Words & Sports

Which Way is First Base

I love Little League baseball. You watch these five- and six-year-olds just enjoying the game as if for the first time—oh, wait, it is their first time!  

But we also get to watch kids picking their noses, wiggling loose teeth, and looking the wrong way. “Hey mom, look at me, my tooth is wiggly!!”  

“That’s great darling!! Watch the ball now!” 

Then the kid with the wiggly tooth and runny nose is up to bat. This should go well, I think, but actually it does go well, at least for the moment. It’s a pretty solid hit, and the kid takes off running. The crowd goes wild! 

Except, you guessed it, the pitcher, a six-year-old, isn’t retrieving the ball because he’s too busy making silly faces to the third baseman, and the batter is running the wrong way. The crowd is screaming so loud you’d think it was the World Series, there’s no way to tell what anybody is saying, so there’s no way the kid can hear anyone telling him he’s doing anything wrong. He’s halfway to third base before he realizes something’s not quite right. He stops. He looks confused. 

Which way is first base, again? 

With little kids, mistakes are bound to happen—a lot. And nobody really minds, because they’re kids. We love these moments. We can laugh at them.  But then they get older and, somewhere along the line, we stop finding mistakes endearing. We criticize, we punish, we attack. 

Does all that negativity help? Does it improve anybody’s performance? 

Of course, mistakes can cause real problems. You wouldn’t want an employee who made too many mistakes, or who made the same mistake over and over again. And problems caused by incompetence, carelessness, or malice are something else again. I’m not saying not to have standards. But little kids make a lot of mistakes because they’re trying new things and they’re learning and growing. If you want to learn and grow, too you’re going to have to make some mistakes. 

Any business, large or small, makes mistakes. We certainly do. But the important thing is to have processes in place to recognize, deal with, and learn from those mistakes. It’s also important to treat each other like human beings, to recognize that the world isn’t going to end just because somebody isn’t quite perfect.  

After all, we all need someone to point us to first base once and a while.  

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