How Good Are You at the Small Ball?

(This is the fifth in a series on wisdom from baseball. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

Because it didn’t happen often, you would think I would remember every time it did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. However, I do recall one time, in high school, pretty clearly. I knew I made good contact on the ball, but as usual I put my head down and just started running. It wasn’t until I was almost on second base that I realized the ball actually carried the fence for a home run. I was so surprised, I’m not sure I even slowed my pace by the time I crossed home plate.

Baseball today is a much different game than when I played. The players are bigger and stronger, the gear is better, and there are some dynamic home runs. Yet despite all that, I believe it is still the small ball — walks, singles, bunts, sacs — that wins games. When it comes to winning at life, there’s application as well. Here’s what I mean


Do the Little Things

During my time playing the game, one phrase was constant — do the little things. That meant being good with the fundamentals of the game, such as making good decisions with the ball, being ready for the play, or minimizing errors. In life there are fundamentals too. Here are a couple worth mentioning.

  • Discipline—To become good at something, whether a skill or attitude, it takes discipline. The skill or quality produced by discipline doesn’t usually happen through a home run. It is the consistent single or double which creates runs and ultimately produces wins. In your career, it may be consistent excellence in your performance. In physical health it is diet and exercise. Whatever the circumstance, discipline is a key contributor to the results you’re looking for.
  • Manufacture Runs—Small ball wins games because it creates and leverages opportunities. Take the lottery for example. There are certainly some big home runs for the winners, but just because there is a winner doesn’t mean it is a good investment strategy. To manufacture runs means to create your own opportunities rather than wait for the big one. It means that you’re looking at life proactively, rather than reactively. And it means you are able to see the potential in the singles and doubles, rather than focusing solely on the home run.
  • Play a Team Game—Home runs are a solo effort, whereas small ball is a team game. It requires you to know your role, which sometimes means sacrificing your at bat for the good of the team. Your team might be the organization you work for, your church, your family even. Regardless, the attitude of small ball is ‘what can I do to make the team better?’ It means that you’re willing to put others ahead of self, and to help when needed. It is recognizing that by contributing to the success of others, you also contribute to your own success.


It’s How You Play the Game

We all recognize the phrase “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts.” We may be tempted to quickly dismiss this as a Little League consolation statement. But what if it is true? What if what really counts is how you played the game? Statistics track wins and losses, but stats never tell the whole story. A loss can be a success—an improvement from the last game. And a win can be a failure—not playing to your full potential.

In his book Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes, “The world is always trying to seduce us with the extraordinary. The culture fills our hearts and minds with spectacular dreams about hitting home runs, but life is about getting up every day and hitting a single.”

Home runs certainly create memorable moments and grab attention. But in the end, playing small ball — doing the little things in the right way — presents the best chance for being successful over the long term. So, how’s your small ball game?

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