Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned From Being a Softball Coach


Throughout my life, I’ve been called many things: some nice and others maybe not so nice. Without question though, my favorite name above all others is Dad. Following close behind is Coach. I’ve had the privilege of coaching all four of my kids along with a host of other people’s children. After coaching my two sons, I turned my attention to my two girls and became a fast-pitch softball coach. The lessons learned on these various playing fields have a direct correlation to leadership whether we’re talking about athletes or adult employees.

Last month, I wrote about five leadership lessons I learned from my Dad. It’s funny how there are leadership lessons in just about everything we do – if we pay attention. Two summers ago, I coached my youngest daughter, Anna’s, softball team. After a long season that included the regular season, then all-stars tournaments at the district, regional, state and World Series, I finally had time to reflect on all the lessons I learned. In this post, I’d like to share some of those valuable takeaways. The picture here is of my daughter Anna and me after our team won the USSSA 12U World Series.

Your team is always listening/watching. My players fed off my enthusiasm, but they could also detect doubt and frustration from a mile away. The team pays more attention than you can imagine. You can preach all you want about sportsmanship or integrity, but if you don’t model it, they won’t buy into it. Leaders need to personify the values they espouse.

You can’t spend enough time on fundamentals. Teams rarely back into championships. The best teams consistently work on the small things and appreciate the value of the basics. Leaders ensure their teams are well-versed on the rules of engagement and prepare their people to perform at their best. While championships are celebrated on the playing field, they are earned during all the sweaty and dirty hours of practice. If you stray too far from the fundamentals, you stand a good chance of watching someone else take home the big trophy.

Hold people accountable – even 12 and 13-year-old girls. Coaching and leadership are privileges and a precious gift. However, that gift comes with some responsibilities. If you let people slide or look the other way when someone isn’t upholding the standards, you’re lowering the bar. Teams that want to achieve their best understand the need for discipline and accountability and will thrive in it. The goal is for the team to have shared vision and for the teammates to hold one another accountable.

They will know if you really care or not. You can’t fool a team of young girls, and you can’t fool your employees. If your sole purpose is your own interests, the team will suffer. There will be divisions in the team and the foundation will crack. No one expects their leaders to be perfect, but they do want leaders to care about them and be genuine. It doesn’t take long for people to know whether you are genuine or not, and if you’re not, you’ve lost the team.

The right decisions won’t make everyone happy. One of the most difficult jobs a coach has is determining who starts and who will be a substitute. Playing time is highly coveted, and when you’re holding people out of the line-up or using them in a role they don’t necessarily want to be in, feelings can get hurt. Leaders have to make the tough calls and do what’s best for the team. How the leader articulates those decisions can make a tremendous difference in how it is received. But more than anything, it’s important to make the right decision for the right reasons. You may need a thick skin too, because even after winning a championship or exceeding mission requirements, there still may be those who aren’t happy.

Losing is part of the game; how you handle it is critical. One of my maxims as a coach is to not let one loss turn into three or four. While losing is tough, it can be turned into a great learning experience. Instead of berating and browbeating the team, have them help identify what went wrong. Sometimes it may have been mistakes, and other times it may have been a better team that had its day. Either way, leaders need to know how to turn adversity into future success. The best teams understand losses may occur but they are able to bounce back and be better because of the experience.

Believing in someone makes all the difference. I firmly believe any success I’ve had as a coach or as a leader in my professional career has been in large part due to my strong belief in my players or my employees. From my years as a coach, I earnestly hope the parents whose children played for me know without question that I treasured each of my players. Their hearts were more important to me than their batting average and the number of games they won. Seeing them improve individually and as a team was how I measured success. More importantly, seeing them become more confident and proud of themselves is why I coach. Interestingly enough, when those things happen, so do the victories. The same is true in the workplace. When you believe in your people, when you invest in them and when you genuinely show you care about them, it breathes life into the team and new standards of excellence are established.

My goal as a coach was to teach them, encourage them and hold them accountable. And perhaps, every once in a while, I was able to inspire them. My goals in leadership positions are the same. Just as I was entrusted by parents to play a part in their children’s growth and success, so too are leaders entrusted by their respective organizations to do the same. When you truly believe in your team, everything is possible. Shouldn’t we all aspire to be champions?


Brian Schooley is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Joe Antoshak

Love what you wrote about the importance of actually caring. The attitude of a team is often a direct reflection on how the coach operates, and if the coach doesn’t care, the players probably won’t either. Great post.

Alexa McKenna

Brian, I really enjoyed this post. There’s really so many similarities between being part of a sports team and part of a productive office team.

Brian Schooley

Thank you Alexa, and I agree. When I was a young boy, there weren’t as many opportunities for girls to play team sports…at least where I grew up. So many incredible lessons to learn, and I’m grateful my two daughters have played sports and have the team experience. – Brian

Brian Schooley

Tracy…thank you so much for the comment. I look at Jordan as one of my own…and I would hope to think you already knew that! – Brian

Brady Smithsund

Excellent post, Brian. As someone who played organized sports for the better part of 15 years, I can really see the similarities between the sports and office environments. The best teams are well-oiled machines with players that all buy into a set of goals. It only makes sense that the best office teams must be cohesive as well. Thanks for the post!

Amy DeWolf

Loved this post! “When you believe in your people, when you invest in them and when you genuinely show you care about them, it breathes life into the team and new standards of excellence are established.” Rings true as a coach, leader, friend, parent – everything!