Leadership Lessons From Little League Baseball

Danny Boehle is the manager of the El Segundo Little League team that recently won the Little League World Series. Having had the opportunity to watch him on television on numerous occasions and read about him in one publication after another since the beginning of August, my sense is he would defer all credit to others regarding this accomplishment of significance.

But the fact of the matter is that he and his coaching staff (Eddie Lee and Tim Abrams) can’t! Leaders, in any walk of life, are judged! It comes with the territory. In large part, it’s why so very many of us step away from the opportunity when it presents itself. The fear of being judged harshly emerges as our strongest-felt need, so we step back from the limelight and into the shadows.

This manager, his coaches, the 11- and 12-year-old players on the team and the parents of these kids burst through those shadows this summer and took center stage! And, in so doing, they taught anybody that was swept up in the wave of their accomplishments a whole heck of a lot—about leadership!

The What: Good heavens can these kids play! Double plays! Diving catches! Sliding catches! And hit … after hit … after hit! And, please, do not take my word for it! Check out this link that at least partially documents all the exclamation points:


Now, blinding flash of the obvious when it comes to leadership, results matter. They matter a lot! And you just don’t show up one day and somehow achieve collective greatness. So, I ask you to think about how much these kids had to practice and fail and practice some more, to get where they wound up. Reports suggest these kids have been learning how to play baseball together from highly qualified baseball leaders in El Segundo for over half their lives. Pushing themselves. Pushing each other. Learning how to get really good at all of the skills associated with playing high-caliber baseball at a comparatively young age.

Anders Ericsson is a world-renowned social psychologist that spent his entire career studying peak performance in a wide spectrum of endeavors. He taught us many things, but chief among them was this:

“People tend to associate accomplishments of significance with freakish talent. Research confirms there is literally zero correlation. Accomplishments of significance are the product of ‘perfect practice.’ Metrics that fuel targeted feedback, that ignite the insatiable pursuit of perfection.”

So, what do El Segundo Little Leaguers have in common with Tiger Woods, Beethoven and The Beatles? Hard work. Expert coaching. And the fearless desire to do something worth remembering.

The How: Absolute truth: I somehow felt good simply watching the way this team played the game, and I know I am not alone! Their competence had a lot to do with that feeling I will admit. But it was much more than that. This team had fun! It seemed like they celebrated just about everything. When a teammate got a hit or made a great play in the field, they celebrated. When one of their competitors got a hit or made a great play, they celebrated it and offered congratulations. When a mistake was made or things didn’t go their way, they celebrated and encouraged each other to bounce back, move on and do better. You found yourself being proud of them and inspired by their effort, enthusiasm and authenticity.

They also went way of out their way to respect the game they were playing. They, like every team in the tournament, fell victim to bad calls. Officiating any sport is a nightmare. There is no way even the best of the best gets it right all the time. And, when you are up at the plate in a game you really want to win, with everybody in the world (quite literally) watching, and the umpire misses a call that sends you back to the dugout, it is human nature to react in a manner that calls the umpire’s competence or integrity into question. These kids, by the way from every country and on every team, simply didn’t do that! They accepted the outcome (in many cases with a smile on their faces) and simply moved on.

Now, I have no idea how much time the El Segundo coaches and parents spent preparing this team for those temporary disappointments (and how to respond to them), but I will wager it was “a lot,” which I think is something we have lost sight of in so many endeavors. How you play the game matters! Or at least it should. I think one of the most impressive things these Little Leaguers demonstrated to anybody watching is that the way you play whatever game you are playing makes a difference—and it is a key indicator of the quality of leadership you have received before you ever take the field.

The Community: When you accomplish something of significance you have a ready-made platform to rekindle pride, bring people together and lead. The El Segundo Little Leaguers did just that! With bias duly noted, I can attest that El Segundo is a special place. I had the distinct honor of playing basketball for the Eagles about 40 lbs. ago (1970s) and still remain connected with teammates, coaches and mentors.

But the baseball culture of El Segundo has long been legendary. That culture was established and enhanced by John Stevenson who had well over 1000 wins during his 40-year career. Do some quick math on that. In Southern California, high school baseball teams play roughly 40 games a year. If you win 30 games a year, for 30 years, that gets you to 900! Simply amazing! And that community (Eagle baseball players and those of us that sat in the stands and observed their excellence) was reconnected (perhaps as it never has been) by this year’s Little League champions!

So, admittedly, it’s not an exhaustive list because great leaders do all kinds of things. But this team, this year, demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that strong leaders:

  • Teach “the What”
  • Emphasize “the How”
  • And build “the Community!”