Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lessons for Starting the School Year Off Right

Kids need to get off to a good start in school. At Sporting Chance Press we believe that sports can help. Rather than conflict with studies and other pursuits, we believe sports can help motivate kids and be used to teach principles that will be helpful in all walks of life. Sports lessons can be life lessons.

At Sporting Chance Press our books serve a purpose, to improve people's lives, to promote the good, but at the same time we want our books to be accessible, entertaining and interesting. Perhaps there is no better book on sports that meets this criteria than our first book: The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) by J.D. Thorne.

McCarthy's principles are simple statements that guide athletes, but also can be used to help kids understand what they need to do to achieve in the classroom. Below is a list of McCarthy's principles and suggestions on how these can demonstrate life lessons for kids when properly "coached" by parents, teachers and coaches.

McCarthy's 10 Commandments of Baseball

1. Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.

Kids learn to hustle in sports. Kids who succeed do; kids who don't hustle, fall behind. Kids who hustle in school will improve their schoolwork and other pursuits.

2. You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.

Anything that's worth achieving, takes effort and perhaps more than that, takes some risk. Just like an athlete needs to risk failure by taking the bat off the shoulder to hit, a student needs to raise a hand in the classroom, answer questions on a test, and respond to homework. In sports, kids learn to step up to the plate, it's really the only acceptable action for a batter. Shouldn't we teach kids that they need to do the same in class?

3. An outfielder who throws back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen.

This classic sports statement tells us that at some point, you have to cut your losses and look forward not backward. It tells us not to get too clever with our play. In school, if a kids misses an assignment, admitting one's mistake and looking forward is what a student needs to do--as opposed to continuing an effort to dissuade blame.

4. Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.

Just as an athlete wants to maintain self confidence by staying alert during a game, so to should students want to listen, respond and work hard so they achieve. If a student achieves in school, they keep their head up and not down. Like an athlete, a student who feels achievement in the classroom is more likely to seek more.

5. When you start to slide, S-L-I-D-E. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.

Indecision can hurt an athlete, it can hurt a student as well. A good student will decide on a topic for a paper, meet peers on time in a group project, make time for studying when there is time, and by doing these can control his or her destiny.

6. Do not alibi on bad hops. Anyone can field the good ones.

In sports, the good player admits a weakness and decides to improve--learning to do the difficult. A good student, admits his weaknesses as well and sets out to improve skills and knowledge.

7. Always run them out, you can never tell.

Kids learn to not give up in sports. The extra effort it takes to excel may come at the end of a play, the end of a game, or the last moment of a season. The same is true in school. As the term wears on, it might be tempting to ease up on homework or studies, but it pays dividends to keep going.

8. Do not quit.

Similar to running them out, kids learn to grow in sports by finishing what they start. Kids who quit in sports often find themselves moving from one activity to another--and failing at everything. And just like quitting in sports, quitting in other activities may seem like the easy way out, but often it just amounts to a bruised and battered ego that may never repair itself.

9. Do not find too much fault with umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you.

Evidence in sports shows that players who look outside themselves for reasons for poor play or results are not the best athletes. The best athletes focus on improving their own game rather than making excuses. Sports have also demonstrated that players who get upset or annoyed over officiating are likely to perform at less than peak levels. Only those who can shrug setbacks off and focus on the game do well. Yet how often to people respond in ways that harm themselves and their "teammates" in sports and in life when something seemingly unfair occurs. A student who constantly argues about grades needs to be redirected to focus on what he or she can do to improve--reminding these students of how the best athletes approach setbacks can be valuable. Parents who encourage such arguments over "umpiring" and "grading" might also be advised to look at this principle.

