I coach softball. Or, I did when my kids were younger. Now, I just enjoy watching them play. With three daughters who play year-round ball, I’ve dubbed myself a bona-fide softball mom. I follow social media groups for insights and inspiration for softball enthusiasts. On one social feed the other day, I saw something that just stuck with me:
It was about earning your trophy.
Contrary to popular belief, youth sports today are not riddled with trophies for everyone. Besides travel softball, my kids play volleyball and basketball. There have been many games, tournaments, seasons, and even years where not one award came home.
Yes, kids today DO know the sting of defeat. So, I’m starting from the precipice that trophies are not freely given, they are earned.
So, when does a team earn its trophy? Is it after winning the championship game? No – that’s just when they pick it up.
There’s a lot that goes into earning a trophy in softball (or any sport). But beyond athletics, I find that the lessons and steps necessary to earn a trophy are relevant in leadership, business, and honestly, in life in general.
Hard Work and Practice
Most people realize it takes work and practice to get great at anything. But there is a distinction we call it out leadership coaching that I want to translate into this article. That is, there is a difference between wanting and willing.
Many people want to get better at something. They dream it, think about it, and talk about it. They might even set some goals and perhaps even take some actionable steps to get there.
But, are they willing to dig deep? Break down their behaviors and actions? Expose their vulnerabilities and ask for specific feedback? Practice new approaches over and over again until they become habit?
Feedback. Adjustments. Practice.
I think of my daughters’ work on their softball swings. They might have a good on-base percentage, but they dream of hitting dingers, picking up that tough inside curve ball, and driving their teammates across home plate.
So, they seek feedback: they watch video from game at-bats, they go to a hitting coach to get real-time advice, they hit in high-tech batting cages where distance and velocity can be measured and reported.
And then they make adjustments: turn the back foot a bit, lead with the hands, keep the shoulder back, drive with the knee… and countless other tiny adjustments that make them better.
Finally, they work to create muscle memory. They practice anywhere and every way they can. They set-up the softball tee and net in the back yard. They work on their stance, load, and stride in the basement. We go to the fields and hit a couple of buckets of balls.
They aren’t just wanting to get better, they are willing to get better.
Reliance and Reinforcement
You’ve heard the adage; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This is true, but often the intent of this statement is to identify and rid the team of the weak link, or to motivate that weak link to become stronger.
But what if we reframe that concept to think about reinforcing that link? To use that entire chain to wrap and rewrap whatever post it’s connected to, perhaps even doubling its strength. No need to throw the entire chain out. Forget about grabbing the chain cutter and performing surgical reconstruction.
Because honestly, aren’t we all the weakest link at some point or another?
Teams of all kinds move through several stages of evolution. Good teams operate through individual team member performance – independent of each other but performing their own tasks relatively well.
But the highest performing teams operate with interdependency. They have faith in each other’s abilities and attitudes. There is a level of trust that makes it okay to admit when one needs help, and an absence of judgment that propels other team members to rally in support.
It’s the pitcher knowing the field behind her will catch the ball or make the play when the batter picks up her pitch. It’s the catcher knowing the shortstop will get to second base on the throwdown, even if she’s not there when the ball starts hurtling out of her hand. It’s the cutoff reminding the outfielder where to throw after the catch to stop that additional runner.
But more importantly, it’s the team encouraging the pitcher who is struggling to find the strike zone. It’s the dugout full of teammates waiting to high-five batter who just struck out. It’s the first baseman yelling out to the right fielder after a dropped catch, “YOU’LL GET THE NEXT ONE!”
Reliance and reinforcement. You need both.
Failure and Resilience
As in life, failure is a part of any team. And this is where we get better, because failure is ripe with opportunity to learn.
It’s the change-up pitch causing the third strike in a strikeout that teaches the batter to stay back, be patient, and watch for the right moment. It’s the missed grounder that puts the winning run on base for the other team that teaches that second baseman to get down and ready on every pitch.
And almost instantly after each incident of failure, there is a moment. That moment when you’ve realized you failed.
And in that moment, you have a decision.
You can decide you’re done. It’s over. You quit. It doesn’t feel good to fail, and you’re tired of putting yourself in the position that creates that feeling.
Or you can decide to stick with it and show up.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill
But it’s not just about showing up. It’s about showing up with the intention to be better.
Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; the ability to spring back.
In that moment, if you do not choose resilience, there is no next time. No practice, no adjustments, no feedback. There are no future teammates to rely upon or to reinforce. There is no learning.
So, when do you earn your trophy?
Of course, it’s all important. But I think you most earn your trophy in that moment after failure. That moment when you choose resilience over defeat, and decide to show up, again, with intention.