straightforward approach. He had three rules, which his sons Bill and Cal Junior still role-model today in their immensely successful Ripken Baseball programs from their hometown base in Aberdeen, Maryland.
Senior’s guidelines apply just as much to coaching business as baseball. They are:
- Keep it simple.
- Make it fun.
- Celebrate the individual.
Keep it simple.
Cal Senior was very organized and disciplined. His organization skills eliminated lateral digression and wasted movement, which helped maintain focus on each specific objective at hand.
Every drill — and learning point — was relevant to playing the game the right way. He knew simplicity trumped complexity and proved it. In a game decided by inches and split seconds, Cal Senior patiently and systematically broke down complex teaching goals into manageable, teachable bits.
He focused on one thing at a time, building incrementally toward success.
The same holds true for good business coaches. An effective coach helps his or her people develop one important thing at a time, since top performance requires each success factor to be repeated with flawless execution. One thing leads to the next — a series of successive steps.
Breaking down his teaching points into simple steps allowed Cal Senior to have each player focus on flawless execution one vital step at a time.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect,” he liked to say. “Perfect practice makes perfect.” He knew, and Oriole fans grew to expect, that once a player was schooled in perfect execution to the point where they were “unconsciously competent,” that’s the way they played during the game.
Players must know what success looks and feels like. Be like Cal Senior. Break it down. Keep it simple.
Make it fun.
Practice can be as boring or fun as you make it. Everything to Cal Senior was wrapped up in a game of some sort — a trait role-modeled and carried on by Cal Jr. throughout all 21 years of Junior’s Hall of Fame career. Cal Jr. was an All-Star the last 19 years he played.
He was a fanatic about perfect practice — as was his brother Bill. By making practice fun, they could enjoy honing their skills rather than rue the work involved.
The same holds true with business. Just because it’s “a job” doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate fun into teaching. If there is no fun in what you’re putting your people through, it’s your fault — not theirs.
Celebrate the individual.
Baseball is a very difficult game to play. Work is hard too — especially when you sell for a living — which is why they have to pay us to do it.
Both pursuits are rife with failure; and both are just as much mentally challenging as physical.
Good teammates support each other, they pick each other up. So does a good coach. He or she empathizes with the challenges of the occupation, knowing that success often hinges on a mental edge — the confidence and support. Preparation breeds confidence, which can provide the courage to when the game or deal is on the line.
None of us is perfect — we are all relentless works in progress — so being a positive influence in the lives of others will generate better results than being a brow-beater.
Cal Senior spent a career proving it. We are all better off for following his advice.
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