By Jim Houck
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a professional baseball player or a sportswriter when I grew up. I’m almost out of time to make the major leagues – you can count on one hand the current players my age – but for now I’ll proudly settle for being a T-ball coach. And writing about it.
It occurred to me during my first season as coach that there are notable similarities between the skills required in my day job as a public relations professional and the ones needed to effectively manage a team of 4- and 5-year-olds. Pretty scary, right? And I’d argue that going through this experience at the ballpark helped me improve my performance in the workplace.
Here’s how six characteristics of a good PR pro play out on the T-ball field.
- Managing expectations. “Coach Jim, you told me I could be the first-baseman this game.” In our league we rotate the kids to give them exposure to all the defensive positions, but most of them clamor to play either first base or pitcher … every inning of every game. While I appreciate the enthusiasm, these future lobbyists had me fit to be tied trying to manage all the promises I made throughout the game. Similarly, not every client news release lands on the front page or results in a national TV news segment. Sometimes they end up in right field. Work with clients to establish realistic goals at the onset of every PR project.
- Maintaining focus. “Coach Jim, I like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” This gem sprung out of nowhere one game when I was trying to line up a player at the plate for his turn at bat. While I barked out a series of instructions to bend his knees, aim his toes at the plate, lift his elbow, face the pitcher and keep his eye on the ball, who knew he couldn’t get Leonardo and Donatello out of his head? PR pros have to be effective multi-taskers. By minimizing distractions we improve our productivity and quality of work.
- Handling crises with aplomb. “Coach Jim, I have to pee.” Two of the kids on the team are my own offspring, and in one 60-minute game they had to visit the port-o-john a combined three times. Know where the potential landmines (or bathrooms) are, and maintain the poise and confidence to make smart decisions, and make them quickly.
- Delegating responsibility. “Coach Jim, is it snack time yet?” Talk to the team mom, kid. Thank God there’s a team mom. And thank God no one forgot to bring the post-game juice boxes and cookies on their designated night. The best leaders don’t micromanage. They’re effective delegators who put their team in a position to succeed and trust them to perform.
- Motivating the team. “Coach Jim, this is boring.” My own kid said this during a practice one day (yes, he calls me “Coach Jim” like the others). Not everyone is going to come to play every day or buy in to every decision you make. It’s your job to find ways to keep the team engaged and lead them to achieve strong results.
- Neutralizing the bad news. “Coach Jim, did we win the game?” We don’t keep score at this age level, so there’s not always a clear winner. In today’s everyone-gets-a-trophy society I sometimes had to take advantage of the kids’ mathematics deficiencies and steer their attention to other facets of the game they did well, a skill that comes in handy almost daily when my PR hat is on.
I’m proud of the way the kids performed and improved their skills throughout the season. And I never thought I’d learn and grow so much myself, both as a first-time coach and a PR professional. Bring on the next performance review.
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