October 1, 2013   //   Business Consulting   //   By Randy Rupp

From January 2013 through July of 2013, I spent countless hours coaching a 12 year old travel baseball team known as the St. Charles Knights.

When the season started I was confident in the team that I had.  Two-thirds of the players on the roster were returning, experienced players.  We had size, speed and some decent arms to throw at the opponent.  If we lacked in one area, it was in the overall chemistry of the team.  I was a new manager to the team, and four of the 12 players on the team were also new.

Winter training went pretty well.  The new players were relatively well accepted, but at the end of each practice, everyone went their own separate ways and kind of forgot about each other until the next practice.  Winter turned to spring in our area somewhere around Memorial Day, and our boys were playing games, but not very effectively.  The talent was there, but something was missing; we were losing a lot of games by one or two runs.

As school ended and summer came upon us, the team was playing a little better, but still underachieving.  I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the issue was, but I certainly knew it was not that the other teams had better players or a better group of boys.

We got through our regular season at a little under .500, a far cry from where I thought we would be, and it was time to head to Cooperstown, New York to play in a weeklong national tournament against some great competition.  Having been to this tournament a couple of years earlier with my older son’s team and having just been through a rather mediocre season, I knew what to expect; we would win one of six games in pool play, then be eliminated in the first round of tournament play.  I was okay with that, after all, the boys were playing a baseball tournament at the Baseball Hall of Fame and that would be great experience even if we didn’t win a game.

The team arrived in Cooperstown early Saturday afternoon.  The entire team, all 12 players and three coaches, would spend the next week living in a 200 square foot bunkhouse.

Almost immediately after arriving, I noticed an interesting dynamic taking place.  The boys were congregating as a large group and not as a few small cliques.  When we would go to meals, everyone was together; they were all laughing and really getting to know each other.  After an entire season together, they were actually starting to bond.

After a fun night of creating vulgar scents that only a group of 12 year old boys can create, the boys woke up early on Sunday and readied themselves to play a team from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.  The game went right according to plan.  We played them tight, but in the end lost to them 6 to 5.  After the game, rather than hanging their heads, the boys went, as a group, to the arcade and I went back to the bunkhouse to make out my line-up for the second game.  About a half hour went by and I decided to go down to check on them.  There they were, all 12 of them sitting on a wall taking turns seeing who could make the loudest fart sound by putting their hand under their armpit.  The amount of laughing was amazing, and even a bit contagious.

What happened next is nothing short of amazing.  This group of young men went on to win four of their remaining pool play games and tying the fifth one.  Out of 32 teams, they were the tenth overall seed going into tournament play.

Wednesday started tournament play, and I was so thrilled with the way that they played in pool play, even if we got eliminated in the first game, it was going to have been a successful trip.  But the team wanted nothing to do with that thought process.  They went on to win two more games on Wednesday and move on to Thursday and the round of eight.  On Thursday, the boys battled hard, but fell to a team from Ohio in a close game.  When the tears stopped, the boys all got together for one last cheer, “WHAT TIME IS IT?  KNIGHT TIME!!!!”, and it was as loud as it had ever been.

I am not a great motivator as a coach, so what was it that brought these boys together for that week in Cooperstown?  I have thought about it a lot and have come to the conclusion that in that smelly bunkhouse, an atmosphere or culture was created that allowed the boys to come together as a team and accomplish what I felt was an unthinkable task.

I have since wondered how much better we would be in our business lives, if we created an environment that allowed us to operate as a highly functioning team.  How much more could we accomplish, if only our culture was one that allowed us to each use our own individual strengths not to outshine the others around us, but to make those around us better?

That group of 12 year old boys has now moved on to bigger and better things, but the lessons about what it means to be a team that Alec, Ryan, Justin L., Samuel, Justin G., Nate, Cole, Timmy, Vince, Joey, Robert, and Bennie taught me will forever be part of who I am.

Thanks Boys!  As I develop better teams within my business, I will always think of you and the special times that we shared in Cooperstown.