We often develop our appreciation for things based on the habits of somebody we love and respect. Our hobbies, the food we like, the activities we enjoy…we are computers, and our programming is largely influenced by the people closest to us beginning from an early age.
For those of us in leadership positions (and that’s all of us in various capacities), we often find ourselves actively teaching or coaching. These are the moments in the cages or the bullpens, standing in front of a classroom or a Powerpoint presentation, modeling behavior for the impressionable young people living in our homes.
Often, however, our most lasting impacts come from the more unconscious moments of interactions.
My grandfather was a handsome man with a beard that (at the time) was more salt than pepper. His voice, tinged with the subtlest New York drawl, would bait the hook with intention, and I would always bite. My love for words stems from his strong fingers carefully placing letters on a scrabble board. I fiend for an occasional hold’em (poker) tourney in no small part because of my high-definition memory of those same hands shuffling cards, powerfully and gracefully. “You’re aces with me, kid,” he’d say. I say the same damn thing today, to both my kids and the people in my life most in need of encouragement.
These individual moments stand out not because of their uniqueness but rather for their commonplace existence as part of my life. He never set out to instill any particular lesson while we played those games. In fact, what we’re teaching sometimes matters much less than how we teach it.
My grandfather knew nothing about baseball; he never played a single organized game. He still taught me to throw a knuckle-curve and influenced my love for the game when I was 5 years old.
In the backyard of his Los Angeles home, he grabbed an old, beat up mushy baseball from the junk yard of a garage. Under the most spectacularly fertile and productive avocado tree near his shaded hammock, he placed his right index finger on the ripped seam near the horseshoe, knuckle pointing to the sky, and began to perpetuate an understanding of how to spin the baseball.
His lack of experience didn’t matter. He wasn’t selling me baseball. He was selling me confidence, with a passionate facial expression and inspired vocals. I didn’t need an expert instructor in that moment, and I never threw that knuckle curve in a game. His clear desire to share information and unquestionable expression that I was worth sharing it with was enough to mold me far beyond that one day in the yard.
We often focus heavily on the content when we engage with athletes. What we teach is undoubtedly critically important. How we teach it is trumps all other reasons.
Most hitters will tell you that their best hitting coaches are first solid psychologists. Salesman “sell themselves,” not their products. And people don’t care what you say as much as they care why you’re saying it.
My grandfather’s passion and expression led me. Lesson learned.