10. A pitcher who hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.

Self control is key in sports. An even temper, steady effort and self control is what leads to success. In life, controlling our impulses and building emotional maturity is key. Despite how some athletes may function in various states of maturity, the best ones are under control.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of J.D. Thorne's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and other fine sports books. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is an enjoyable mix of professional baseball stories and the author's affectionate retelling of his own amateur baseball experiences. Whether male or female, young or old, the reader is pulled into great baseball moments that make the baseball commandments come to life with compassion and humor. The focal point of the book is the classic, but little-known, 10 Commandments of Baseball, the baseball principles created by Major League baseball's most successful manager, Joe McCarthy. Image at top of post is from Library of Congress: School kids in Maine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Success in Small Things: Lessons from Sports and Slumping Athletes

Honus Wagner Works the Basics (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
In The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life), there  is a very brief section on "running 'em out" in which fighting off a slump is discussed. Nothing is more frustrating for an athlete than a slump. Suddenly, a good hitter just can't "buy a hit" or a good pitcher seems to have "lost his or her stuff." It seems the harder the player tries, the worse it gets. A slump can make the news and be a sore subject with a coach who is asked daily about when so and so is going to "come out of it."

How do you get out of a slump and regain your confidence? You don't put a lot of pressure on yourself to somehow get more hits or pitch better. You work on the basics. Are you practicing good mechanics? How's your footwork? Are you swinging level? You go back and practice the basics, over and over again until you are sure that you have them right. Once you have confidence that your fundamentals are in order, your game comes back.

Of course, slumps are seen in other sports as well. You often see football players at skill positions who have a few bad games in a row. In one game a quarterback completes nearly every pass and then misses most everyone in sight other than the defensive backs the next. You see a running back who gains over 100 yards one game only to average 2 yards per carry the next week. At least in football, a player generally has the opportunity to focus on the small things for a number of practices before the next game. Film can be studied. A quarterback will work on his footwork, his timing, his release and other basics. A running back may ask himself if he was patient enough? Was he following his blocks? Was he predictable in where he was running. But his coaches may have him running basic drills that focus on cuts and quick movements.

Hockey is like baseball, a seemingly never ending series of games with short intervals inbetween. In hockey, goalies can be very streaky--shutting out the opponent one game and then a human sieve the next. But it's not easy to work the kinks out in a day. The next game is always just around the corner, but somehow they manage.

Working on fundamentals to improve performance is one of those sports lessons that can also help us in other pursuits as well. If things aren't working well, maybe its time to look at the basics rather than focus on improving the end game. We can break things down and work on the basic parts of "our game." It's not rocket science, but it's one of those good sense ideas that can help us be more successful.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of J.D. Thorne's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and other fine sports books. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is an enjoyable mix of professional baseball stories and the author's affectionate retelling of his own amateur baseball experiences. Whether male or female, young or old, the reader is pulled into great baseball moments that make the baseball commandments come to life with compassion and humor. The focal point of the book is the classic, but little-known, 10 Commandments of Baseball, the baseball principles created by Major League baseball's most successful manager, Joe McCarthy.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Psychological Lessons in Bears Preseason Loss to Denver

Many Bears fans weren't rattled by the Bears losing to Denver 31-3, especially when so many top Bears starters were out: Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Julius Peppers. But what are the lessons in the loss?

Some sports psychologists point out that athletes with higher skill levels generally look at internal explanations for sports outcomes (The Psychology of Coaching Team Sports: A Self-Help Guide, Larry M. Leith). Others may look at external explanations. When athletes look internally after a loss they can focus on things they can do to improve. When they focus on the external, they often blame other players or conditions and are thus not so likely to seek to improve their own performances. In other words, better athletes take wins and losses personally even in team sports. Better players make fewer excuses.

Some argue that athletes need to be able to blame losses on external factors to preserve their own egos and confidence. They say a confident player is a better player.

This is true, but if athletes look externally too often, improvement is not likely to follow. There is no better time than the preseason for players and coaches to look at individual performance and seek improvement. The fact that many of the top Bears did not play in the Denver game should not be used by players and coaches to excuse the loss. The loss should provide more reflective thinking and more determined action to improve. Bears coaches and players will no doubt spend much time looking at film and evaluating individual performance--not just for roster placement, but for pinpointing things that individual players need to address in the coming weeks.

