Major League Baseball’s spring training season has finally given way to the much-anticipated regular season – a sure sign that warmer weather and longer days are upon us. Yet, as exciting as this transition is, part of me always mourns the passing of another spring training season. To me, spring training represents baseball in its purest state: dedicated, hard-working players – rookies and veterans, side by side – practicing and playing the game they love with the single-minded goal of ensuring that they’re in their peak conditions when the games that count finally roll around.
Athletes young and old understand the importance of regular, ongoing practice, so why don’t today’s businesses? As far as I’m concerned, there’s little difference between the need for rigorous practice by a high-performance team of athletes and the need for rigorous practice by a high-performance team of executives and employees. However, I see little practice happening among the latter group. Here’s why that needs to change.
The Importance of Practice
Mental muscles are not much different from physical ones. When you train them, they become more responsive. When you train them regularly and on an ongoing basis, they become so responsive that reactions are automatic and nearly flawless.
Practice is all about learning how to do things before you’re swept up in the heat of the moment so that you can perform well during the heat of the moment. Practice builds the muscles you’ll need when urgency and pressure increase. It’s true in sports, and it’s true in business.
Quite simply, people who practice their skills experience better results. The skills we practice at work might seem mundane compared to the skills baseball players practice, but they’re essential to maintaining high performance and being prepared to react instantly when the pressure is turned up. The key is to practice what matters.
These high-pressure situations aren’t World Series-level events, like board meetings and crises. As with baseball’s long, demanding schedules, executives and team members must step up to the plate over and over again. Sales pitches, customer support emails, resolution of support tickets – these activities are everyday “game time” activities, and game time isn’t the time to practice. The key is to train employees for these vital tasks before they’re called upon in real situations – and to train them regularly.
Why We Never Outgrow Practice
Spring training is an important time for new players to try out for the roster, but it also gives established players practice time prior to competitive play. Businesses should emulate this approach. Too often, established industry members think they have it all figured out and that additional practice is beneath them. But that misconception brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from psychologist and author Steven Pinker: “If you’re committed to progress, you can’t very well claim to have it all figured out.”
Executives need to be willing to be vulnerable. They need to be willing to admit that they can be better and that they, just like their team members, can benefit from practice. Whether it’s recording a video to rehearse a new business pitch or finding time to familiarize themselves with new software, vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness but rather strength – strength in leadership and a commitment to continuous improvement.
When team members see their leaders engaged in a cycle of continuous self-improvement, they are inspired to do the same. By example, they see their careers not as paths with a defined endpoint but rather as learning journeys that never come to an end. They relate to their leaders, and their teams become stronger as a result.
Practice enables executives and employees to make gradual improvements over time and keep their fast-twitch muscles warmed up for game time. The best results happen when practice and training are infused into the core of a company’s culture. After all, the end goal of practice is not just to build stronger players. It’s to build stronger teams.