I met a guy at a community luncheon. He was an interesting person to talk to and we discovered many similar interests. We arranged to have coffee later in the month. One interesting facet of this man is that he is a “life coach.” He helps people integrate physical, financial, and spiritual well-being into an overall healthy lifestyle. As I listened to him describe his work, his clients, and the results people enjoy, I realized just how much baseball has to offer in this realm. He agreed, once we began sharing notes. He was amazed at how much synergy there was between baseball, especially the reality of Little League affirmation, and his efforts of coaching a person into healthy living. We both agreed: being coachable is key to success, on or off the field.
Professional baseball players have been playing the game for twenty years or more. If they have been on any kind of upper-echelon bracket of ball (let alone the Majors) they have played literally hundreds of games. Maybe over a thousand or more. All along the way, there have been people there for them to help them refine the mechanics used at the plate while batting. Others were looking for variations on fielding or throwing maneuvers that could help on defense. Still others were noting base running, stealing, sliding technics that could benefit from a “tweak” to their approach or timing. Even though these highly-compensated and talented players got to their spot on a Major League club because of their hard work and talent, the players getting better and better are the ones open to coaching. They don’t know everything. There is always something more to learn. And they know that baseball is about progress, not perfection.
In the world, at home, school, work, I have seen people closed to coaching. They want to be perceived as knowing it all (try showing a 3-year-old how to use scissors) because to admit that they need direction, coaching, is to admit that they do not have “everything together.” It is to admit a vulnerability, a weakness. In the world of business, any sign of weakness often spells death to that person’s career. Someone displaying weakness or (heaven forbid) admitting to weakness (like not knowing something or needing help with something) is shunned. They do not get to lead projects. They are not sought out for advice. They are on the chopping block next time staff cuts arise. Their “admitted” weakness becomes a rationale for no raise and no promotion. People learn early in their corporate careers to cover up weakness or vulnerability and substitute bluster, activity, or blame-and-shame counter measures to stay alive.
The root of “vulnerability” contains the sense of “wounding.” To be open to another person, to share honestly one’s thoughts, feelings, fears, uncertainties, and ask for help (on a task or for an emotional difficulty) is actually what strengthens relationships. Henri Nouwen, a Jesuit priest, wrote a now-famous book, “The Wounded Healer,” wherein he makes the case for sharing our woundedness with each other. It’s how we bond, form community, strengthen one another. We are made strong in our weakness, sharing our vulnerability, our wounds, not through posturing, puffing up ourselves, or “one-upping” others. No one is perfect, nor is perfection possible. Life is about moving along a spectrum of getting better, getting stronger. Progress, not perfection. A trusted coach knows that you are a gifted person and is not going to belittle you or shame you.
Being coachable is admitting that one is not perfect. There is no loss of identity or sense of importance if we say we need help. Each of us is confident, capable, competent in our own way, with lots of things in life. But not perfect. We can always learn something, improve on something, and enjoy becoming even more proficient at some task or other. Being coachable and asking for coaching is actually a sign of maturity, of strength, not immaturity or weakness. How coachable are you? Are you asking for help? Who is that trusted individual who could be your coach?