The preseason offers some woeful spectator experiences. But on a positive note, a great deal of improvement and adjustment can be made before the pundits come down so hard on athletes once the season begins. In preseason, new players can be "making improvement;" during the season, the same players might be described as "washouts" or "disappointments." Things get harsh very quickly in professional sports. An emotionally healthy NFL athlete will look at his performance throughout the season critically, but use his assessment and his coaches assessments to map out where he needs to improve and what he needs to do to get there. Team members must support each other and play unselfishly, but they must pay the most attention to their own performance and progress. Perhaps there is not better summary of this approach than New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick's famous mantra "just do your job." Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways. Order online.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Product Management, Technology and Sports Metaphors

Developing new business opportunities and making them succeed is critical to today's companies. How it's done is something that changes every so many years. Many times, new methods come to light when a management consultant writes an article about how a company or entrepreneur has developed new procedures that create great new products or services. Others join the information fray and soon a new management theory is explored, analyzed, mapped out and processed for consumption.

At some point, the new development is taken out of its own specific context and a new "generic" process is created that allows people in any organization to manage products using it. Process allows product managers from consumer electronic companies to manage medical equipment products. It allows product managers from sausage companies to manage cosmetic companies and others from law practices and shipbuilding to manage sports franchises. Often product managers are neither content experts nor particularly creative. They are excellent process people who are often supremely confident and forthright.

Big organizations have big challenges. Expectations of double digit growth in the weakest of markets often fuel desperate management hyperactivity without much rational thought. Processes must be running full speed at all times. What will be our latest new product? Run a needs analysis and focus groups to find out. Hire consultants who can take the process deeper. Who should we hire to lead us to new heights? Define each position by a standard certified skill set and hire those who possess the latest credentials in the area. For more sensitive higher positions, hire consultants to manage the search. What should our goals be for the new initiative? We want to be the "state of the art" provider of such services and products. How do we define state of the art? Hire consultants to define it for us.

How do organization manage, or more to the point, how do they promote product development hyperactivity? They organize business units and groups according to markets so they can be staffed with product managers. PMs are often given authority to shake off everyone who wants to do anything outside the core goals and push everyone to work longer and harder to develop, produce and market product. In many ways, process is king in many product management driven organizations.

But...... Company leadership should take note that the folks in silicone valley have found a lot of flaws with making process king. First, almost all new initiatives fail. If you just line up your initiatives in a product road map and keep processing them, you keep heaping failure upon failure. Things change too fast to think you can line up your ducks and keep firing at them. Those involved in new technology find that you need to pencil in a list and keep making adjustments as you go along. It almost works counter intuitive to old project management principles. Hard and fast doesn't work so well when everything around you is constantly changing. Product definition may need to change as you move along. Some products need to be dropped altogether. A product manager's job today requires a continuous eye on product definition and market changes. Product Managers need to work much more collaboratively with project managers as well as engineering, content creators and others who actually create the product or service.

What about product discovery? How many times have you used a test version of software that constantly seeks input on making things better? Silicon Valley product development has used an ongoing process that continues throughout the product development time frame called product discovery. This is essentially an ongoing communication and testing by potential customers of a new product or process as it is being developed. Yep, it is a process. But if it is done right, it is not so much like other processes that grind outside inputs into a hash that can be served in a preconceived shape. Product discovery can be just good communication and ideas that help you get it right. This is likely one of the greatest innovations in technology sector product management.

Genius trumps process. Next, in silicone valley they find that creativity trumps process when ideas come from the top innovative giants in an industry. When a company is led by an innovative genius, the best approach is to adapt the process to what your genius envisions. Follow the leader and adjust as needed. Genius is in fact, genius. Manage your processes around such people. If your product managers decide to push these people around...well you are going to have problems.

