Use the Cut: Play It Like They Do In Little League

littleleagueI never thought I'd know so much about baseball.

My son started playing Little League at seven, so in the past five years I've sat through a lot of games and had many obscure rules explained to me. The pace of the games, as well as my volunteer slots at the snack shack, gives me lots of time for reflection. 

On a recent Sunday afternoon, between handing out sunflower seeds and bubble gum (no chewing tobacco allowed), I had a flash of insight: If I “played” my life like a good Little League team, I’d be less stressed and probably happier. I’m no fan of sports metaphors in the workplace and I don’t like the “Let’s beat ‘em team” mentality of your average motivational speech. But there it was: baseball, or at least Little League, as a metaphor for my life.

Use the "Cut"
In Little League, when a right fielder catches a line drive, unless he or she has an exceptionally strong arm, he doesn't try to huck it all the way to home plate. That’s because he knows he'd never make it. Instead he makes a shorter, faster throw to the "cut" -- usually the shortstop or first base -- who then gets the ball where it needs to go. Basically, the fielder delegates the out. Instead of trying to do it all, the rule in baseball is to use your help.

I’m not great at accepting offers for help. In fact, I once had my car towed in downtown San Francisco. I didn’t have my wallet or checkbook with me. So I took a cab home -- which took a good half hour-- got my stuff, took a cab back to the downtown police station to pay the ticket, and then took a cab to get my car out of hock. Three hundred bucks later, I was done. When I recapped these events later that day to a close friend, she said with real surprise (and a little bit of hurt), “Why didn’t you call me? I could have helped!” I was shocked and embarrassed to realize that I was so stuck on handling everything on my own that it hadn’t evenoccurred to me to ask for help.

By the way, my son informs me that even the pros use the cut. I’m a pro. I’m going to use the cut.

Stack Your Team
"Mom, our team is really stacked." Not as in brick house, as in the bench in the dug out. A stacked team is a team with an awesome batting line up. One after another, every batter that gets off the bench and heads to home plate is sure of getting a hit.
In life, you want a stacked bench with friends who have your back, a life partner who can hang with the hard, selfless work of parenting, or coworkers who can collaborate and share success. 
I recently reassessed my team and saw that there were a few people I needed to trade. Specifically, I had one “friend” who managed to put me on the defensive every time we got together. I don’t know why it took so long for me to catch on, but I finally realized that friends don’t make you feel guilty. If they do, they’re not a friend.  
Be a Hitter
In baseball, when you're at bat, you are only one thing: a hitter. To “be a hitter” means to think like a hitter, stand like a hitter, and look the pitcher in the eye like a hitter. In other words, show up for the task at hand.
To me, that means that if you're doing the parenting thing, you need to be a parent. If you're cooking up a 30-minute dinner, for that half an hour, be a cook. I have to remind myself to skip the multi-tasking and focus on the moment. That way, whatever I’m doing gets my best shot.
Eat It
Sometimes the best play is no play at all. If a runner starts to steal second and there’s another player on third, the least risky strategy is to let the runner steal second or, in Little League parlance, “Eat it.” If the throw to second is a fail, the runner on third has a perfect opportunity to head home and score. When players on the field start yelling “Eat it! Eat it!” at the kid with the ball they’re directing their teammate to just let it go.
It’s a real skill to see when taking a small loss is the right move for the sake of the bigger picture. And sometimes that message comes from your team, not you. No one in my family likes pumpkin pie, but I have always believed that pumpkin pie, made by me, must be served at Thanksgiving dinner. This year, when I asked my kids at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving eve if I should make a pumpkin pie, the answer was a very clear no. I was glad I listened. I ate it (not the pie, of course). It was the first time in years I had a good sleep before Thanksgiving Day.
Call It
There’s nothing more painful than watching two kids going for a pop fly, crashing head-on and letting the ball drop, even as coaches yell from the sidelines, “Call it! Call it!” Here’s how it’s supposed to go: one of the two says, “I got it. I got it,” while the ball is in the air, and then makes a clean catch. In other words, he communicates.
At home, at work, at school or really anywhere, communication is key to keeping heads from bashing. And sometimes that communication needs to be repeated. Loudly. Just the other night, my husband called me in an angry panic because he thought my daughter was lost. I was meant to drop her with him at, you guessed it, a baseball game while I went on to a board meeting, but we were delayed. While I had relayed my basic plan to him, I hadn’t explained that I would deliver my daughter to him personally, not just drop her off and drive away. Lesson learned. Next time I’ll call it clearly so he knows that everyone is safe.
Don’t Swing at a Ball
“Good eye. Good eye.” That’s what you say to a batter when they don't swing at a bad pitch. Good players watch the pitch and can tell if it’s in the strike zone. If not, they don't swing. The same rules work when an opportunity or a request comes hurtling towards you. Don't say “yes” just because someone asked. Take the time to decide if it’s right for you. Is joining that project at work or taking that volunteer position really worth it? Is it outside your allotted available time? Is the salary too low? Are the expectations too high? If the answer is yes to any of these, don't swing. Repeat: Don’t swing. I’ve definitely swung at a few bad pitches and even failed as a result.
After some practice, I can now see a bad pitch coming. I’m proud to say I declined to pursue to job opportunity because the interviewer described the position as a 40-hours-plus job with a CEO who was “charismatic and intensely invested in the day to day.” Read, “volatile micromanager.” No thanks.
Life really isn’t about winning or losing: It’s about how you play the game. Little League has shown me that playing smart not only gets the best results, it minimizes stress and worry. That’s huge. And whenever I see a really great hit or catch, I’m reminded that each moment along the way to a goal matters. A good play is a triumph in it’s own right -- whether or not you go around the bases and make it to home. -- Emily Brower Auchard


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Image courtesy of flickr user henry alva


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