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5 Things I Wish I Knew Baseball Was Teaching Me

May 30th, 2018

By Keith Clingman

As a high school player in Oklahoma, I was fortunate to live in a city and state that took baseball seriously. A decent high school career (and likely more relevant, a lot of enthusiasm) got me some looks from a few colleges and pro scouts (all who wondered if this 5’10”/150 lb. catcher could play another position). I ended up playing my first two years of college baseball at Oklahoma City University before I decided to fulfill a dream to play for Oklahoma State where I walked on after a shoulder surgery my sophomore year at OCU.

After spending a year rehabbing my shoulder while at OSU, I re-injured it during a summer league game and decided that I had had enough of the band exercises and physical therapy. It was time to hang up the spikes.

I had a hard time without baseball but I approached my next chapter with the same drive and determination because that was the only thing I knew. I began pursuing a career in the music business since music was the only thing I was passionate about in the same way I was passionate about baseball. An internship with a music management firm ended up being the beginning of a fun and productive stint in that industry which led me to my next career step with Red Bull where I spent almost 13 years in marketing management and leadership roles.

Throughout my baseball career I knew I was learning valuable lessons. It’s just that I didn’t know which ones and how they would apply later in life. That was until I was found myself in the business world.

All the obvious lessons that I expected to take from baseball (strong work ethic, teamwork etc. etc.) certainly applied. But there were many other lessons that I was not aware of as they happened and only realized them, and how they applied to business, many years later.

If only I had known that these lessons would be highly valuable later in my career, maybe I would have paid more attention to them then. I hope that my sharing these in hindsight will help some of you recognize these as you experience them so that you can take more advantage of them than I did.

1) How to take feedback

Feedback in business is crucial. It’s how leaders shape their teams and it’s how individuals gain insight that makes them better.

Sounds a lot like baseball, huh? Your hitting coach has some feedback on your swing during BP. He gives you this feedback in a very direct, maybe even short, way. But you know that his intention is to make you a better hitter so you listen and apply the feedback without reading between the lines of his tone or words. You don’t take this feedback personally and you certainly don’t let it offend you or make you question your abilities as a player.

Somehow this scenario can feel different, and can cause people to react differently, in the context of business. It can feel more personal or harsh. But what if hearing and absorbing this feedback could feel like it did when your hitting coach was giving you feedback?

It can. You just have to understand that it’s being given with positive intent to make both you and your team (or business) better.

2) How to work with people who are different from you

My experience with college baseball was drastically different compared to high school. Most of my high school teammates came from an almost identical background as me and shared the same interests, thoughts and opinions as I did. College changed this quickly.

In college ball, I had to learn to work toward a common goal with others who were different from me in every imaginable way. That championship became our common ground. Differences no longer mattered. At the time, I had fun learning about other cultures, backgrounds and personalities. But little did I know, the ability to find common ground with someone and align toward a common goal would be crucial in business.

3) How to talk about yourself without making people hate you

As a baseball team, you and your teammates are used to one-upping the other and talking about yourself in ways that are equal parts humble, confident and bragging. You dropped a bomb off of your roommate in an intrasquad. He’s definitely going to hear about that one all week. But there won’t be any bad blood or hurt feelings. Why? Because so much of baseball is failure and you know for certain that a swinging strikeout is inevitably just around the corner for you just the same as that home run.

This scenario forces you to have confidence while at the same time understanding the reality that you won’t always get a hit. In the professional world, this translates to the ability to have perspective and to be self-mocking. Two things that can help when you want to be recognized for what you’ve done but also don’t want people to hate you in the process.

As our hitting coach at OCU, Keith Lytle, would say whenever someone threw something in disgust after a failed at-bat, ‘What, do you think you’re so good you were never going to get out?’. Perspective and self-mocking.

4) The value of respect

I’ve had the best and worst of managers (to be fair, I’ve also likely been the worst manager at times) in business. One thing I realized halfway through my work career is that the level of respect I had for my manager was directly correlated with how much I enjoyed what I was doing, and also how successful I, and the business, was. This felt a lot like my experience with baseball.

Why were some coaches loved and some hated? In my experience, it came down to how much they were respected. The best players want to play for the best coaches, who are usually the most highly respected. Even if you ‘hated’ your coach for kicking your ass at 5 am practice, you still respected him because he was doing what needed to be done to give the team the best shot at being successful. The same holds true in business.

Would you settle for playing for a coach whom you didn’t respect because of how he treated players or how he managed the program? Would you stay in that situation or would you start considering what other programs you might be able to play for?

It can be easy in business to settle for working for someone you don’t respect. But you will likely be less fulfilled and I’d bet less successful.

5) How to tinker

How many hours did you ‘tinker’ with your swing or pitching mechanics? A lot, I’d guess. Because you were always looking for the next insight or change that was going to make your hands quicker or your curveball break more sharply. You looked at this tinkering as a positive. You may have even enjoyed it. Because it was making you better.

Change can be met with resistance in business. But the lack of change is many times what kills a business or stunts an employees growth. Keep the tinkering spirit alive. Tinker with your area of business the same way you tinkered with your game.

Don’t be afraid to put in the extra hours tweaking your sales route until you get it to perfect efficiency. You’ll be the one that sells the most, and does it the most efficiently.

Don’t be afraid to try something completely out of the ordinary like that time you used a frisbee for lead arm hitting drills. You’ll be the one to stumble upon the best solution that no one else could think of.

Don’t be afraid to find your lucky routine before a big presentation the same way you talked to the ball before a start. It will give you the confidence to deliver.

To connect with Keith on LinkedIn, click here.

2 Responses to “5 Things I Wish I Knew Baseball Was Teaching Me”

  1. @avthegreat says:

    Good read. Thanks for the insight Keith

  2. Keith Lytle says:

    Great read Keith. My entire life has revolved around baseball and people. The life lessons learned through both are priceless and on going. Good luck with your journey and come up someday when your back in Oklahoma and I will throw you some BP and we will catch up.

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