Culture is a Verb Part III
By Dave Turgeon
REVIVALS ARE IMPORTANT
Recently flipping through some channels, I came across an Evangelical station where a preacher was preaching, and I could not help but marvel at the intensity with which the audience was connecting with his words. That preacher was doing a number of things for the people. He was getting some new followers, getting some who used to follow and had gone away to follow again, and he was getting some who were following already to follow in a more committed way. Of course, critical to all of this was the environment he created to make these things happen. The words and the way he spoke, the lighting, the sound, and the music were all ingredients to allow for the room and the people to be moved. It got me thinking how important revivals are not just in spiritual terms but also in life in general. We all need to reconnect and recommit to some things in order to continue to grow. I recently experienced a two-and-a-half week revival in culture building and leadership I wanted to share. My revival took place in Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida, and I thought it worthy of our Culture discussion.
THE GULF ROAST LEAGUE
I had the privilege of managing our Gulf Coast League club recently (a league that is so hot in summer it is affectionately called the Gulf Roast League) and was quickly inserted back into our Pirate culture as opposed to viewing it or help lead it from 30,000 feet. Meeting coaches and players where they are at is a huge piece in leadership and I quickly realized when I put the manager hat back on how quickly we can forget this basic tenet.
Revival number one was having empathy. Empathy is one’s ability to understand another’s feelings and what they may be experiencing. How important is it to never forget what those you lead are going through or feeling? We could argue it is more important than your x’s and o’s knowledge. The game is played and coached by people, and understanding what makes each tick is critical to a culture.
The last two weeks allowed me to remember how hard this game is from a player’s perspective. The physical grind of working at a craft and performing on a daily basis is a huge challenge. This grind of the season is hard, beats up the body, and pushes it to the limits. The mental grind of failing, falling and getting back up again on a daily basis is hard. The combination of using athletic skills with decision making on the chessboard called a baseball diamond is hard. Taking care of the body and recovery is hard.
From a coach’s perspective, helping players through off field issues and teaching personal and professional separation is hard. The ability to finish this 6-month season stronger than how you started is a huge challenge. Putting in work days in extreme heat and at times being away from family is a challenge. Helping players “get it” is a challenge. Going through life with a group of people in a competitive environment is a challenge as it affects peoples’ emotions. Being aware of a group as well as individuals’ emotions means constant engagement with staff and players, and this is a challenge.
What does all this mean? First, it feeds our patience bucket as teachers to be able to truly understand where they are all at and what they are experiencing. It also means our ability to empathize is critical to the growth of your culture and team! Continue to connect and be present for those you lead and teach!
Revival number two: Championship Preparation. If I am not prepared, I cannot meet anyone where they are or lead them because I have not taken care of myself yet! The analogy of the airplane that has a drop in pressure and the masks drop down to feed the oxygen to the passenger speaks to this. Well, you cannot help another until yours is secured to your head first. Take care of all the “me” stuff before staff and players arrive, so that when they do arrive you can lead and serve them. This may mean everything from personal (sleep, nutrition, workout, family time) to professional (schedule and the contents of the day, lineups, and scheduling meetings) and all things in between.
Now that you are prepared, you can help others prepare. Ultimately, how well you and your staff prepare will determine how well the day and game will be executed. This leads to revival number two: Championship Execution. Championship Execution cannot happen without Championship Preparation. Execution without preparation is leaving a day of player development up to chance. After you and your staff have done everything in your power to prepare for the work day, it ultimately gets tested at 7:00 (12:00 in the Gulf Roast League) and everything you have done or have not done gets exposed. How you prepare (mentally, physically, and fundamentally) consistently on a daily basis will ultimately determine how consistently the team performs.
Now the biggest revival may have hit me on day two after unpacking the entire day with staff as we always do. Revival number four was Championship Review. Championship Review may be the most critical part of the day. At the end of every day, we did a couple of reviews. First, with staff, we would discuss what they liked, what they learned and what we needed to get better at tomorrow. This is so critical in how we plan tomorrow’s workday. The other thing we did is we had the players unpack what they saw and what they liked and learned and what they felt we needed to get better at. You want to know where the players are at? Ask them what they see! Not only do you get an insight into what they know and do not know, but they also now feel they have a voice in their development. Autonomy of their days will leverage their development in a huge way. This cycle of prepare, execute, and review, and how well you do it ultimately is ultimately the life force behind your culture, organization and team.
