First published on Medium.
When role models are risk adverse, they change the game for everyone.
Last night at kickball, a young woman on the other team decided to start bunting and she changed the preferred strategy for women on both teams. She was a strong player and she obviously thought her best option, maybe her only option, was to bunt. So quickly the feel became, to be a “team” player, all weak players should bunt. Never mind that by bunting you give up all chances of kicking a home run or even a double. Or of feeling proud of your kick.
She kicked a few good balls early in the game but got out on the way to first. So the next inning she decided to take advantage of the rule that helps weak kickers, and she bunted. There’s a line between first and third base, through the pitching mound, and no fielders are allowed in front of that line until the ball has been kicked. Pretty soon, the weaker players on her team (all women) were also bunting. Then the women on my team debated whether they should bunt. Then the stronger players on my team started encouraging the weaker players to bunt! That’s when I got upset. Upset at a world where teams encourage newer and weaker players to avoid risk, and therefore to avoid the chance to grow.
This is rec, co-ed kickball. Most of us haven’t played kickball in decades. Many of us haven’t played a sport in years. And several people don’t know the game well enough to know where the play is. The umpires are awesome. They encourage and help everyone. In addition to their umpire role, they often play surrogate coach and cheerleader. They don’t just say “1 out”, they say “1 out, play is at first”. And they check in with players. I think last night’s umpire could tell I was getting really annoyed. He checked in with me to make sure I was alright.
I remember learning to play kickball. It was a new school and a new sport. After my first “at bat” it became very clear I’d never kicked a ball. So my next at bat, everyone moved in for the kill. I had a wall of fielders all 10 feet from me. There was no where to kick the ball. So I love the rule that no one can be in front of the line until the ball is kicked. Rules that help new or weak players get started are good. When experienced players use those rules to their advantage, you end up with politics.
You end up with people examining all the rules to see where the loop holes or advantages are. Last night we ended up debating how many men could be on a team, what order they could kick in, if you could rush the ball once it was bunted, … and it became about the rules and winning, not about the game.
My emotional reaction was out of proportion for a kickball game. But it’s because I realized that I see this in the world all the time. When someone who is clearly capable says “oh, I could never do that”, they make all those people that are still learning doubt their abilities. When you turn down that client presentation or that keynote, when you start your piece in the meeting with “I’m not sure but …”, you show that you don’t think that you, a competent, experienced person, should take that risk. And when you combine that risk aversion with a do what it takes for the team to win, you cripple people. You end up encouraging your newer players to not take any risks for fear of hurting the team. Some times an individual has to take one for the team. Some times the team has to take one for the individual in order to grow a strong team.
While each individual has to decide on their own whether a risk is right for them or not, the team needs to watch and make sure that risk aversion isn’t becoming the norm, enforced by peer pressure, for their newer or weaker members.
Kick hard. Work hard. Take risks. Learn. Make mistakes. Help others make mistakes. Cheer them on. Grow your team. Be a role model.