Oops, our customer just died! Another problem in the ever-changing business of product management is changes in the marketplace. These can happen in a matter of days or weeks today. Many companies might seem "too big to fail," but more than likely they may just be "almost too big to fail." Product plans often need a Plan B for a marketplace adjustment.

The problem has gone away. Another thing that happens in business today, is someone else may solve the problem before you in a better, faster, cheaper way. Maybe there is not much that you can do about it, but it may require that you dump what looked like a promising product before wasting more time and money.

Silicon Valley is not unique. The people in Silicon Valley believe their business is especially challenging and their methods have to be more nimble and faster than other markets. I am not so sure. Technology is a modern Medusa that both attracts and haunts most every type of business today. Education, medicine, accounting, book-selling, government, automotive repair, movies, telephones, and so many other industries are tied at the hip to technology. The entire notion of Silicon Valley as the cradle for technology development is itself a notion that is out of date. Such development must live with business today wherever that business is conducted. Product managers today must work much closer with everyone else involved in product creation and marketing. They can no longer crack the process whip and simply keep everyone in line focused on static products, project and goals.

Sports Model. I found an interesting post on product management certifications at the Silicon Valley Product Group site. Silicon Valley Product Group (SVGP) is a company that helps other companies develop successful new technology products. I recommend you visit this site for lots of great posts.

As a sports publisher, I especially liked SVGP's Marty Cagan's statement that a product management model cannot be cloned from what another company does. I read this to mean that product management is not all process. He goes on to write that product management is like running a sports team. He says skills are important, but ..."winning requires having a game plan or strategy...working well as a member of a team, adapting to your opponent, the playing field, and the conditions."

Too often in my own career have I seen product managers who were not team players. At Sporting Chance Press we believe that sports provides many lessons that can be used in life. Sports competition and contests as a metaphor for life and business struggles often allows us to see things more clearly. Our book, The 10 Commandments of Baseball, for example is chocked full of sports metaphors that are simple life lessons. Every product manager should read it!

Below are the sports principles upon which our book is based, McCarthy's 10 Commandments of Baseball. We'll let readers think about how these principles may be applied to their own responsibilities in the modern workplace.

McCarthy's 10 Commandments of Baseball:

1. Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.
2. You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.
3. An outfielder who throws back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen.
4. Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.
5. When you start to slide, S-L-I-D-E. He who changes his mind may hav to change a good leg for a bad one.
6. Do not alibi on bad hops. Anyone can field the good ones.
7. Always run them out, you can never tell.
8. Do not quit.
9. Do not find too much fault with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.
10. A pitcher who hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

U.S. Women's Soccer Win Over Canada in Olympics Reminds Some of Merkle Game

On Monday, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team defeated Canada in a very tough contest that featured several come-backs on both sides. Both teams are known for their tough physical play and this one was no exception. It will also be remembered as one of the most exciting soccer contests in Olympic history--a game that went down to the wire and beyond.

The scoring began when Canadian star forward Christine Sinclair nailed a shot into the left side of the net after moving around the U.S. defenders right. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe scored the first U.S. goal off a corner kick. Sinclair put Canada up again when she headed in a cross from teammate Melissa Tancredi. Rapinoe scored again when she let fly a long-distance shot that bounced off the left post into the net. Canadian Christine Sinclair countered by a heading midfielder Kaylyn Kyle's corner kick a few minutes later for a hat trick.

It looked grim for the United States late in the game as they trailed 3-2 when an indirect free kick in the box was awarded as a result of Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod holding the ball too long in perhaps a tactic to delay the game. According to some reports, the U.S. players had openly complained about McLeod's holding the ball for long periods during the match and one of the officials had warned the goalkeeper. According to some sources, the goalie was blatantly violating the rule throughout the game. Additionally, according to some sources, when the infraction was called, she had held the ball for 15 seconds, over twice as long as the rule allows.