THE BASIL PLANT
What does a basil plant have to do with culture? Upon my return to Bradenton after a trip, I walked out onto my back porch to find a big new plant in the corner, which had been left alone and exposed to wind and rain for two weeks. You see, my wife, Theresa, had also been on the road and still was (tending to our daughter and first grandbaby) but did something before she left that I had not known. I assumed she had bought this new plant and simply left it to fend for itself. I called her immediately to ask her about the new plant, and she told me it was not a new plant but an old plant she simply re-potted into a bigger pot to see what would happen. She said it was the basil plant I had bought at the grocery store. First, these plants have lasted us about a week or so in the past as we would use the leaves for seasoning but the plant would generally turn brown, shrivel up, and die. Second, the plant was huge and green and was unrecognizable, so I was shocked when she said it was the little basil plant I had bought long before I had hit the road for my last trip. The basil plant was put into a bigger pot and allowed to receive the natural rain and sun. With room to grow and some rain and sun, in two weeks the basil plant was on its way to becoming Jack’s beanstalk! Theresa had simply put the plant in a bigger pot, put it in a good spot on the porch and gotten out of its way. What I thought would have been too much for a basil plant was exactly what it needed. The harsh sun and thunderstorms and wind allowed the plant to grow deeper roots and bigger branches.
Isn’t this just like player development? On the other hand, should I ask, isn’t this what player developmentshould look like? The basil plant brought me to another mini revival, not to be understated. Revival number five: The environment we are creating as leaders must leverage learning and building competitive and tough men that win on and off the field.
This basil plant reconnected me to being intentional in creating an environment to maximize players’ growth. It made me think of how we as coaches can create a small pot environment, which limits growth, and become a roadblock instead of an asset. We did an exercise as a staff (after I dropped the basil story on them) and asked, “What do we do as teachers/coaches that creates this small pot where the plant shrivels up and dies?” This brought out many great points such as over-coaching, not allowing players to fail and figure things out, not allowing risk or room to fail, negativity, lack of challenge, bad body language, non-competitive work days, not holding players accountable, the language we teach with, ownership of their days and careers, not asking questions, emotional outbursts, etc. The list went on. Then I asked, “What we can do to create a big pot where the plant can grow and become some amazing version of itself?” Allow free play, emotional stability of staff, involve them in their process and turn over ownership to them, ask questions to engage them and meet them where they are at, challenge them, variety, put them in competitive work days, use stress, keep score, hold them accountable, have fun, etc. This list went on as well. The basil plant created a mini revival for me, and I in turn brought the revival to the staff on many fronts. Better self-awareness translates into better preparation, teaching, and setting up of our environment.
THE 30K-FOOT VIEW IS IMPORTANT, BUT…
In leadership, it is important to step away from the fire in order to see things clearly and grow the culture with intention. However, the last two weeks have made me realize that we all need revivals in our lives and jobs in order to grow. Our ability to stay committed to certain tenets of leading and connected to what players and coaches go through on a daily basis is critical in order to lead, teach and help them. The team with a culture that can continue to improve and streamline the 24-hour cycle of “Prepare, Execute and Review” will find itself playing for championships. How well we are preparing will determine how well we execute at game time. How well we review (autopsy of the day to learn from our successes and mistakes) will determine how well we can grow and then prepare the next day. “Prepare” and “Review” bookend “Execute,” and we truly need to be improving at both all the time. Lastly, I hope you all start to view your work environment as I did the basil plant. Is your environment a small pot with limited access to wind and rain and sunlight and growth? I like to think that after reading this, we would all do some soul searching and create a big pot environment where players and staff become something unrecognizable but in a positive way. Remember, we all need revivals, and they can only happen if you allow them to and want them to. Now go grow some basil…I mean baseball players.
Turgeon is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is the Coordinator of Instruction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech.