Softball Lessons

It’s unexpected but I’m immersed in softball lately. I blame Suzanne, the administrative assistant I worked with at OU. She’s an all-year OU softball fan, not merely a championship fan, and her enthusiasm for the players and team got me involved. I watched some of last year’s Women’s World Series and all of this year’s and even as a non-expert, I can see that the level of play across the teams who made it to Oklahoma City is absolutely amazing. Unlike my one and only time playing softball. It’s not in any record book, but I suspect that game ranks as one of the worst, maybe even the worst, softball game in University of Oklahoma intramural history.

During the two years I was an RA, any time my residents wanted to field a team for intramural sports, I signed on to the roster. My only purpose was to keep the team from forfeiting while waiting for someone who was running late. I didn’t want to actually play most things, certainly not softball.

Many years later when asked during an interview about my support for intramural sports, before expressing that support, I said, “Well, I don’t understand why anyone would stand around and let someone through a ball at their head.” It got the laugh I was going for, but it’s also true. Like baseball, softball is the epitome of people throwing a ball at your head -and at the World Series they’re throwing at speeds above seventy miles an hour!

Back to that worst softball game, this was a co-rec game meaning women and men so we were teamed with another floor. We weren’t taking it all that seriously. In other words, we hadn’t managed to find a time to practice. And then we found out who we were playing. This team was one of several that came from a group of people who had started playing intramurals their freshman year and split into different configurations for different sports. Not only did they practice, they had batting gloves. They were certainly the only co-rec team that wore such things in those years.

I’ll save you all the gory details. Like the time we trapped a player between third and home and should have gotten him out, but the person holding the ball tripped over his own feet and fell in the dirt. At softball games, my preferred role was cheerleader and stats keeper, but on this day, they tapped me for relief pitcher. Not only did I have trouble getting the ball to the plate, thanks to the Oklahoma wind, I actually pitched behind the batter once.

We only ever got six people up to bat and I lost track of how many times we went through their batting line-up. We lost, twenty-six to zero in two innings. You may be wondering about that score, asking if OU didn’t have a run rule. They did, but it turns out you have to play a minimum number of innings before the run rule comes into play. We never got there. Luckily, there was a limit on clock time for the games or we might still be playing. In spite of it being such a terrible game, we had fun. After all, it was so bad, there was nothing to do but laugh.

Clearly, I haven’t had much experience with team sports though anyone who has, tells me of all the important leadership lessons they learned. But even in that ridiculous game, there were lessons to be learned.

We knew we would lose – we showed up anyway. We kept our commitment in spite of our expectation of failure. Sometimes that’s the most important leadership behavior and besides, you could be wrong about losing. We were not wrong.

Do what needs to be done. Nobody was playing the role we wanted to, but we did what the team needed – some were better at that than others.

Sometimes you have to work outside your comfort zone because that’s what the team needs. (Though it would help if your relief pitcher has pitched before.)

This too will pass. Sooner or later, situations change. Though, maybe not as quickly as one might hope. Conversely, the good things may change before we are ready. Teams need to be prepared both ways.

Being part of a team – even a mess like ours – is fun if you are working with good people. Over the years of my career, there were often difficult times, but when you are working with a good team, it’s not so bad. I’ve been lucky in my career to be part of and to lead some extraordinarily good teams and it is one of the best aspects of my career.

I’m sure those of you who have had more and better team sport experiences have more to list, but even with my limited experience there are lessons to learn from team sports and from working with a team of any kind. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from your team experiences.

Take care,


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