On an indirect kick, no goal is awarded unless the ball contacts another player before crossing the goal line. In soccer, players stand the allowed distance from the kicker on an indirect kick forming a barrier. This is where you see players put their arms behind their backs to avoid using their hands or arms to deflect the ball and get called for a "handball." A handball called inside "the box" results in a penalty shot. In this case, the indirect kick shot out towards a Canadian player who turned to avoid getting hit straight on and her arm contacted the ball. This is exactly the play that teams dread when defending an indirect, but this is how it works in soccer. Such contact is routinely called a handball at high levels of play and it resulted in a penalty shot. Abby Wambach tied the game when she nailed the penalty kick. Both sides had opportunities during the extra time allowed, but it was Alex Morgan who headed a cross from Heather O’Reilly over the Canadian goalkeeper for the win in the waning moments.

The U.S. Team heads to the gold medal match against Japan. The game was played at Old Trafford, the home field for Manchester United. The gold medal match is Thursday, August 9, at Wembley Stadium in London.

The Canadians were frustrated. Christine Sinclair made a comment that referee Christina Pedersen who made the call against the Canadian goalie had “decided the game before it started.” Remarks like this often result disciplinary action. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has stated that they are not in a position to take action prior to the bronze medal match between Canada and France on August 9th. Some suggest that this is a concession to the Canadian team. It should be noted that Sinclair is a veteran professional soccer player who has played for 10 years on the Canadian National Team.

It's hard to argue that the calls went unfairly against Canada when the goalie blatantly disregarded the rule even after she was warned. Also, another play has gone viral since the game that shows Canada's Melissa Tancredi apparently stomping on Carli Lloyd's head that was undetected by the officials. Many have made a case that the stomping was the biggest miss of the game by the officials. Many believe Trancredi should have been ousted from the game. Like Sinclair, Trencredi is another veteran player who plays professionally. in fact many players on both teams have extensive professional experience.

Some posts indicates that Trancredi made negative comments to the referee about favoritism towards the United States. If this is true, one would imagine that some disciplinary action may result.

We are reminded by Erich Murphy of the Pontiac Daily Leader in his August 7th post that the rule enforcement in the U.S.-Canadian game is somewhat reminiscent of the famous baseball incident by Fred Merkle that has been immortalized in thousands of newspaper accounts, books and postings--as well as our book, Public Bonehead, Private Hero.

Fred Merkle, was a young 19 year old New York Giant who was filling in for an injured veteran in an important game against the mighty Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning in the Polo Grounds. Merkle who was on first, walked off the base path and ran to the clubhouse after the apparent end of the hotly contested game when a teammate on third scored on a base hit to the outfield. Merkle was called out for not tagging second based on a rule that was rarely enforced (if ever) under the circumstances at the time. The flight from the field was even more common the Polo Grounds because the second a game ended a large part of the crowd exited right through the field. In those day, if fans didn't like a player's performance or an umpire's call, they might take it up with them right on the field seconds after the game. In some ways, you would have been a "bonehead" to stick around after a game!

The main reason why Merkle was called out that day is because Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers had primed umpire Hank O'Day for the call by discussing the particulars of the rule after a similar situation had occurred when the Cubs played the Pirates a few weeks earlier. A baseball article had also appeared in a newspaper question and answer feature calling attention to the rule and thereby calling attention to its obscurity and lack of use at the time.

Because thousands of fans had run onto the field on their way to the exits, the umpire ruled the game a tie rather than attempt to have the crowd return to their seats for extra innings. Merkle's team cried foul, but the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life. Merkle became baseball’s number one scapegoat and obviously continues in that role over 100 years later despite the efforts of Mike Cameron and others to set the record straight.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. To order. Of course, there are also several great differences between the Merkle call and the one that went against Canada in the Olympics. Unlike, the Canadian goalie, Merkle's infraction was a one-time occurrence that came without any warning. In Merkle's case, the ruling negated the winning run--in the case of the Canadian loss, the ruling was just one point in a series of mistakes. A second mistake (handball) was needed to cause the damage and the game went on another ten minutes plus extra time before the United States scored again to cement the victory.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press